Crippled by Materialism

About a year ago, I really started struggling with the concept of materialism for the first time. I had just bought Radical and started reading it, and I couldn’t seem to get past the part about Jesus and the rich young ruler. David Platt wrote, “So we rationalize those passages away…And this is where we need to pause, because we are beginning to redefine Christianity…we are taking the Jesus of the Bible and twisting him into a version of Jesus we are more comfortable with…A Jesus who brings us comfort and prosperity as we live out our Christian spin on the American dream.” It really got me. So much so that I had to put the book down and didn’t pick it up again.

Over the past year, God has brought me to a point where I’m ready to read it and ready to change things. But at that point in my life, I couldn’t even process it.

I tried to ignore it, but it continued to bother me. Here are some thoughts that I penned last February:

“I give my life to follow everything I believe in, now I surrender.” Oh middle-class American Christians. We sing that, but do we really do that? Do we build our lives around Christ, or do we weave threads of morality into the fabric of our comfortable lives?

This is a question I’ve been struggling with a lot lately. It seems like most of the people I see around me talk about “giving up everything for Christ” as though they actually do. Oh, they tithe and bake casseroles for shut-ins, and I’m not trying to minimize that, but have they ever truly experienced what it is like to go without something for the sake of Christ? Can they say like Peter, “Lord, I have given up everything to follow you?”

Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell everything he had and give it to the poor. We assume He was using hyperbole…but was He? I’ve considered what it would be like to do that. And I shrug and say, “It’s not even possible,” and try to rationalize Jesus’ command away. And it’s not possible — not here in Nashville, TN, USA, because we have all become so much a part of society that we can’t even get our minds around how to carry out such a thing.

If Jesus told me the same thing he told that man, the conversation would probably go like this:

Jesus: “Sell everything you have and give to the poor.”

Me: “I mean… I can sell like my TV, but I can’t sell my car.”

Jesus: “Why can’t you sell your car?”

Me: “I have to be able to get to work!”

Jesus: “Why don’t you quit your job and spend that time reaching out to others? Offering salvation instead of selling material goods?”

Me: “Because I need money!”

Jesus: “Why do you need money?”

Me: “Because…because… I mean, I have to eat!”

Jesus: “Can you trust Me to provide?”

….

Me: “….No. No, Jesus. I need my job. I need my car. I need my stuff.”

Rationalization doesn’t work very well, because when you follow your argument down to the heart of it, you find that you’re saying no to Jesus Christ. And that doesn’t sound good no matter how you look at it.

If you’re honest, that’s how that conversation would go for you as well. Or at least, that’s what your actions say every day of your life.

In this culture, materialistic things matter a lot. We’ve been conditioned by society to chase after money, careers, romance. It’s all useless, but we can’t get out of the mindset if we’re stuck in the culture without experiencing or working toward something else. We need a drastic change of mentality if we are ever to be the humble, self-sacrificing people Jesus has called us to be. We think our “stuff” makes us powerful, but in reality, we’ve become so crippled by materialism that we’re afraid to let go of our security blanket. That doesn’t sound powerful. It sounds like a bunch of weak-willed, needy, dependent, selfish children.

I went to a Bible study Wednesday night because my favorite professor Dr. Gallaher was teaching. We were talking about the book of Ecclesiastes and how everything is meaningless. He had all of us say what our dreams were. Mine? Graduate college with a high enough GPA to get into grad school for marriage & family counseling. [Yeah, this was 2 major changes ago.] Other people? Every single one of them included education and career. And then Dr. G. looked around at all of us and said simply, “It’s all meaningless.”

Our faces became sober and thoughtful as we considered this. Heads nodded.

And then the time was up, and we all rushed to go because we had homework to do so we could keep up our GPA and get into grad school and get a good career and retire with lots of money.

In one ear and out the other. It sounds good in theory, but when you think about actually, literally implementing it in your own life…

Jesus was more right than I ever supposed when He said, “How hard it is for the rich to inherit the kingdom of heaven!”

Jim Elliot once said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” He must have meant it, because not only did he leave his home to share Christ with a lost world, he gave up his life to do so.

If this made you feel uncomfortable, there’s probably a reason. I’ve been wrestling with this for over a year, so I offer no apology for any toes I may have stepped on. Instead, I offer you my hand. Let’s make a change. Together.

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Published in: on January 31, 2012 at 10:21 pm  Comments (4)  
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  1. La darlin’, you know I love you. And I have to disagree with you.

    God provides for people, yes. And mostly, that is done through the work of other people. Missionaries are supported by people. For them to quit their jobs and go preach, others pay. Those others have to have jobs. For Priscilla and Aquila to have a church meet in their house, they had to have a house.

    Jesus was not speaking to the world at large when he gave that directive to the Rich Young Ruler. If so, everything would collapse. (And Priscilla and Aquila would be bad guys for having a house.) Maybe Paul had it in I Cor. 6:12 — “‘I have the right to do anything’ — but I will not be mastered by anything.” If, like the rich young ruler, your possessions are everything to you, maybe you do need to let them all go. But at least some Christians need possessions to enable others to do God’s work. And preaching is not necessarily holier than any other job.

    In Bible class on Sunday, we were discussing how to determine whether something has displaced God in your life. Someone (I forget who) said that perhaps a good indicator is what you’re thinking of in your free time — on the way to work, while you’re waiting at the dentist’s office. Are you sitting there fretting about your possessions, or are you praying? Maybe one’s ATTITUDE about possessions says more than what possessions he has.

    • Thanks for the thought you put into your comment! You’re right, so I appreciate you providing the balance for my single-track mind. But because this is an issue that has been plaguing me, I was focusing more on one side of it than the other. The problem is not so much with possessions, but with abundance, and with the attitude that goes along with that. It seems like the more we have, the more we rely on it and less on God. A house to host others? Yes. A million dollar mansion that we don’t use half of? That’s a problem. That’s more of what I meant, but as usual, the ENFP mindset took it to an extreme. 🙂 It’s about the heart — and I just want to make sure that I evaluate fairly instead of using anything as an excuse.

  2. Radical is a great read, I finished it about 4 months ago. I agree it caused me to take a great long look in the mirror about my relationship to “stuff” and my commitment to Christ. But ultimately, God’s call isn’t about giving up stuff, it’s about giving our lives to him completely. I am reminded of a great little book I read 10 years ago by Rick Atchley called Sinai Summit. Its a different spin on the Ten commandments, turning them into proactive statements. In his way thinking “You shall have no other gods before me” becomes “Make God the center of your life”, “You shall not make graven images” becomes “Take me as I AM, don’t try to shape me into who you think I am”, etc…

    In it he lines out a “litmus test” on how to evaluate our relationship with God. It’s something I’ve never forgotten…

    Focus: When you’re not occupied by a specific task, where does your mind always wonder too? Have you lost sight of God?

    Income: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” – Sound familiar? How do you spend your money? It really can tell where your heart is.

    Relationships: When we boil it down…all of our “real” relationships should fit into one of two categories 1) people who are helping you get to heaven and 2) people you are helping to get to heaven. If you’re surrounding yourself who pull you away from God…Then He might not be at the center of your life.

    Security: Where do you place your trust? Money? Family? Status?

    Time: How do you spend your “free time”? It gives great insight into what your main priority is.

    FIRST great little acrostic for evaluating your relationship with God.

    Platts rhetoric can create a lot of guilt. Listen to him and take his message on its face, but then step back and evaluate before you let the guilt overtake you. What I see in you is an amazing committed Christian, who is growing in her relationship with God!

    • Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! I love the acrostic. I have been honestly trying to evaluate myself, and I do feel like I have a purpose in being where I am right now (in college, although it’s ridiculously expensive). I just know that I could get by with a lot less, when there are people who would be so blessed by a fraction of what I have. Also, owning less makes for a simpler lifestyle. It seems like the more I have, the more I become caught up in acquisition. Jesus didn’t say it’s impossible for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven — just difficult. And it’s difficult because money is a powerful force that draws our attention away from more important things.


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