We all know that we should love God with our while heart, yet it’s so easy to lose focus on God by the multitude of things our culture throws at us. We are constantly deluged with the idea that we can be happy if we purchase the next greatest thing that is being promoted. Advertisers try to convince us we need a new car, the latest fashions, the most up to date electronics and a bigger house.
Reality TV programs allow us to put ourselves in the place of the contestants as they vie for big money and exotic vacations. If we could only own this, or buy that, or go there, then we would finally be happy.
When we fall into the trap of our American culture, we are focusing our happiness on worldly objects and not on God. We are creating idols of these worldly objects and making them more important than God.
Matthew (19:16-30), Mark (10:17-31) and Luke (18:18-30) all contain the parable of the Rich Young Man, where Jesus explains that our attitude towards wealth and possessions is in conflict with where our true focus should be. This young man has faithfully observed the commandments and he asks Jesus what else he can do to gain eternal life.
Like most of us, the young man yearns for life in its fullest. He thinks that he may be able to use his wealth to purchase eternal happiness. Jesus understands this young man’s attitude, his dependence on, and attachment to, his wealth and possessions. Jesus’ advice is that he must sell all of his possessions give his money to the poor and then follow him. In doing this the rich young man’s treasure and his heart will no longer be on earth, but he will put God above all else.
When the young man heard this, he turned away because he was very rich. Many of us would probably display the same sentiments as this young man. We have many possessions and these possessions are of great importance to us. Like this young man, if Jesus came into our lives today and told us to sell all that we had and give the money to the poor, there is a possibility we would also turn away. I’d like to think I would easily walk away from everything, but I am not sure how I would respond when put to the test in real life.
Jesus goes on to tell the disciples “how hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” This amazed the disciples and so Jesus goes a little further in his explanation, “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
The problem is not in being rich. In fact there are many rich people in the Bible who were blessed by God. The problem is with our attitude towards worldly things. Society tells us that only things can bring us true happiness.
But wealth and possessions will never make us happy for long. A few short days or weeks after we purchase that longed for item, it becomes just another thing we own and we are looking for something else. When our focus shifts to the material world, we lose focus on God.
First and foremost our focus should be on Jesus. When we do that, we recognize that everything we have comes from God. Nothing we have is based on our own efforts, but everything is a blessing that we have received from God. It is only in him that we find true happiness and fulfillment
The First Commandment tells us that we should have not “have strange gods before me.” In our secular society, how many people actually keep the First Commandment and honor God above all else?
We have many idols in our lives today and they all stem from the spirit of the world. Money, consumerism, greed, and coveting, are just some of the many. Spend a few minutes in your prayer time and think about how you spend your time and your money. Where do your thoughts go most often? Where is your focus? Are these things where God really wants your focus to be? Are these items as important to you as God himself?
A person’s life ebbs and flows according to their focus. We may not be consciously aware of our focus, but it does exist. It will be different in childhood, youth, and maturity. As young a child, it most likely involved toys, games, parental support, and comfort. As young adults, you were probably focused on athletic and scholastic achievement, maybe fashionable clothes, and romance. As an adult, your focus may include marriage, children, career, friends and politics. Our lives become a reflection of our focus. How often does that focus remain on God?
Jesus is calling us to make a radical shift in priorities and commitments. In order to shift our focus to Jesus, we must leave other things behind. Money and possessions are the most seductive false gods on earth. Jesus was really saying to the rich young ruler: “You are carrying a security blanket that you rely on more than God.”
Do you ever wonder what happened to the rich young man? Did he become a grumpy old man, unsatisfied with his wealth? Was his life empty in some unfathomable way? Did he always regret that day when he had a chance to refocus on the real riches, but he turned away?
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” (C. S. Lewis)