Reading tea leaves has an official name! I was surprised to find that the idea of fortune-telling, or telling a person’s future, from patterns in tea leaves, coffee grounds or even wine sediments has an official, scientific-sounding name, tesseography (or tasseomancy or tasseology). Somehow, I am skeptical that the alignment of tea leaves in the bottom of a tea cup will tell anyone much about their future. I believe my skepticism is Biblical because our futures are uncertain. See Ecclesiastes 11:1-6.
12 Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come:
As fish are caught in a cruel net,
or birds are taken in a snare,
so people are trapped by evil times
that fall unexpectedly upon them.
But people still seem to want to know the future, or at least the part of the future that intersects with their lives. It would be helpful if you could see the future of a particular stock or business and invest accordingly. I am not sure I would want to know when I will die, but knowing the future would make my investment planning a lot easier. There is an enormous difference between the answers to “Do I have 1 year to live?” and “Do I have 20 years to live?”
Somehow, I suspect that even if I knew, the question of whether we have enough for myself and my wife would remain unclear because the volatility of the economy makes any sense of planning far less than comfortable. Maybe tea leaves would be more effective! No, not really.
In my mind, the most effective way to address this uncertainty of the future lies not in tea leaves and not even in studying the stock market and economy to plan the wisest investments, but in my heart. Instead of worrying and trying silly tricks to forecast the future, I simply do my best, make the best judgment calls I can, and leave the future to a completely trustworthy God. That is what is called faith.
God has given us blessing after blessing. He did that with the Israelites and their faith rose and fell over time. There is a clear cycle of faith, falling into sin, punishment, repentance into faith, and around that cycle again that can be seen as early as Judges 2 but continues throughout 1 and 2 Kings. Their faith appeared to fail during the good times when they thought they no longer needed God.
Regardless of their belief in their own security, their futures ultimately still lay in God’s hands. That is true for us as well.
There are two perspectives believers need to have. The first perspective is what I call a kingdom perspective or an eternal perspective. We have security based upon the work on the cross and our faith. John 3:16 and John 8:25-29.
The second perspective is how we approach life today and tomorrow, our immediate future. That “immediate” future includes our time here on earth as long as God gives us life. We have responsibilities towards our family, our home, our city, state and country as well as to our employer, work, and all of those details that make up so much of life (like “Will the rain hold off long enough to cut the grass?”).
It is in our immediate perspective that faith is harder, because the demands of the world around us are often so … immediate. Step back, take a deep breath and look again at your faith during the pressing immediate moments of our hectic world. Our world is different, but no less or more pressure-filled that the world 2,000 years ago. Paul faced pressures that were amazing by our standards. See 2 Corinthians 11:16-30. Jesus faced the pressure of a world seeking to kill Him, His own people rejecting Him, and knowing the day and hour of His death as well as the horrible suffering He was to endure. Suddenly the nearness of rain or the short time available to mow the grass seems a bit less important.
But still, they are important because tomorrow the grass will still be there – and that grass will be longer and harder to mow! Both the kingdom and the immediate perspectives require faith, but the immediate perspective makes frequent demands and requires daily and sometimes minute-by-minute attention and adjustments. Paul knew that when he wrote:
1 Corinthians 4:2
2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.
Paul was writing to the church in Corinth. The Corinthian church members appear to have begun to think too highly of themselves, pridefully weighing themselves against others, even Paul. They appeared to be losing sight of Jesus, seeing only themselves as successful Christians. Paul rebuked them.
They needed that correction. Often, I need it too as I, like many people, tend to readily see my own successes and others’ failures. In the area of finances, we also need those corrections. Our faith must be a balancing point for our immediate perspective. Here is what I mean by that.
We are stewards of all that God has given us. While that may not be immediately visible in the New International Version translation of 1 Corinthians 4:2, the word “steward” is there in the original Greek. In the Revised Standard Version translation, we see that:
1 Corinthians 4:1-2
1 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.
2 Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.
That means that all that we have, even every breath that we take, belongs to Him and we have only been given life, love, home, family, job, income and even wealth so that we can be shown to be faithful stewards over those things.
So, how can we show our faith through our finances and still keep sight of our responsibilities, especially towards our God and our families? Here are a few ideas to help you get headed in the right direction.
Budget now and for the future
For the younger readers, there is a great deal of doubt, much of it justifiable, about the security of Social Security. In the future there appears to be such a likelihood of decrease in benefits, perhaps through “means testing” that reliance on it as a significant support is not wise. But Social Security was never intended to be and still isn’t supposed to be a retirement plan, merely a safety net to keep seniors out of poverty.
Plan on having additional income and support, even if that means working well past normal retirement age. 401(k)s, 403(b)s, 457 plans, IRAs and ordinary investment accounts are wise investments in the immediate future. But just saving and investing isn’t enough by itself. Plan on a particular income. Plans such as the Florida Retirement System (FRS) for Florida government employees, private pensions (although they are becoming extremely rare), annuities and other investments can pay a regular income for life.
Project into your income plan a reasonable rate of inflation, assuming your income will rise as well. Estimate what your income is likely to be at your hoped for age of retirement. Project out inflation expecting at least 3% annually to see what you will need. Try the Inflation Calculator where you can project out what income you will need in a specific number of years to have the same buying power you have today.
Don’t guess at whether you have enough; plan.
Of course, you can’t know what you need until you know what your expenses will be. Again, project out inflation expecting at least 3% annually to see what you will need, using the Inflation Calculator. With that tool you can project out the amount of money it will take in a number of years to equal the buying power you have today. For example, if you want to know how much you will need to have in 2048 to equal $100 in 2018, you input those numbers, 3% inflation. You see that in 2048 you might expect to need $248 to have the buying power of $100 in 2018. Of course this tool became a lot harder to use or trust with the huge inflation bump of 2022.
Of course, inflation could be worse, but until 2022, 3% was generally considered to be a conservative projected average rate of inflation. From 1914 through 2017, the average rate of inflation has been 3.24% even including the extraordinarily high rates of inflation from 1916 to 1920 where inflation averaged 14.475% and from 1973 through 1981 where the average was 9.03%. If those high periods are removed, the average inflation rate was only 2.02%.
Some people suggest that you reduce your anticipated expenses, while others suggest you not reduce them at all for planning purposes. I lean towards not expecting expenses to drop by much, if any. While some expenses tend to drop – fewer work clothes, business lunches, travel to work, etc., other expenses rise including travel and medical expenses.
Investment now and in the future
Now you may feel like the tea leaves have to be brought out. It still is hard to see even tomorrow’s future much less what lies ahead in ten, twenty or more years. Here is where faith comes into play as you plan the best you can, keeping God in sight at all times, and you lay aside concern for the many uncertainties. See Luke 12:13-21, the parable of the rich fool.
Plan on ending your work life with investments that can generate the amount of needed income. Be sure that you factor taxes and brokerage fees into your calculations.
Conservatively, estimate your life expectancy, see the Social Security Life Expectancy Calculator or a more sophisticated (but not necessarily more accurate) one at Life Expectancy Calculator. If you are 60 now and in reasonably good health, you should conservatively estimate that you will live to between 90 and 100 years. Stay on the conservative side because you certainly do not want to feel that you have to go back to work at 85 to 90 years of age to pay the bills.
There is a final idea to help you plan for the future in our very uncertain world. Keep God in your life, in your daily flow of activities and in your kingdom perspective. Ways you should do that include all of the following and more:
Prayer, including prayer with and for your family and friends,
Worship in community with other believers,
Reading God’s Word regularly and in a meaningful program,
Discipleship, either of yourself with a mature Christian or by you with a young Christian,
Stewardship of the L.I.F.E (the Labor, the Influence, the Financial resources, and the Expertise) God has given you, and
Giving to support kingdom work in a meaningful way.
God has given so much, so incredibly much, to restore the broken relationship between people and their God. The sacrifice of Jesus is only one of a thousand ways to show God’s complete faithfulness to us. As our Pastor has accurately put it, “If God was ever going to back out on anything, it would have been at Calvary.” Great is His faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23.
The Idlewild Foundation exists to serve you. We are supported by Idlewild Baptist Church as well as by members of the Tampa Bay community and our all-volunteer Trustees. We exist to educate, motivate and facilitate Godly stewardship and radical generosity. If we can help you take steps toward a financial future with God in your plans, please give us a call.
About the Author
John Campbell has retired from a 40-year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, where he met Jesus. He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016. He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.