Our church has just entered into its annual stewardship season. I find it impossible to consider my own, personal stewardship without considering my relationship to “stuff.”
An honest Christian will have to admit that a major factor in a decision about what we give to God is the question: “How much will I have left for ‘stuff’?” Very few American Christians are not affected by materialism.
Clarence Jordan used to refer to the problem as “the deceitfulness of riches.” The material temptations of this consumer life often tempt us to think that they contain the secret of happiness.
In his book “The World Within,” Quaker writer Rufus Jones says, “There is a remarkable saying in the little Book of Obadiah that, in a happier coming time, ‘the House of Jacob shall possess their possessions.'”
“It sounds like tautology, but there may be a fresh depth of life in this ancient saying,” Jones continues. “It isn’t everybody who actually possesses his possessions, and we may perhaps discover that this is a live issue for us today.”
It is amazing how the need for “stuff” controls our lives. Nearly everyone I know has a story about something they wanted desperately, purchased and, in short order, regretted it because the item didn’t make them happy.
The item might be as large as a car or as small as an iPod, but it felt as if the item forced us to buy it. The iPod sat on a store shelf or the car was parked on a dealer’s lot and called a siren song to our hearts, which we could not resist.
We had no control. We did not possess our possessions; rather, they possessed power over us. And why didn’t these items provide long-term satisfaction? Peter Kreeft in his book, “Heaven: the Heart’s Deepest Longing,” gives us a clue.
“Since an idol is not God, no matter how sincerely or passionately it is treated as God, it is bound to break the heart of its worshipper, sooner or later,” Kreeft asserts. “Good motives for idolatry cannot remove the objective fact that the idol is an unreality. You can’t get blood from a stone or divine joy from non-divine things.”
A congregation’s annual stewardship emphasis shouldn’t be an annual hit for money.
Rather, it should be an annual opportunity to determine if my possessions own me, or if I own my possessions. It should be an annual opportunity to determine where I search for the touch of the divine in my life.
If the material goods surrounding my life (the ones I own and the ones I crave) dictate how I use my money, I reserve more for me and give less for God (or anyone else).
I buy more things, which, in the end, provide no divine joy. I am in a vicious cycle and don’t understand the angst that surrounds my life.
Material things are not bad. Neither is money. But Scripture teaches us at a number of points that they are deceitful.
They seem to promise divine joy, but instead offer slavery to them – both in obsessive desire to own them and in a payment schedule that keeps us bound to them long after any joy is gone.
I once heard it said that the only thing worse than the feeling we have paid too much for an item is the sense we bought the wrong thing.
If I am a steward of my goods, I possess my possessions. I control my desires for them. I make conscious decisions when I will buy them and how I will use them.
I decide what I will give away based on my love for God and others, instead of out of the fear I won’t have enough to buy the products that promise happiness.
If I am a steward, I also see clearly that it is in my relationship with Christ that I find divine joy, not in any electronic device, clothing item or vehicle.
I see the truth of Kreeft’s comment: “You can’t get blood from a stone or divine joy from non-divine things.” If only I had known that was what I was looking for.
Joel Snider is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Rome, Ga. A version of this column first appeared on his website, The Substance of Faith, and is used with permission. Joel’s sermons appear on EthicsDaily.com and are available here.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.