Toughness Trivia 7 - Debt Retirement


I don't know about you, but I live when my children live. What else would cause a parent or grandparent to whip out, at the slightest provocation, a wallet full of pictures and launch out on a fifteen minute "brag" expedition?

Conversely, I die when my children die. I remember with great pain the rebellious years of the fifties when long stringy hair was in vogue. Our son and his wife were in the States. We were in Africa. A letter from Dorlyn said, "You ought to see Bob's long hair!" My heart sank. I died. What had happened to make the son who was my pride and joy reject all his training and follow the hippy crowd? I wrote. You bet I wrote!

And what I said was a classic case of jumping to conclusions and making a judgment before I had the facts. My letter was completely out of character and cut my son to the quick. Gently, he wrote back words that haunt me to this day ... "Dad, you've always trusted us, please don't start to distrust us now. My hair is not quite as long as our pastor's!" Have you ever wished you could take back words you have written or spoken? I've wished it a thousand times!

The event I want to talk about took place in the days of Elisha. It contains, I believe, the secret of happy living in the lives of our children. A widow was in trouble. Elisha gave her advice which she followed to the letter, and because she did, it was said to her,

"Live thou and thy children ... !"

What did the widow do to make life livable for both her and her children? She did three things:


The widow's husband had obligated himself for payment of a debt. He had died and the debt was still outstanding. The "creditors" were about to make slaves of her sons.

She was in desperate straits, but she made no excuses. Her husband's debt was her debt and she intended to pay it.

There are many things a child of God can do for himself, but there are other times when only a miracle will solve the dilemma. This was one such time! So she cried out to the man of God.

"Live thou and thy children ... !"Now let me spiritualize. Christ obligated himself to pay the debt of man's sins. He died doing it. Actually, the debt is paid, but the "creditors" do not know it. Is that stretching the analogy too much?

It may be, but bear with me, because I believe I have a valid point.

Christ's debt is our debt. After all, we are "married to Him." We are the "bride of Christ." So His obligation becomes our obligation. That is the essence of the Great Commission. Christ, who died and is risen again, had turned the telling of the good news of "debt payment" over to the Church. It is something we owe!

You can feel the desperate urgency of debt in Paul's words. "Woe is me if I preach not!" It was not because Paul had no resources with which to pay. Rather it was the immensity of the task of telling. "I am a debtor," Paul said, "to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise." Paul was ready, but Paul was only one man. He couldn't do it all by himself. He had to enlist others in the task. So he recruited. He got others involved. It was something Elisha taught the widow to do, and was one of the things which got the job done. We'll speak of this later.

So the first thing to do to assure ourselves of really living is to identify with the debt and the one who made it. To pretend the debt does not exist, or to disclaim responsibility is to live selfishly and reap the displeasure of the one who gave his life to pay the debt. The creditors, too, will have their "pound of flesh" from those who refuse to acknowledge that the Great Commission is their responsibility.

I have a real problem with those who use the gifts of God for self-serving purposes. The purpose of "body ministry" is to keep the body healthy so as to fulfill its function in "debt retirement." The gifts of the Spirit are not given to tickle the fickle or incite drones to dance. When gifts are misused, they are like prayers gone amiss. They are consumed upon our own lusts and do not serve the purpose for which they are given. They are blessings aborted.


Now I know that some parents, who have struggled with debt all their lives, don't want their children to go through what they have experienced. So they seldom talk about the debt in their presence. This is an ominous attitude! It indicates that the parent, down deep inside, resents the fact that the "debt payment" became his preoccupation in life, and that he envies those who carry no such burden.

I can hear somebody say. "That's not it. We want our child to make up his own mind. We don't want him to be a preacher or a missionary just because we are. So we are not going to do anything to influence him."

Oh, is that so! You are not going to influence him. What makes you think others are not going to influence him? If he is not influenced by you, he is going to be influenced by something or somebody, and nine times out of ten it will be for the worse rather than the better, especially if you do nothing about it. Actually, you are influencing him whether you want to admit it or not. Think!

Are you willing for him to be a religious fanatic if he chooses to be? You won't influence him to be something else? You won't suggest an alternative? You won't point out the advantages of being a lawyer or a doctor?

Or if, too late, he gets into drugs and bad company, will you still say it is his choice to make and you'll do nothing to influence him? Be honest. You know you'll say something, probably with bitter tears of regret because you didn't have family devotions, you didn't take him with you to church, and you made no effort to monitor his companions.

Good parents influence their children. Good parents talk about the child's obligation to participate in debt retirement! The surest way to lose our children is to refuse to pay the debt or to impress upon them a sense of responsibility.

How well I remember January 10, 1946, when my wife and I, with two tiny children, set sail from New York on the Swedish refugee ship called the Gripsholm. We were involving our children in debt retirement. I have no regrets. I would do it again. I would do some things differently, for sure, with the wisdom that hindsight brings, but I would do it. And what about our children? Do they feel we did wrong?

No two children are alike. Each responds differently. We have been fortunate. Our children would gladly go back to Africa tomorrow. Our youngest was born there. I can't say they would go back as missionaries, but there are no scars left upon them. I think one of the reasons for this is that we involved them whenever we could in the work. They felt they were part of what Mom and Dad were doing. They were missionaries, too, paying the debt, and happy in doing it! Pity the child who is shielded from awareness ... who never hears about the debt... who is encouraged to live selfishly, and to do his own thing without any guidance or influence from his parents! The "creditors" soon claim such a child and make a bondsman of him.


The widow had one pot of oil... only one. She involved her neighbors and she involved her sons. You didn't have to guess what her priority in life was. Family concerns, personal ambitions, plans for the future ... all gave way to debt retirement.

She put everything she had into it. Life became one continuous miracle of God's provision. As long as there was something to pour into, she poured out. She was too busy to think of herself, and she kept her sons too busy to think of themselves! It is the idle who get into trouble, and the secret to saving sons is to keep them involved in priority projects!

The oil turned out to be more than enough to pay the debt. She and her sons were able to live on what was left over. God's leftovers are more than adequate for living! The happiest people in the world are those who live on God's leftovers!

"Seek ye first the kingdom of God," Jesus said, "and all these things shall be added unto you."

Children who grow up on God's leftovers have their social, physical, and economic needs met. It is those who put their own wants ahead of debt paying who come up on the short end of life. They are never satisfied. They are always chasing rainbows. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. In seeking to save their lives, they lose them.

Blessed are the people who, with their children, give the debt top priority, live gloriously on God's leftovers!