“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
Last weekend we had a two night stay with family members who live in a city about two hours away. The amount of stuff we dragged with us was startling–clothes for each day (multiple outfits for some days depending on the planned activities), including shoes and accessories; electronics (phones, tablets and computers plus all the peripheral stuff that goes with them); beach chairs; beach towels; pillows, etc. What we took is probably the average kind of stuff most people take when they travel by car. But it certainly was not according to the instructions found in the quote from Mark 6:8 above.
In the Gospels, Jesus tells his apostles to travel light so that they are not weighed down by material possessions. The reason for traveling light is so they would focus on their mission of spreading the gospel and the good news without being weighed down by their possessions.
So many times, our accumulation of stuff can get in the way of our relationship with God and his will for us. Today’s society focuses on our possessions, and not on God. We are inundated with the message that we can never be happy, fulfilled, satisfied or successful until we have this or that thing.
God created everything and nothing in creation is bad. However, our attitude toward material things can be a problem when things have a more important place in our lives than our mission to proclaim the good news.
Often times our energy and focus is diverted from our faith life into collecting and maintaining the things we have – the house, the car, the computer, the boat, etc.
The problem is that almost as soon as we have purchased the latest object, we find that it really doesn’t satisfy us, and we turn our thoughts and desires to the next thing we want to buy in hopes that it will provide the satisfaction and happiness we desire.
The truth is that only God can provide ultimate happiness 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 what we really long for is God, who will provide all the joy we could possible desire.
Jesus wanted his disciples focused on their mission, not their stuff. He also wants us focused on our mission, not our stuff. The mission hasn’t changed in the past 2000 years. We are still supposed to be traveling light, and sharing God’s word with everyone we meet.
We must never become too much at home in this world, or we will become ineffective in serving the kingdom we are here to represent. We are aliens, strangers, and pilgrims on earth. Peter wrote, “I urge you as strangers and sojourners to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against the soul.” (1 Peter 2:11)
Pilgrims are unattached. They are aware that the excessive accumulation of things can be a distraction. Material things are valuable to pilgrims, but only if they facilitate the journey. Things can entrench us in the present world, acting as chains around our legs that keep us from moving in response to God.
When our eyes are too focused on the visible, they will be drawn away from the invisible. “For we fix our attention, not on things that are seen, but on things that are unseen. What can be seen lasts only for a time, but what cannot be seen lasts forever.” (2 Corinthians 4:18, GNT)
Pilgrims of faith look to the next world. They see earthly possessions as useful, but unimportant.
Two principles concerning possessions help us gain a proper perspective.
First of all, we leave everything behind when we die. After John D. Rockefeller (one of the wealthiest men in the world at that time) died, his accountant was asked how much money he left. The accountant responded, “He left it all.” Job said it this way: “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I go back again.” (Job 1:21)
Second, earthly goods won’t last forever; they are destined for destruction. “But the Day of the Lord will come like a thief. On that Day the heavens will disappear with a shrill noise, the heavenly bodies will burn up and be destroyed, and the earth with everything in it will vanish. Since all these things will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people should you be? Your lives should be holy and dedicated to God.” (2 Peter 3:10-11, GNT)
No matter how much stuff we have, how much we enjoy it or how much we paid for it, it will all be destroyed in time.
Bishop Ken Untener in the The Little Burgundy Book: Six-minute reflections on Stewardship in light of the Gospel of Mark, sums it up best:
“I was created by God to grow, to move, to journey on the great adventure of life. The more things I pile up, the less I am able to move in this or that direction. I become less an adventurer…and more a watchman.”