Summary: Simplicity is a spiritual discipline that is, too often, left unpracticed in our consumeristic western culture.
This morning we begin a four-week journey dealing with the stewardship of life. Over the next four weeks we’ll take a look at the futility that comes from longing for more in a culture of enough, then we’ll take a look at the power of debt to cause stress in our lives. In week three, we discover the freedom in generous living, and finally we’ll focus on why tomorrow matters. Let’s begin with discovering “When Less is Best.”
In 1987, Irish rock band U2 had its second number 1 hit—I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. Listen to words from the chorus: “I have climbed the highest mountains. I have run through the fields. I have run, I have crawled, I have scaled city walls. But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”
Lead guitarist the Edge (yes, that’s his real name) called that song a gospel song even if it doesn’t sound like one. The entire song captures the spiritual searching expressed by the writer of Ecclesiastes throughout the book, and is particularly poignant in the passage we read this morning because that song (more than almost any other) describes our culture today. How many people are searching, running, scaling, looking for something but not finding it. I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. Too many of us are searching for the something in the accumulation of things.
Everything around us shouts that we are a culture of more. A typical supermarket in the United States in 1976 stocked 9,000 items; today that same market carries 30,000 different items. Why? Because we have an almost obsessive belief that more is better. The more options we have, the better, right? Solomon, the richest man in the world at the time thought that, too, and spent much of his life striving for more. Still, it left him feeling empty. He didn’t find his contentment in possessing more.
Why is God concerned with our drive to accumulate more and more? Let me offer thre reasons briefly. One reason is because our drive for more damages our relationships. James 4:1 says, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Do they not come from your own desires that battle within you? You want something, but don’t get it, so you kill and you covet. You can’t have what you want so you quarrel and fight.”
We find an encounter in 1 Kings 21 involving a king named Ahab who wanted a piece of land adjoining his property. He had this huge palace but he wanted this little garden plot that belonged to his neighbor Naboth. Ahab offered to buy the land but Naboth refused so Ahab, as the story goes, became sullen and angry. His wife Jezebel saw him like this and arranged for Naboth to be put to death. Once Naboth was dead, Ahab took the land he wanted.
That’s an extreme example, but the drive for more can damage our relationships. It’s the preoccupation with other people’s things that is at the root of much of the crime in our society. Remember the story of a carjacking in a Northern Virginia shopping mall. An elderly grandmother had been given a gun by her son for protection. One day after she did her shopping she returned to the car to find four guys seated inside. She dropped her shopping bags and drew her handgun, proceeding to scream at them at the top of her lungs that she had a gun and knew how to use it. The four men hopped out and ran like mad. The lady proceeded to load her shopping bags into the back of the car and get into the driver’s seat. Then she discovered her key wouldn’t fit the ignition. You know where this is going, right? Yeah, it wasn’t her car. She loaded her bags into her car and drove to the police station.
The sergeant to whom she told the story nearly doubled over in laughter and then pointed to the other end of the counter, where four guys were reporting a carjacking by a crazy grandmother. Desiring more damages our relationships.
A second reason is because desiring more damages our finances. We buy more than we can afford because we want more than we need. We can live as contentedly on $30,000 a year as we can on $300,000 a year because contentment has to do with our wants, and we can just as easily want more than we have on $300,000 a year as on $30,000. Where is our heart? That is the question. When we combine the philosophy that possessions bring happiness with our society’s easy access to credit, we have the recipe for financial devastation. Someone once said that credit cards let you start at the bottom and then dig yourself a hole.