I spent the morning yesterday shopping for a ‘toy,’ a completely frivolous item which, in the end, I passed on buying for many reasons! An hour or so after the adventure, I stopped by SubCulture Coffee, Sean’s shop in West Palm Beach, Florida. There in the middle of affluence, stood a homeless man in rags, disheveled, dirty. Everything he owns in the world he carries in 2 or 3 filthy backpacks that rested in the alley just outside the door.
What a contrast between Marcus and me: I with disposable income, he with nothing; I with the options created by access to wealth that is unimaginable to about 95% of the rest of the people in the world, he knowing only a daily scramble for enough resources to buy food and find a place to leave his ‘stuff.’
After encountering Marcus, my thoughts kept circling back to a question – do I own my things or do they own me? What am I doing with the affluence the Lord has allowed me to enjoy? Am I, just like most Americans, looking for satisfaction in consumerism, convinced that life would be better if I bought yet another thing – a shirt, a car, a piece of technology, an investment to return bigger dividends?
Dr. Natasha Josefowitz, who is 89, a former professor of business management, contrasts the present need to acquire things that is fed by our vast array of options with a time she remembers. It was a time, not so long ago, she says, “when we made do, it was good enough; perfect was not in our vocabularies. Our aspirations were more limited. We were not bombarded by so many promising ads. Were we less stressed because of fewer choices, less need to make constant decisions? I do not know, nostalgia creates memory gaps, but I do know that we should all do less shopping, own less, get rid of clutter, and have a life free of too much stuff.” I love her authenticity when she admits what many of us feel, “Discarding something often feels like a loss and that can trigger stress hormones, which is why it is so hard to get rid of things. So far I am a failed minimalist.” – Consumed by our Society, Huffington Post, 2/18/2015
I think I need to spend some time with Jesus’ words about stuff. They are simple, yet profound, easy to understand, but hard to live in this era of Amazon, Ebay, and Craigslist! He says, “And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:29-35, NIV)
“Want to find freedom from the angst of a consumer lifestyle?” He asks me. Then, He tells me how.
- Stop loving what people who do not know God love!
Those with no eternal hope, those who are not alive in the Spirit, can only look for the next best meal or beverage. The emptiness of life can only be filled momentarily with yet another thing or experience. Interesting, Jesus does not advocate starving, misery, or asceticism! He acknowledges that God knows we need clothes, food, and lodging but insists they are NOT what life is about. So, He tells us to …
- Run after the Kingdom first!
When we do this, He says, God will take care of the necessary stuff.
What exactly does it mean to ‘seek first the Kingdom?’ Make life about the pursuit of God. Learn to enjoy what He’s created. Live in the moment He provides without complaint. Love the people He puts in your life without discriminating. Make sure that your life is a statement of His ultimate worth – in thought, word, and action. Refuse to exploit the weak or curry the favor of the powerful. Don’t be seduced by the illusions of the Evil One. “Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions.” (Luke 12:31, The Message) and guess what? God will provide the ‘stuff’ you need!
- God will invest Kingdom lovers with Kingdom provisions!
Oh how that idea has been twisted inside out in our time. We think that means that God is obligated to fill our bigger barns and enlarge our bank accounts if we sing the right songs on Sunday and do good, moral things on Monday. The promise is really about God showing us how to live with real treasure – love, joy, peace, hope, assurance – and in that kind of life to be among the richest people on earth with a kind of treasure that is beyond loss.
- Practically, we wean ourselves from trinkets by giving liberally to those who are poor!
Jesus radically teaches us that in our generosity God gives us purses that don’t wear out. Recessions cannot erode their value. Thieves cannot steal that treasure. Death itself cannot separate us from it.
Many of those who read these lines will simply nod, giving mental assent, but not really believing this for a moment. Such is the grip of consumerism on our hearts and minds. We simply cannot believe that less can be more, that giving can produce wealth, that real treasure is unrelated to net worth. The greatest tragedy is that God cannot pour His riches into hands and hearts that are already full.
Here is a word from the Word. Would you take more than a couple of minutes with Jesus’ wisdom today? Soak in it, return to it several times, pray your way through it. Then, test it with obedience.
Jesus said, “Take care! Protect yourself against the least bit of greed. Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot.”
Then he told them this story: “The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop. He talked to himself: ‘What can I do? My barn isn’t big enough for this harvest.’ Then he said, ‘Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods, and I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!’
“Just then God showed up and said, ‘Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods—who gets it?’
“That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.” The Message (Luke 12:15-21)
I am challenged by the motto of a man who died when he was just 30 years of age, while attempting to reach a primitive tribe in the Amazon jungle with Christ’s Gospel. Jim Elliott wrote that “he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Do I believe it? Do you?
Take My Life And Let It my life and let it be,
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee,
Swift and beautiful for Thee.
Take my silver and my gold
Not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use
Ev’ry pow’r as Thou shalt choose,
Ev’ry pow’r as Thou shalt choose.
Take my love my Lord, I pour,
At Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself and I will be
Ever only all for Thee,
Ever only all for Thee.
Frances Ridley Havergal | Henri Abraham Cesar Malan
© Words: Public Domain