Learning the Hard Way

Needless to say, we are in tough economic times. Even with the recent passing of over a 700 billion dollar “stimulus” package, the economic prospect for our nation still does not look good. Prognosticators of all kinds are predicting at best a small improvement to the economy over the next few years to an all out depression, potentially leading to revolution, at worst.

To be sure, we have gotten here by our own accord. Rampant mismanagement on the part of our leaders, as well as the creation of a spend and debt culture, have landed us in this predicament. A lot of people and families are hurting. In my own county, unemployment is at twelve percent. I happen to be part of that twelve percent.

But, as in everything, there is a lesson to be learned here. As money is tight, jobs are continuing to be lost, and the light at the end of the tunnel not yet in sight, a great many of us are having to reevaluate priorities and values. The list of things that are really important is beginning to be rewritten, rearranged, and shrink. The longer these tough time persist and the more difficult things become economically, it is my guess more things will find their way off that list, and the list of priorities go through even further rearrangement. Difficult times typically force us to reevaluate. This is a good thing.

I have been reassessing some things myself, particularly my own relationship with money. As a follower of Jesus and his Kingdom I have known, at least intellectually, there exists a difference between God’s view of money and the view typically held by secular society. Jesus taught a great deal about money, what our relationship to it should be, and about our stewardship of it. What has dawned on me is that my practices regarding money and material things tends to simply reflect, in large part, the attitude and practices of the secular culture in which I live. Let me explain. Earlier I referred to how, as a nation, we have turned into a spend and debt culture. The practice of a great many Americans is, perhaps I should say has been, to spend what we earn, and to go into debt for what we want. The simple practices of frugality, saving, reigning in our wants, or at least postponing immediate gratification instead of going into debt, and having money on a regular basis to give to others in need, have not particularly characterized the average American consumer. Based on this plumb line I have not fared much better than the average American. I really believe that if I had been applying these practices more faithfully I would be in a much better place today financially.

What’s really behind the consumer, spend now pay later, mentality and practice of our culture? Why is it we tend to spend the maximum of what we make and are so ready to go into debt for our wants? In all reality, it is a value system where money and the things that money can buy reign supreme. When things, more things and bigger things, and the drive to get the money that buys them, is a core value of our life in practice, we really do convict ourselves of serving the god of Money. Jesus put it bluntly, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money”.

I am not opposed to material prosperity, nor do I believe there is something inherently bad or evil with being wealthy. The Bible simply warns of certain spiritual dangers associated with wealth and the desire to get rich. And one does not have to be wealthy to be challenged by the temptation of placing money and things as a priority in their lives. This is a particular challenge living in an affluent and materialistic culture, where the serving of money and things is so prevalent.

This issue of money and the things it buys really is a matter of the heart. In the context of the quote above Jesus instructed his followers, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Money is not the problem, it is the love of it, or the consumption with, competition for and a scramble to accumulate the things money can buy.

As I read and reread the book of Acts in the Bible, I am struck by the vitality of that first century church and the resultant impact it had on the world of it’s day. Those early believers practiced what Jesus had taught. They lived the value system of the Kingdom of God and as a result, in the span of one generation, they had literally turned the known world upside down. Their lifestyles, which included their practices regarding money and things, engendered both admiration as well as persecution from their culture.

To a large extent, that same potential vitality, for the church in America, has been hijacked by an accommodation to the value system of our current culture. As followers of Jesus, perhaps we need to look at this current economic crisis as an opportunity to reorient ourselves to the value system of God’s Kingdom. Let’s reexamine our own attitudes and practices regarding money and establish the priority of God’s Kingdom as the true priority of our life.