By Martin E. Willoughby, Jr.
Even though my mother was a math teacher, the world of numbers never came that easy to me. I had to force myself in school to work through the complex ideas in the world of mathematics. While I am no math genius, I do understand the law of compound interest. Albert Einstein supposedly called compound interest “the greatest mathematical discovery of all time.” Simply put, compounding is the process of generating earnings on an asset’s reinvested earnings. To work, it only requires two things—the reinvestment of earnings and TIME. Investment companies often show graphs where if you start saving at an early age, even just a small amount, the power of compounding can turn that into a small fortune over a lifetime.
While this compound effect is obviously a very good thing, we don’t seem to take that to heart as a country. Our personal savings rate hovers around 5 percent. In contrast, China’s personal savings rate is around 30 percent. Keith Chen, a behavioral economist, put forth an interesting theory on why there is such a disparity in savings rates in a TED talk (if you have not been to www.ted.com to watch a TED talk, put it on your to do list today). In the talk, he explained that the English language has a lot of emphasis on past, present, and future in contrast to Chinese. He gave the example that in English you would say, “It rained yesterday,” “It is raining now,” or “It will rain tomorrow.” In contrast a Chinese would say, “Yesterday it rain,” “Now it rain,” “Tomorrow it rain.” He believes that English speakers, because of our language, feel more disconnected from their current life and their future life.
While I don’t have the answers for ultimately why we don’t always plan better for our future, I do believe there is real application of the compound effect to our life as followers of Christ. Too often, we don’t look ahead to how God may be preparing us for His plan for our lives. We are here for a brief season in preparation for eternity. God has a plan for each of us. The question is whether we will be obedient to that plan. Each stage of life can either be an opportunity to grow in preparation for what God has next, OR our lives can be spent just passing time. I remember an enthusiastic preacher once challenging his congregation (and me as the listener) with, “Are you here just taking up space?” If our lives do not have some greater calling or purpose, we are at risk of simply taking of space.
In Scripture, we see great examples of people like Joseph, Moses, or Paul where God had them in long periods of development before he unleashed them to fulfill a calling. Perhaps you are living your calling and that is fantastic! If not, then you are in training camp for what God is preparing for you. Whether we are 18 or 85, God can use us in powerful ways. While I believe that proper financial planning is prudent, I believe that retirement is misconstrued in this country.
As a follower of Jesus, we don’t stop following His path for us until we breathe our last breath. I have seen hospice patients who bless caregivers and even strangers with the love of Jesus. It is never too late! As I watch mature believers in their faith, I see the benefit (the compounding effect) of years spent in the Word and prayer. The next best time to yesterday to allow your life to compound in faith is today!