Tag Archives: behavioral economics

Isaiah 47

Scripture: verse 12

Stand fast in your enchantments
    and your many sorceries,
    with which you have labored from your youth;
perhaps you may be able to succeed;
    perhaps you may inspire terror.

Observation:  God is speaking to Babylon.  Apparently Babylon decided it was mighty and powerful and didn’t need to worry about being righteous or just, and so God is going to destroy it.  The sorceries and studies it had been relying on will not save it, despite all the hard work that went into them.

This morning my sister mentioned that she might need to drop a course to lower her overall stress level, but that she feels like she’d be admitting failure if she did so.  I didn’t have time to talk it through with her, but I sent her a link to an old Freakonomics article about “The Upside of Quitting.”  It discusses sunk costs (the resources already used on a project) and opportunity costs (the concept that each decision we make is also a decision not to take the other options), and how we are happier and more productive if we can recognize that a course we have chosen is the wrong one and just quit immediately.

Shortly after that, someone at the ladies’ Bible study mentioned the need to give up things that are blocking us from walking with the Lord.  And I felt like these tied together: that we hang on to anger and bitterness and guilt and other things that are hurting us because we have already put so much effort into them.  The sunk costs of time and energy and emotion seem to big to walk away from, and we are blind to the opportunity cost of our decision.

We don’t think about opportunity costs.  There are studies that show this (link to pdf).  When we are making a purchase, we don’t stop and think about what else we could buy for the same money – and when we do, we make different decisions.  And when we are living, we don’t stop and remember that God will exchange beauty for ashes and joy for mourning (Isaiah 61).  We just do what is comfortable, because we have always done it.

So what sorceries are we clinging to?  What are the useless things we have labored in since our youth?  What do we need to quit?

Application:  Ask God what you need to quit.  The opportunity will more than cover the sunk costs.

Prayer:  Yeshua, thank you for redeeming me.  I praise you because you are the one who knows me and knows my purpose.  Help me to quit the things that keep me from it.  Amen.

Advertisements

Isaiah 38

Scripture: from verse 15

I will go humbly all my years,
remembering how bitter I was.

Observation:  The chapter begins with King Hezekiah getting sick, and God sending Isaiah to tell Hezekiah that he was going to die.  Hezekiah prayed and wept, and God sent Isaiah again with the news that God had changed His mind and Hezekiah would live after all.  Once he had recovered, Hezekiah wrote about the experience, and how difficult it was to have no control over his body or his fate, to be weak despite trying to be strong, and to know that God could end his life at any time.

C. S. Lewis pointed out that we have all sorts of funny notions about ownership: we think we own our bodies, and our time, and all sorts of things.  We have very little control over our bodies, and often even less over our time, and the little bit of control that we do have was given to us by God.

I would have blogged this chapter yesterday, but I found the whole incident bewildering: why would God make Hezekiah sick if He planned to heal him as soon as he prayed?  Rereading Hezekiah’s poem today gave me the answer: because Hezekiah was trying to do things under his own power.

I don’t know exactly what Hezekiah was doing, and as none of us are royalty I don’t suppose it matters.  But we all try to do things on our own.  We all try to talk ourselves out of temptation instead of asking God for aid.  We all try to be courageous on our own instead of asking for peace.

Our willpower is less our own than we think.  Studies show that willpower runs out – experimental subjects who had to use self-control for one task will have less self-control in the next task.

So we who are in God should rely on Him as the Source of our willpower.  He is the only one who never runs out, who does not get tired from making decisions.  He is the one who sees the bigger picture, who can number our days and see our eternities.  And I don’t really know how we do this, but I don’t have to.  I just ask Him.

Application:  Ask God where you need to be relying on Him more.  (And drink some juice – apparently glucose boosts willpower.  Brains are weird.)

Prayer:  Father, thank you for making me.  Thank you for making our brains as such strange and wonderful machines.  I praise you because you have none of my limitations.  You are never overwhelmed, never tired, never low on blood sugar.  Help me to turn to you when I am.  Amen.

Isaiah 23

Scripture: from verse 18

[Tyre’s] merchandise and profits will be dedicated to Adonai; they will not be stored up or hoarded…

Observation:  This chapter was a prediction of destruction for Tyre, a major crossroads and port, for the usual pride and rebellion.  God promises at the end that Tyre will be restored as a prosperous port city, but it will be dedicated to the Lord instead of only thinking about itself.

There’s always an inclination to hoard what we have, whether it’s time or energy or money or art supplies.  Seeing the pile of surplus makes us feel safer.  But we aren’t safer: none of these things are likely to stick around if we just try to hang onto them, and God was the one keeping us safe in the first place.

I mention art supplies because I do this all the time.  I never want to use the last bit of a paint or pretty paper, because what if I never get it again?  What if I waste it?  What if I ruin it?  It’s just paint, but you wouldn’t know it from the tizzy my brain gets into.  When I did art swapping and people would include cool little cards and papers and buttons as “extras” to use in future artworks, I had to throw them out right away or I would be miserable.  Because there was only one of each thing, so I could never use any of them.  Never.  I might make something ugly, after all, and then they’d be wasted.  I think I still have a drawer of stuff I collected and couldn’t use before I realized it was a problem and started pitching them or passing them on in the next swap.

This isn’t a healthy mindset, but I know I’m not alone in it.  We keep things.  In fact, studies show that losing something makes us 2.5 times sadder than getting it made us happy in the first place.  It’s called loss aversion.  It’s crazy, but humans are crazy.

And here God shows us the way out: dedicate what we have to God.  If it’s His stuff, we don’t have to worry about wasting it.  He’ll help us manage it wisely.  And if it’s His stuff, we don’t need to worry about running out.  He’s got plenty more.  Living without fear means not hoarding what we have.

Application: Dedicate what you have to God.  Let Him take care of you.

Prayer:  Father, I praise you for being the Source of Sources, abundantly able to provide whatever I need.  Thank you for giving me everything I need and plenty of things that I want.  Help me to treat the things I have as yours, so that I can share them and invest them freely.  Amen.

Isaiah 15

Scripture: from verse 7

Therefore they carry away their wealth,
everything they have put aside

Observation:  Now Moab is getting punished.  At least God is an equal-opportunity smiter?  Okay, not really.

Anyway.  The river is full of blood and the fields are dead, so the people are fleeing, carrying the scraps of wealth that they have in portable format.  These days much of our wealth is portable (not our houses, of course, but other things) but back then their land was their wealth and their history and their anchor, and leaving it left them devastated.

The statistics on people’s saving habits these days are pretty terrible.  We don’t save.  We don’t put anything aside.  I’ve been reading a lot about behavioral economics lately (I’m auditing the fabulous Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior) and one of the things they study is why we make these decisions.  And what we learn is that people don’t think rationally.  We think of our future self as a stranger, unconnected to ourselves.  We figure that the decisions we made should be repeated, that our instincts are reliable, that the current trends will continue.  As soon as a decision gets complicated, we just go with the default option – which is usually doing nothing.

There’s a reason God tells us not to rely on our own understanding (Proverbs 3).  It’s pretty terrible.

So here we have people who have been relying on their own understanding, and they are experiencing the consequences of it.  Not only is God punishing them, but their fallback plan is also flawed, because they haven’t been listening.

Application:  Listen to what God says.  Know your biases.

Prayer:  Father, thank you for my husband, who is really good at financial planning stuff.  It is a great relief to know that we can work together on those things.  Help me to know where I’m making foolish decisions.  Amen.