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These Thoughts Are on FIRE

Article Type: Pastor to Pastor

By Rev. Phillip Leo, Church Communications Director

No, my actual thoughts aren’t on fire. And yes, right now in one corner of my brain, Alicia Keys is belting out her hit single, Girl on Fire.”

Thank you, Alicia!

But my actual thoughts are on the acronym FIRE which stands for “Financial Independence Retiring Early.” Have you heard of it? It’s a movement that’s picking up steam and even headlines. Last year, the New York Times ran a story about it with the title, “Retiring at 43? You’re on FIRE.”

FIRE adherents try to do exactly what the acronym spells out – achieve financial independence as quickly as possible and retire early. Many try to save as much as half of their income during their 20s and 30s, and then retire in their 30s or 40s at the latest.

In order to accomplish FIRE, a massive overhaul of status quo living is required. If possible, cars get replaced with bikes. Renting gets replaced with owning, even if it means downgrading. Budgets are whittled down to extreme measures, leaving little to no room for luxuries or vacations. It may even include relocating to a less expensive region of the country.

The FIRE community plays out virtually, as members blog about their experiences. Mostly though, they share life hacks to live more efficiently and save more money. Some bloggers, who have achieved FIRE, are rock stars in the community. Fans flock to their blogs and discuss recent postings.

So, these are my thoughts on FIRE…

FIRE’s call is a lone voice in today’s wilderness of financial illiteracy and irresponsibility. How many others are placing a premium on responsible personal finances? Not many, so it’s refreshing to find people who are maximizing their own economies for the greatest possible effect.

FIRE’s goal of early retirement could easily be dismissed as shallow and self-serving. But given a chance, it could also provide a unique opportunity. I know people who have reached financial independence early in life and leveraged it to work for a not-for-profit organization at a reduced salary. That’s pretty cool!

But when I read FIRE blogs, I do wonder if there’s an assumption that the “successfully lived life” can be boiled down to a system of life hacks. Although this would be great, life’s not that simple.

Here’s a basic assumption I make: the human condition and its resultant messiness is a monkey wrench for even the smartest systems.

Indeed, God’s “fix” for the messiness of the human condition was no simple life hack. Redemption’s plan required the Son of God to fully enter the depths of human messiness.

The Apostle Paul puts it this way, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV).

To the extent that “getting life right” means practicing personal financial responsibility, FIRE brings a lot to the table. And if retiring early doesn’t merely mean pointless living on a golf course, then FIRE can provide a framework for accomplishing some admirable life goals.

But ultimately “getting life right” isn’t our burden. Thanks be to God! Even when the smartest measures possible are taken, financial independence is still relative to the degree of human clutter.

FIRE misses this. The old adage that there aren’t any guarantees in life rings true. The exception, of course, is found in God’s promise to make all things new through Jesus Christ. This assurance safely carries us for a lifetime and beyond, no matter how messy life gets.

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Rev. Phillip Leo is the Church Communications Director at Barnabas Foundation. Read Phil's online bio.