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"Redefining Success: How American Hustle Culture Contradicts Proverbs 23:4-5"

Hustle culture. It's become part of the American ethos.

But does all of this grinding, hustling, and going to get it align with a Biblical worldview?

Should we be obsessing and striving to get more riches? Let's look at Proverbs 23:4-5, two verses that speak directly to this topic. There is a ton to unpack in just these 2 verses, so hang with me.

First, let's address what these verses are NOT affirming-- laziness.

In his new book, "Full-Time: Work and the Meaning of Life," David Bahnsen makes an in-depth argument for the nobility of work. Bahnsen writes in the opening pages,

"...I believe it is abundantly clear from the plain teaching of Scripture that God created mankind for the purpose of work."

His book fully unpacks this viewpoint, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in this topic. To add my own thoughts, there is NO biblical defense for laziness just like there's no biblical defense case for modern retirement or work/life balance.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, however, we get the hustle culture—those who would wear themselves out or encourage others to wear themselves out in pursuit of riches. I'm sure you've seen the countless reels on social media of the folks who are simply better than all of us because they grind better, faster, and harder than we do.

Here's my question: If one spends their lives solely in pursuit of wealth, what void might they be trying to fill?

What story are they telling themselves about being rich? Will being wealthy make them feel--

more significant?

more intelligent?

more attractive?

more secure?

The Hedonic Treadmill comes into play-- where new levels of success eventually FEEL normal. We settle into our new normal...and eventually, we look to get back on the grind.

In Morgan Housel's best-selling book, The Psychology of Money, chapter 3 is titled "Never Enough"

Here are his bullet points from that chapter:

  • The hardest financial skill is to get the goalposts to stop moving.

  • Social comparison is the problem

  • "Enough" is not too little

  • There are many things never worth risking, no matter the potential gain.

Housel nails it. The goalposts never stop moving. This is why we are warned against wearing ourselves out to get rich.

What are some of the potential downsides to always being on the grind?

- relationship challenges?

- stress?

- health issues?

- divorce?

a person is sitting at a cluttered desk, diligently working, with papers spread out before them. This person appears stressed and   nervous. The background is a serene landscape with calm, natural elements like trees and a distant horizon, highlighting the contrast between the person's intense focus on material wealth and the tranquility of the natural world.

Do you know what I see in today's hustle culture?

I see everyone's highlight reels. I see the cars... the jets...the boats... the jewelry.

All material things.

What I don't see much of is true joy. It looks more like people acting out a play. The world is telling us that things matter more than anything else. It's as though they are saying, "Look--see how happy I am!?"

When you look at these types of stories online, what do you see?

The next part is a blow to our ego: "Do not trust your own cleverness."

The field of behavioral finance is not new-- but in recent years, it has become much more of a focus for the finance industry. More and more financial advisors are discovering that behavioral coaching is one of the biggest advantages they can offer clients.

What we are "discovering" is that people genuinely struggle with money and meaning. I put discovering in air quotes because we really aren't breaking new ground here. We've been told this for millennia; we just didn't get the lesson.

In case you didn't know, our ideas about money & wealth begin forming at an early age. Our family life, upbringing, and social class can play a huge role in shaping our beliefs about money. Many of these beliefs are embedded at a subconscious level. Thus, sometimes we may not even know WHY we do what we do.

So-- our "cleverness" may often fail us.

Richard Thaler, a behavioral finance legend, puts it this way:

"People aren't dumb. The world is hard."

When we add our behavior (cleverness) to the difficulty of life and the challenges of modern finance, the result is often complex. In short, we are usually a mess.

The last part of these 2 verses warns against trusting wealth or riches.

"Cast but a glance..."

In the investing world, we typically read horror stories about wealth destruction. However, these stories typically occur after a bear market or an asset bubble bursts. No one offers up a tragedy when times are good.

Riches can be a fickle thing. We are warned not to place our trust in them, for they can be fleeting. The verse states "they will surely sprout wings..."

What a challenge this can be! We pursue wealth---only to find that wealth itself doesn't necessarily satisfy. We attain wealth--only to find increased risks of losing it.

So, what are we to do?

  • First, understand that money is a part of life. We all will have a unique relationship with money, wealth, and possessions that started forming when we were small children.

  • Next, we should understand that we live in a prosperous society. Americans don't fully grasp how wealthy we are as a nation. In a way, we are on our own hedonic treadmill. The wealth in the United States today is staggering compared to the world's history. Using global standards, the "normal" American life would already be viewed as wealthy. That may be difficult to embrace, but it's true.

  • Lastly-- the Bible teaches that we are not to devote our lives solely to the pursuit of riches. Some of our endeavors may produce wealth, which is not bad or evil. In fact, I believe wealth can be a tremendous force for good in the world. However, God is concerned first and foremost with our hearts and our motives.

My key takeaway from this passage is that we are instructed not to place our trust in riches--as they are temporary. They may even flee unexpectedly. We are also implored to not trust in our own cleverness.

Instead, we are to be diligent workers and trust in Him. Should our efforts and labors produce wealth, we must practice gratitude & generosity.

The Bible has over 2,000 verses that discuss money. Each of them can share a lesson or insight that still applies to the world we live in today.

What are your thoughts on Proverbs 23:4-5?


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