January 17, 2014

Worshiping bigger, better, more . . .

Due to a miscommunication, my carry-on case with laptop and a half-dozen books wound up staying in the back seat of a taxi instead of being unloaded with the rest of our luggage. My reaction surprised me. I was more concerned about the miscommunication than I was about losing my case with its pricey contents. Thankfully, due to my husband’s efforts, it was returned intact.

The next day we watched a television show in which a house burned down. I wondered how I would respond if that happened to us and we lost everything we have, permanently. Would I be so calm?

Today’s devotion warns against the idolatry of things. It directs me to a passage in Luke where a man appealed to Jesus on the grounds of what he thought would be fair play. But Jesus must have surprised him. He ignored his plea and pointed to a deeper and more selfish motivation . . .

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:13–15)

Most of us are impressed with things, more, bigger, better. On our holiday, we visited the Biltmore, the largest private residence in the continent and very impressive. We also notice things like a neighbor’s new car or an amazing collection of shoes, or memorabilia, or art. It seems normal for us to be attached to our stuff, to protect it and guard it. However, Jesus tells a parable about this, warning me that loving my stuff can also be idolatry . . .  

The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” ’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God. (Luke 12:16–21)

When I was much younger, I wanted a big house with large rooms. After moving twenty-nine times and living in a variety of homes, I’ve learned that a big or small house has nothing to do with satisfaction. As the writer of Ecclesiastes says, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? . . . As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again . . . and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind?” (Ecclesiastes 5:5 –16)

Some have decided the only way to avoid the idolatry of things is to be rid of it all and live in poverty, but that is an external solution. Even a poor man can idolize things. Instead, God often blesses His people with things to enjoy, making the true gift of God something else entirely.

I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man. (Ecclesiastes 3:12–13)

I can enjoy what God has given me, but Jesus tells me not to be anxious about my stuff. Life is more than food, even though I need food, and my body is more than what hangs in my closet, even though I need clothes. The reality is that all the good things I have come from the hand of God. I can enjoy it all, but not let any of it possess me, for “life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.”

By anxiety, I cannot add a single hour to my life. What I have or do not have is the prerogative of God, and because He “clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven” I can trust Him to take care of me. Far better than trusting things is the ability to trust God. He is able to take care of that department of life as well as everything else.

As Jesus said, my heavenly Father knows what I need. It is up to me to, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” and let Him add (or subtract) whatever will be in my best interest and for His glory. (Matthew 6:25–34) Certainly, bowing to the idol of things only takes my focus off God who is the source of all things, and makes no sense at all.

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