Why is it that I can have everything I need in life and not be happy? I look at my life and think, I should be completely content, so why am I not? Why is it that I can feel so great about life and myself after I bought that new sweater?
If you are a Christian and have asked yourself similar questions, I would venture to say that you, like me, may have early warning signs of spiritual cancer.
I don’t normally think of myself as a materialistic person because I don’t feel the need to have the latest technology, name brand clothes or a newly remodeled house. But I think materialism can come in many forms than just having many possessions. For me, it can come in the form of having an “adequate” savings and storing up for all of mine and my families needs. To put it bluntly, to trust in my own abilities and riches above God.
Materialism is like cancer to the spiritual soul. It creeps in quietly and undetected, yet left alone, will wreak havoc on your relationship with God.
The bible doesn’t pull punches when it comes to following Jesus and trying to love materialism at the same time.
Proverbs 11:28 Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.
Luke 16:13 No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.
Luke 6:20, 24 Looking at his disciples, he said: Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God…. But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
Matthew 6:19, 21 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
And of course, one of the most famous scriptures on the subject:
Matthew 6:25-33 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
In order to not be materialistic, is the answer to be a minimalist? I don’t think so. We shouldn’t swing completely the other way from materialism into asceticism where we deprive ourselves of anything that is good. God did create a world for us to enjoy (Deut 8:7-9). And even minimalism can lead us astray if that becomes the primary focus of our efforts, because then it’s idolatry.
So what then?
The answer could lie within the following question:
What is your deepest longing?
I was asked this question a few months ago and I knew the “right” answer. “To have a great relationship with God.” But when I really thought about it, I couldn’t stop thinking about my longing for security. My longing to be comfortable. My longing to just be content.
I needed to sift my heart. I do so many things to put God first in my life and seek him with all my heart so how can I determine what my deepest longing is? The following quote from Celebration of Discipline helped me test my heart.
If what we have we receive as a gift, and if what we have is to be cared for by God, and if what we have is available to others, then we will possess freedom from anxiety. This is the inward reality of simplicity. However, if what we have we believe we have gotten, and if what we have we believe we must hold onto, and if what we have is not available to others, then we will live in anxiety. -Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline
What I have I want to keep. Period. I have a tight fist around my husband, kids, clothes, etc. If it’s “mine” I want to keep it forever without any harm coming to it. I have been very concerned if we had an emergency fund stored up in case we lost a job. Understandable. But I was also nervous because don’t we need another emergency fund in case a tree falls on our roof? Or one of us gets injured and can’t work for a time? Or a tornado hits? Or aliens land on our house and leave behind an infestation of little white bugs?!
If my deepest longing was God, I would be so rooted in His word, these anxieties wouldn’t be present in my life. I would be able to look at the future with assurance of God’s provision. And every time I bought a new sweater, I would be able to look at it and ask, “I wonder how long I’ll get to keep you for?” Without being nervous about the answer.
In my attempt to repent of this, I have had a mind change about some areas of my life and here are some things I have done along with websites that have helped me a long the way. The list comes from the book, Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. I have tweaked them to fit my current situation.
1. “Buy things for their usefulness rather than status.” This is a big thing for me when it comes to clothes. This website has been so helpful to learn how to pick out quality clothes and how to tell if they should last. Price is not necessarily an indicator! I am trying to consider what I buy and if something comes in, then it is to replace something that is worn out.
2. Reject anything that is becoming an addiction in you. I think the most pressing addiction I face, oddly enough, is my phone. Facebook, Instagram, Bloglovin, Twitter, ASOS, the list unfortunately goes on. I can manage to check all of my apps before reading my bible. Which gives me absolutely no excuse to not have time to pray or read if I can know that Suzie Q’s cat is out of the hospital. Needing a detox? Check this out.
3. Develop a habit of giving things away. I have two small kids and am constantly giving their clothes, toys, etc away. But it went even beyond that. I had two thermos’ for coffee. I am the only one who drinks coffee in our house. So why three? Now I’m down to one. It’s silly but it helps to not have two of everything!
4. De-accumulate. Have an area that is constantly cluttered? Take everything out, put back only what fits and get rid of the rest. When I buy something, I ask myself where it will live. If I don’t have a place for it, I don’t buy it. (We still don’t have a vacuum cleaner for this reason. Good thing we have a small apartment with wood floors!)
5. Buy toys that are educational and durable. I love the wood toys and especially those that help my daughter to learn. And believe it or not, those are the toys she plays with the most. She hardly every plays with her Elsa doll (unless another kid comes over and wants it!) but she almost always plays with her puzzles and wants to learn more about counting and the alphabet.
6. Learn to enjoy things without owning it. This helps me when it comes to toys actually. Who knew that when I became a mom I would be super excited about toys? I want her to have it all! But we don’t have the space for it. But it doesn’t hurt to go to our friends how and play with their toys! I would also love to own a garden but I am having fun enjoying the parks and exploring more beautiful areas of the city.
7. Develop an appreciation of the creation. I recently planted a few lilac plants on our balcony. I sit out there and really enjoy hearing the birds and looking at the flowers.
8. Be skeptical of buy now, pay later. If you don’t have the money for it now, it’s possible you won’t have it later either. Ask yourself if it really is a need or a want.
After implementing these steps into my life, I can already feel the anxiety melting. My husband and I have also set a budget that we can live wisely but also sacrificially. I can’t control what happens in the future, but I can control where I put my trust.
These are some things that I have done recently to help, with the primary focus being that whatever I do, I seek God first. It has brought a lot of peace to my life and the freedom to enjoy the lot God has given me.