Let’s take an enter-the-sanctuary moment and ponder this: What if our definition of living a prosperous, abundant life is misguided? When you look carefully at Scripture, Jesus never actually talks about material wealth and physical comfort as being a blessing. Instead we hear Him say, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God,” his tone more sorrowful than critical.
Jesus never said that money was bad, or even that having an abundance of it was bad. Instead He invited us to consider what money does to us. It corrupts our character, it distracts us, it ties us to places and things; ultimately it makes us less dependent on Him, which is the real sin. Could it be that from God’s perspective, material comfort is not a blessing but rather a burden?
– “It’s Time to Stop Confusing Blessings With Stuff,” Relevant Magazine
I’m a packrat. I like to collect and hang onto things, often because I don’t know when I’ll need something. Some things are a bit more trivial and didn’t cost me anything, like the class notes from junior high I just threw out this past Christmas. Other things could still be considered trivial, but still have some value to me. Still more and more of my stuff moves along the continuum from more trivial to more necessary, until you zoom out far enough and see all of the stuff I own.
I developed the habit of collecting a lot of this stuff when I was younger, and as I’ve grown up, I’ve had to work harder and harder to justify more and more of my purchases. Some things have a bit more of a free pass; books, movies, and music (especially high quality products from those three categories) have a freer pass into my possession, with the justification centering around growth in knowledge and information. Other things (i.e., every other Target aisle) has much more scrutiny placed upon them before any purchase is made.
While some of this attitude comes from a natural disdain for spending money, more of it in recent years has come from contemplating how possession fits into Christianity. How often could my money be (or have been) better utilized than on what I’m considering purchasing?
My attitude with money also seeps into how I earn money. There are certainly things I need to do to survive (another reason I hold disdain for money), but I am much more focused on fulfillment through the work I do than the money I earn.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time contemplating how money was discussed in my past. I can remember many sermons from growing up that at the very least touched on money. OK, actually, I remember that they happened, and I remember more general themes than specific word-for-word discussion, but what I do remember impacted me greatly. These themes I remember can primarily be summed up in two categories:
- We shouldn’t focus on money.
- Donate or give more than just from your finances.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve had more of an opportunity to reflect on these themes and to think about money in general. As I’ve struggled with what providing for myself looks like, I have seen over and over how money, or lack thereof, can potentially be crippling with regards to survival. Thankfully, I have not yet had a serious enough situation where I haven’t been able to pay for something I needed, and I cannot imagine being in that situation. Still, I don’t have the option not to focus on money in a very specific way because of a continual need to do things like pay rent and eat.
I realize that much of the thought about not focusing on money is about not making that our primary focus, instead making God our primary focus (along with the other things on the list before money), but looking at the lives of the people around me growing up (and the life I thought I wanted growing up), I wonder how thin the line is between actually using abundant resources for good and attempting to acquire resources because we say we want it to be able to do good.
I think some of the “abundance” discussion ties into the second theme, donating more than just financially. The more specific context of this that I remember was about donating our time, since donating money could be an opportunity to avoid more intimate interaction with needs and issues around us. However, I wonder how a sermon poorly given could leave people feeling like they don’t need to give financially at all.
When discussing financial giving in seminary, the most frequent term that came up was “giving sacrificially.” There is a level where we are comfortable giving, knowing that we will still be able to provide for ourselves or save a lot up, or whatever the case may be, but our call is actually to a sacrificial giving that pushes our comfort level. The idea of storing up for ourselves or saving for the future is not necessarily unbiblical, but we are wise to remember the parable of building bigger barns for ourselves. We can’t take our stuff with us when we go.
I’ve found that, at many times, the “disdain” I have for money approaches a borderline hatred for money. The times I find myself most cynical are when thinking about the corrupting power of money, and the influence that money can and often does have over all of our lives. One of the issues with abundance, as mentioned in the quote from above, is the weakening of the need for God. This comes along with the implicit believe that we can take care of ourselves. What does it look like to live with the understanding that God can, does, and will provide what we need, to the glory of his kingdom?
The thing is, with how much I think about money, how I’m spending it, what it can do in positive and negative ways, etc.; once I have bought something, it takes an incredible amount of effort to let go of that thing. I hang onto my stuff (and money, really) as long as I can, not wanting to let anything go. As with so much of what I write about, I can be the first person to learn the lesson I am trying to discuss.
On this subject, I continue to reflect on Proverbs 30:8-9, two verses that I find to be a reminder, reflection, and prayer. With these verses, though, comes a renewed attempt to understand what “my daily bread” really looks like.
8 Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.
– Proverbs 30:8-9