A week after the horrific Las Vegas shooting, the area which was once host to a day of country music was full of abandoned items which were being catalogued and organized so they could be returned to their owners. There were clothes, shoes, baby strollers, phones, backpacks and purses strewn across the huge crime scene. When people were fleeing for their lives, it was easy to let go of their material possessions in an effort to run to safety.
The same thing occurred with the recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida and the fires in California. Most people willingly abandoned their homes, their possessions and all their stuff in order to save their lives.
When we are faced with the possibility of death, it is easy to leave behind all the things the world tells us are so important. But why does it take a life and death situation to help us put the stuff in our lives into the proper perspective?
We live in the most affluent culture in the history of the world, where we are constantly bombarded with costly, manipulative advertising to prompt us to spend money. Advertisers usually stress the importance of image rather than function. For example, automobile ads rarely focus on a car as reliable, economical transportation. Instead, they project an image of status or sex appeal.
No matter what the product—clothing, deodorants, credit cards, you name it—the message is communicated that the fulfilling, beautiful, wrinkle-free life can be ours if we are willing to buy it. How many commercials do you see which infer that you can never be happy, or fulfilled, satisfied or successful until you buy this thing or that thing? The advertising message is that the big house, fancy car, stylish clothes, and whatever else they are selling will bring us happiness and fulfilment. All we have to do is buy it. And all too often we fall prey to the advertising hype and sink into the trap of thinking that our happiness is directly related to how much stuff we’ve collected and how much money we have.
We are inundated with the message that once we collect a certain amount of money or buy certain products we will be happy. The problem is that almost as soon as we have purchased the latest object of our desires, or reached a certain level of financial security, we find that it really doesn’t satisfy us, and we need more in hope that more it will provide the satisfaction and happiness we desire. We end up in a constant cycle of accumulation.
Romans 12:2 (GNT) says, “Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect.”
The truth is that only God can provide ultimate happiness, fulfillment and satisfaction. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul stated that he had to learn to be content. We too must learn to be content. There is no need to keep accumulating more and more stuff to satisfy our need for happiness when only God will provide all the joy we could possibly desire.
When we are face to face with our mortality, it is so easy to figure out what is really important. In the face of death, it’s easy to walk away from our stuff and run to safety.
But how hard is it to walk away from our stuff when we are comfortable and safe? How often do we place more importance on our material things rather than our mission to proclaim the good news? Our energy and focus can be easily diverted from our faith life into collecting and maintaining the things we have—the house, the car, the boat, the tech toys and on and on.
In the Gospels, Jesus tells his apostles to travel light so that they are not weighed down by material possessions. He wanted his disciples focused on their mission not their stuff. “He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick—no food, no sack, no money in their belts.” Mark 6:8
He also wants us focused on our mission not our stuff. The mission hasn’t changed in the past 2000 years. We are to share God’s word with everyone we meet. Yet so many times, our stuff can get in the way of our mission.
The difference between how our world views wealth, and possessions is in direct contradiction to how Jesus views wealth. He does not teach that wealth is bad, but condemns being enslaved by worldly wealth and having the love of wealth be an obstacle to our life in grace.
“Jesus then said to his disciples, ‘I assure you: it will be very hard for rich people to enter the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 19:23). Riches are deceitful because they are tangible and can blind us from the reality of the unseen Lord. We imagine that our finances and our possessions have some importance that only belongs to Christ.
We can use money to fulfill selfish desires or we can use money to further God’s kingdom on earth. We can use money to keep up with the neighbors or we can use money to help our neighbors. We can use money to accumulate worldly wealth or we can realize that true wealth is not of this world. We can worship money or we can worship God.
What is real security? We can find it in God alone. Apart from a relationship with Christ, it’s nothing more than an illusion.