image by Onur Bahcivancilar from Unsplash
I first drafted this post in 2016, when studying Matthew 6:19-32 made me think about how Christians should relate to material possessions, and what sort of lifestyle we should seek to have consequently. I had read Hudson Taylor's autobiography and was struck by his call for Christians to simplify their lives, materially.
However, I felt like this wasn't a topic I had enough insight on, as I was still looking for answers to my own questions! How do you draw the line, especially in our first-world society, where affluence is the norm and our culture is becoming increasingly entitled? How do we simplify, and is there a different definition of "simplify" that suits our context?
Is it wrong to buy branded things?
Inversely, is it wrong to buy things you don't need because they're cheap?
(This is me, too. I love scoring the pasar malam (market) for cheap gems, and wish thrift shops were more of a thing in Singapore. Life's little joys to me includes being able to answer "But the best part is, guess how much it cost?" whenever someone compliments me on something I'm wearing. The next best answer being "and it has pockets!!")
As long as we tithe enough, can't we use the rest of the money as we want?
Is it okay to buy the food combo when you go to a movie? This is a joke, by the way. I assume cinema food is grossly overpriced the world over.
The fact that I'm only tackling this post now doesn't mean I've found the answers to those questions, but I've given it more thought since. Recently while studying John Piper's book Desiring God, we covered the chapter on money, and I felt it contributed some helpful thoughts to this topic.
First of all, in my own study of Matthew 6:19-32 (one of the longest and most explicit passages giving us guidance on how we should deal with money) I believe a Christian's attitude towards possessions should be one of perspective and awareness.
Perspective on the true value of money, as something that doesn't actually have any value in the big picture. It is Monopoly money, only usable when we're in the middle of a game; useless and pointless bits of coloured paper once we stand up and get back to reality. As Christians, who are to be looking towards our ultimate life/meaning in the spiritual realm, who are here on earth for a brief game, as players, whose real life only begins after death, we should have perspective on the true value of money.
Awareness of its dangers, precisely because its true value is not what our world attributes to it. The solution to all of life's problems, including relationships, self-image, being respected, feeling affirmed, successful. The standard that determines whether our lives are "good" or "bad," "worse" or "better." The guidebook for our choices, lifestyles. The proof of success, the qualification for ambition. The misleading sense of security and stability, of self-reliance and pride, of how well it can masquerade as fulfilment, joy, true worth, until we've actually tasted the real deal.
It's easy to say all this though. Even Hollywood professes to believe money can't buy everything, and if that doesn't tell you enough about the situation, nothing will. We know, we know. But we like to find assurance by pointing at our insignificant bank accounts or small salaries, or at someone else, and assure ourselves that it isn't an issue for us. Is it?
"...joyfully accepting the plundering of your goods." (Hebrews 10:34)
A realization dawned on me. Say I was in that position. Could I 'joyfully accept' all my belongings taken from me?
Net worth of said belongings aside, I know I would be kicking hard.
Then, even more strikingly, what would I be without all my belongings?
We don't often think of this, but consider if you were stripped of all your material possessions--wouldn't it leave you feeling extremely naked/vulnerable/disoriented?
I remember once, sitting on the upper deck of a double decker bus, watching a small green caterpillar on the roof of another bus that had stopped just besides mine at the red light. It was very slowly but aimlessly crawling around, making almost zero headway. I wondered how it had gotten there--fallen off a tree, probably--and suddenly felt vividly sorry for it. It had probably lived the whole of its short life on that tree, and it didn't realize, as it crawled confusedly around on the metal side of the bus, that it would never see its tree again. It was alone in the world, in alien surroundings, without a single familiar leaf or branch to call home; simply one small green caterpillar on its own.
Before you think I'm getting melodramatic, the same sense of lostness, or nakedness, is what I realized I would experience if I was suddenly cut adrift from every thing I'd owned, everything material thing I possessed. If it was just me. One small green caterpillar.
Imagine if we could joyfully accept letting all that go, embracing the dizzying sense of freedom/lostness (you decide which) it entails. If we were content to define ourselves--our plans for the future, our sense of self, our sources for security and stability--solely through our faith.
So much of our plans are based on how much money we have in our bank accounts, on whether we've got a home or not, on what goals society tells us that someone our age should have having--a stable job, a steady income, a place of your own, going out to eat with friends without having to worry about busting your budget, going on holidays how many times a year, and how far you can travel; being able to have kids, being able to retire at a certain age etc...
This is an extreme example but it's so that we can take a step back and see how much we rely, unconsciously, on these things which we've absolutely taken for granted, in our first-world culture. How much are these things distracting us from, blurring our ultimate identity and purpose as servants of Christ? We see ourselves instead as "just your average millenial trying to survive financially;" "another young couple trying to afford a home and kids;"
"feeling pressurized to do better than that obnoxious ex classmate," "my parents have high expectations of me and I have to live up to them," "I'm earning less than most of my peers," "this job leaves me no life, but what to do? no choice," "I've getting one step closer to the ideal of success that my society idolizes," or "I just do my job and take care of myself, I haven't got enough resources to do anything more."
And all this...is just for starters!
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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