Summary: In a culture of affluence we must practice simplicity and generosity if we are to love God first and draw closer to him.
Last week I said we suffer from a sickness in this country, it is the sickness of hurry, and we talked about the need to slow down, prioritize our time, and spend time being still before God. But there is a second sickness we have in this country, the sickness of affluence, riches, greed, materialism, consumerism. We live in the wealthiest country in the world, we are some of the wealthiest people in the world. But because it is part of our culture we don’t even realize how truly affluent we are. We are like fish swimming in a pond unaware that we are in fact living and breathing the water, it’s just part of what we’ve always known. The water we swim in is affluence. We are able to eat three meals a day, and usually we get a choice of whatever we want to eat. We get to go to grocery stores and have a choice between tens of thousands of different items. While most people around the world are eating one choice, typically rice and/or beans for dinner. Most of us have one vehicle per driving age person in the household while most people around the world don’t have any vehicle. Most of us live in a home which is large enough to have one bedroom for each child, whether they are in your home or have grown up now. Most people around the world live in a one or two room home. Most of us probably have at least two televisions in our home. I’m not even going to get into all the toys we have for leisure and entertainment because I think you get the point. Since we live in the fish pond where everyone has these things and probably much more, we don’t even think twice about how our materialistic habits affect us spiritually.
Since we are in a series looking at spiritual growth and the practices or disciplines which help us grow, we need to look seriously at this one. Remember spiritual growth is receiving God’s grace to know him better (in other words it’s relational) and maturing to be more like him (we reflect Jesus’ character and actions more and more in our life, saying what he would say, doing what he would do).
Just as hurry prevents us from spending our time with God, materialism divides our hearts away from God. Jesus said "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 (Mt. 6:24).”
Because we live in an affluent society where everybody has it and thinks they need it and deserve it (whatever “it” is, see Ebay commercial), we have inoculated ourselves into thinking it is okay for us to serve both God and mammon because everyone else is doing it too. If we are to grow spiritually we need to do as Jesus said and “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness (Mt. 6:33).” God and his kingdom take first place.
We cannot grow closer to God and become more like him when we are trapped by our love for things. The problem is, most of us don’t think we have a love for money or possessions, but what if I were to ask you right now to give every television in your home away? [Try to be absolutely serious] No, really tomorrow morning bring your television(s) down to the Salvation Army. [Long Pause] What is your reaction? Doubt? He’s not serious is he, he wouldn’t ask us to do that? Do you feel defensive? What right does he have to tell me what I have to do? Anxiety? If I didn’t have my television how could I watch my favorite show, my favorite football team, or whatever sports, movies. Perhaps television was a bad choice, pick whatever is most valuable to you or where you spend your free time, maybe it’s your fishing boat, or your manicures. What I’m trying to get at is that we like to think we put God and his kingdom first, when in reality we have put other things first, material things. Because we live in an affluent society where we have access to everything our heart could desire we think it’s okay to value these things because everyone else does.
I see this among kids and young adults today because parents and grandparents have fed the beast of materialism by giving their kids everything they want. The message we are sending to our kids/grandkids is, having stuff is important.
Practicing Simplicity and Generosity
This is where the practice of simplicity and generosity become so important in the life of a follower of Christ. Making a habit or regular practice of living a simple lifestyle (by God’s standards, not our cultures) and being generous are essential in helping us grow spiritually by helping prevent our money and possessions from getting in the way of our relationship with God. We become less tight fisted, needing to cling to money even though “our money” is really God’s to begin with.