Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
In Part 1, I talked about us just wanting our fair share. When Jesus spoke to a man that had the question, he gave the story about a rich man who was satisfied with the increase of his possessions, not realising that his death was near—this is in Luke 12.
There is also the story of a rich young ruler from Mark 10. He too stepped out of the crowd, to speak to Jesus. “Good teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life? What? Tell me. I really want to know.”
“You know the commandments,” replies Jesus: “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.” “Teacher,” he interrupts, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” “One thing you lack,” Jesus says. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Then Jesus said: “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!” Neither the rich young man, nor the disciples standing by know what to say. “How hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God,” Jesus again says. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” “Who then can be saved?” the disciples ask.
The spiral of inverse dissatisfaction
It is hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Paul wrote: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.”
Really? most people would be tempted to respond. I just saw yet another rerun of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, and I just don’t see it. Had I that sort of cash, I wouldn’t feel trapped at all––nor would I give myself over to “foolish and harmful desires”. I would probably be happier than I’ve ever been before!
Yet riches are, or can be, a problem, spiritually. Spiritually. It’s more than a matter of the more you have, the more you want––as if riches were related to happiness by way of an ever-increasing spiral of ‘inverse dissatisfaction’. It’s more like the more you have, the less you want. The more you have, the less you want, to pray: because, frankly, you don’t need to.
Some folk think that prayer is for those who are poor, blind, needy, and hurting. The more you have, the less you want, to give: because, frankly, most people think––rightly or wrongly––the well-off are well-off because they deserve to be, because they earned it. Because it is their ‘entitlement’. So if you’re like that, why give away what you have so carefully earned, and worked so hard to get? It makes absolutely no sense in human terms.
Moreover, many people also think––rightly or wrongly––that the poor are poor because they deserve to be, because they are corrupt, criminal, or have made bad choices, and must therefore be bound to them forever.
Is it bad to be well-off?
Is it a crime to be rich, in financial terms—to be well-off? No, it isn’t. Never has been. Living in Australia, we are rich in so many ways. If you’ve ever visited a third-world country, you’d know what I mean.. We have so much compared to others. But being rich imposes upon us special responsibilities. In other words, we need to share. And the more we have, the greater our responsibility in this regard. Did you know the Bible talks about money all the time? It’s worth considering.
William Barclay wrote about money: “Money in itself is neither good nor bad; it is simply dangerous in that the love of it may become bad. With money a person can do much good; and with money he can do much evil. With money a person can selfishly serve his own desires; and with money he can generously answer to the cry of his neighbor’s need.”
If you have a thriving weed in your garden or yard, you’d better dig it up by the root. If you only remove the part above the ground, the weed will grow back, because the root is still there. In order to get rid of the weed, you must dig deep below the surface and remove the root. The consuming love of money is the same way. It’s like a root below the surface that others may not see. But it is a character flaw that will produce a dangerous growth of suffering for you and others. If you don’t destroy that root, then your life will be continually attacked by the regrowth of greed.
As I think about this, it’s not money people love—it’s the things that money buys; all the stuff. When your life is driven by a desire to have more and more stuff, you can suffer from what we can call possession obsession. Many Australians are notorious for spending money they don’t have to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t even like! This obsession with getting more and more is what the Bible warns against. Paul writes that people who are driven by a desire to get rich fall into a trap—it’s the money trap. There are many money myths that catch people in the money trap.
The best things in life
In Luke 12:15 Jesus said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” You see your net worth really can’t be measured in dollars or cents or possessions. The best things in life—aren’t things at all. The greatest thing you’ll gain in this life is relationships—and money can’t buy those.
Our grandparents remember the rationing in World War II when everybody had to do without many of the luxuries of life. It wasn’t easy but that generation created the concept of deferred gratification. That’s a lost concept in our modern society. Easy credit has encouraged people to buy now and pay later.
The lead singer of the Irish rock band U2 is Paul David Hewson, but he’s known by his nickname Bono. In one of his songs he wrote:
I have climbed the highest mountain,
I have run through the fields,
only to be with you,
only to be with you.
I have run, I have crawled,
I have scaled these city walls,
only to be with you.
But I still haven’t found
what I’m lookin’ for.
That last line is an apt observation of our 21st-century culture: People are looking, searching, running and they aren’t satisfied. One reason is because many of them are looking for happiness in possessions. Solomon, who was one of the wealthiest and most miserable men in history, observed in Ecclesiastes 4:6, “Better is one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.”
For many of us, our dream to make more so you can buy more is like chasing after the wind—you never catch it. When you get to a certain place, you aren’t satisfied, so you want more. Remember what Jesus said: “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life doesn’t consist in the abundance of his possessions”.
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