Economics of the Interior Part 7: Subtracting Your Rights

Principle #5: God’s Multiplication Begins with Your Subtraction

A couple of the most powerful principles I ever learned as a Cultural Economist I learned from the American legend, Johnny Appleseed. He helped me understand the economic principles of leverage and also the principle as to when to take your hands off and let go of a situation. Born in Leominster, Massachusetts in 1774 as John Chapman, he was raised on a small farm, and his favorite place in the whole world was his father’s apple orchard.

When traveling settlers would pass by, he would ask questions about the fertile lands of the frontiers of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Those curious conversations spawned the inspired dream of one day planting apple seeds throughout the new frontier. By 1792, when he was 18, he headed west. Johnny Appleseed received all the apple seeds he desired free of charge from the cider mills. He set off on a mission to plant apple trees.

As to the principle of leverage, I learned the concept that you can count the number of seeds in an apple, but you can never count the number of apples in a seed! The power of multiplication through leverage is astounding. And you can never really quantify the true potential for growth by simply measuring what you hold in your hand today.

As you place those seeds in the rich, fertile ground of your new frontiers, the silent miracle of multiplication takes place. Soon you will have seeds from many, many apples growing in the autumn sunlight waiting for you to harvest the plentiful crop. Then, once more those multiplied numbers of seeds can again be replanted with the exciting expectation of an exponential harvest.

As to the other principle, I learned that if I expected there to be a multiplication of harvest, I needed to plant the seed in the ground and then subtract my rights to that seed and let it grow. Johnny Appleseed could not go back to the seed every six months, rip it out of the ground, and ask it how it was doing. He had to let it go and let it grow.

As you subtract your rights of ownership to what you possess, God has the opportunity to bless and multiply it for his purposes. In fact, my reading assignment validated the notion that God enjoys taking what he owns already and blessing it and multiplying it. A good example was when the little boy gave the five barley loaves and two small fish, and God multiplied it to feed 5,000 men, plus women, plus children, and had baskets full of food left over. The lad learned that as he released his possessions God could see to it that lots of other people could end up better off!

That was the same principle Solomon was addressing when he said “It is possible to give away and become richer! It is also possible to hold on too tightly and lose everything . . . .” (Proverbs 11:24)

Solomon was not just talking in riddles. He was trying to communicate an extremely important principle of the economics of the interior. The things that you hold on to so tightly in life are the things that usually have a way of being squeezed right out between your fingers and you lose them anyway. The tighter you squeeze, the more they slip through. But the things you are willing to release are the things that multiply. God’s multiplication begins with my subtraction.

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. (Matt. 16:25)

I love this next story I read about because I was actually able to see where it all took place. One day I was riding in a car with my very good Israeli friend, Shaul Amir. We were driving from Tel Aviv to the port city of Haifa to meet with some government officials. We passed a road sign that pointed to Zarephath.

I turned to Shaul and asked him, “Is that the same town that is close to the Cherith Brook where the old prophet Elijah hid out during the famine?”

“How would you ever know about that story, and how do you know anything about our old prophet Elijah?” Shaul ask me with a puzzled look on his face. “That’s has become one of my most favorite stories ever,” I answered. “Let me recite the story I know and you tell me if we are both talking about the same story.”

Elijah had confronted the wicked king Ahab and his double-wicked wife Jezebel telling them that because of their evil, God was going to withhold the rains and send a famine. In anger Jezebel tried to murder Elijah. He ran for his life and hid along the Brook Cherith where the ravens brought him food until the famine dried up the flow of the brook.

When there was no more water in the brook, God sent Elijah to this little town called Zarephath, where God instructed an old widow to take care of him. As he approached the town, he spotted an old woman collecting wood and asked her for a drink of water. She turned and started to leave to fetch him some water. Then he hollered at her to also bring with her some bread for him to eat.

That brought an emotional response: “This is a famine. I am trying to go to find some water for you, and you tell me to also bring some bread. I don’t have any bread. All I have left is a handful of flour in the bottom of the barrel and just a bit of oil in a jar. As you see me, I am collecting an armload of dry sticks in order to make one last fire. I am going to mix and bake the last little oil and flour into a little cake of bread. My son and I are going to eat our last meal of that bread and sit down and die.” 

Elijah looked straight into her eyes and said, “Go and do as you have said: make the fire, stir the flour and oil, and bake the cake. But make for me a cake of bread first. And afterward there will still be enough for you and your son to eat . . . until the famine is completely over.” In other words he was saying to subtract the rights to that which you possess and then watch what God will do with it.

“Well, I’m amazed,” said Shaul. “I didn’t realize you knew our history that well!”

So she did as Elijah said, and she and Elijah and her son continued to eat from her supply of flour and oil as long as it was needed. For no matter how much they used there was always plenty left in the containers, just as the Lord had promised through Elijah. (1Kings 17:15-16) 

But seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matt 6:33) 

All mankind scratches for its daily bread, but your heavenly Father knows your needs. He will always give you all you need from day to day if you will make the kingdom of God your primary concern. (Luke 12:30-31)

The old woman had hit on a revolutionary aspect of economics of the interior and the way God’s economic system works in real life. Her inventory was limited. If she had relied on her supply alone, she and her son would have certainly died of starvation. But she discovered that as she subtracted her rights to the things she possessed, God had the opportunity to bless and multiply it for his purposes. Through her surrender she had tapped into a never-failing sufficiency. God’s supply knows no shortage. 

Next Week: The Cost of Success

(Research ideas from Dr. Jackson’s new writing project on Cultural Economics)

© Dr. James W. Jackson   

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