I went shopping on Black Friday once. It wasn’t intentional. I forgot it was Black Friday and meandered to an outlet store Friday afternoon. Imagine my surprise at the absolute frenzy and madhouse surrounding us. It looked as though an earthquake or tornado ripped through the store. Everyone was rushing around with a crazed, half gritty-half asleep look. Kids were screaming with hunger. People were still wearing their pajamas at two in the afternoon. They hadn’t yet wiped the sleep out of their eyes. The checkout line snaked around the store. I looked incredulously at my husband and asked, “What in the world?”
Ah, Black Friday. I forgot. I developed a disdain for the tradition years ago as a seasonal Christmas retail worker, so I never really participated in the chaos. Fine with me. But before I get too high on my horse, let me tell you: I never waste an opportunity to spend, spend, spend on Christmas. The cash may not flow on Black Friday, but there’s nothing more dangerous than a credit card, an unscheduled day on a warm, cozy couch, and Amazon. I’ve received the bill for those times; and believe me, it’s not pretty.
How did I get like this? How did I become so enamored with things to the point I forget about everything else?
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t believe possessions are bad. I’m not an anti-consumerist. In fact, sometimes belongings have positive benefits. For example, they can invoke wonderful memories. Just a few weeks ago I received a box from my mom packed full of my old belongings. The waterworks began as soon as I saw my childhood yellow Yamaha keyboard. I loved that thing! I used to chase the family pet around the house playing the Yamaha as loud as I could. He was terrified. It was a great memory.
No, possessions are destructive when they distract us from the truly important priorities of life. Unfortunately, there’s a thin line between simply owning possessions and being owned by them. It’s cliché but it’s a fact. The path to obsession is a slippery slope.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve learned our lives aren’t defined by possessions. Nor are we to adhere to the mantra, “he who dies with the most toys wins.” No, our lives are defined by how we invest the Spiritual gifts with which we have been entrusted. In the end, if we’re Christians, we’ll be judged by our works. God will look at you, and He will look at me, and ask, “What did you do with the talents I gave you?” Our performance won’t determine our entrance into Heaven, but they darn sure will determine the quality of our heavenly lives. More on that later.
My question is, and always has been, how do we live in this material world without being enamored by possessions? How do we properly prioritize our belongings?
Jesus is our example. Have you ever noticed Jesus was the same around everyone? Whether you were a self-righteous Pharisee, homeless panhandler, prostitute, or scheming, rich tax collector, His message was the same: I am God’s Son. Heaven is real. I’m the only Way to get there.
Most people believe Jesus’ first priority was people. However, His first priority was getting His message to people. Notice He had secondary interest in material things. He wasn’t too interested in His next meal or His house or clothing. It’s what made Him so relatable in any situation. One moment He was reclining in a rich man’s living room dining on fine wine and food, and the next moment He’s spending the night on top of a cold mountain praying to His Father.
When He visits the house of his good friends Mary and Martha in Bethany, a village close to Jerusalem, He voices His favor of Mary because she chose to abstain from chores in order to listen to Jesus’ message. Her sister, Martha, prioritizes the material over the spiritual and sees the endless household tasks as of greater importance than Jesus’ message. (Luke 10:38-42)
In the Book of Luke chapter seven, Jesus visits Simon the Pharisee, the Jewish religious figure of the time. Simon is presumably wealthy, as many Pharisees were. He eats dinner with Simon and others, but as He is eating, a sinful woman crawls behind His chair, breaks a bottle of perfume, and rubs the contents on Jesus’ feet. This perfume was probably very expensive. Simon and his guests are appalled, but Jesus gave no thought to the cost. Instead, He showed appreciation for the woman’s devotion and staunchly defended her.
Zacchaeus, the rich chief tax collector, was instantly awed by Jesus and ashamed of his past behavior. Tax collectors were famous for pocketing portions of their collected “tax.” Zacchaeus was no different, and he was wealthy because of it. However, when face to face with Jesus Himself, Zacchaeus gave no thought to his riches other than how he could repay his dishonesty. Jesus gave no thought to them, either. When Zacchaeus invited Jesus to dinner, Jesus didn’t say, “Oh yeah Zacchaeus, I’d love to come to your house. I heard you have an awesome crib. We’re sure to have a good time!” Jesus instead focuses on the inward change of Zacchaeus’ heart and joyfully celebrates because he has been changed. (Luke 19:1-10)
Time and time again, Jesus overlooks the material in favor of the spiritual. He sees past the stuff and goes right to the heart of the matter: your soul. The only time He ever cared about someone’s possessions was when they were hindering the person from receiving Him. Other than that, they were immaterial to Him. He remained laser-focused like a hawk on His mission: to get His message to everyone. His primary goal was to spread the word of the Kingdom of Heaven. Everything else was a far second.
We should follow His example. Look beyond the physical. Behind the intimidating suit and tie, there is a human with all the frailties and intricacies native to mankind. Beyond the old, battered woman scarred by life’s cuts, there’s a soul in need of hope. Behind the rich kid’s designer clothes and cars, there’s a young person needing direction. Behind the glamorous cars, yachts, expensive houses, luxury furniture, brand-name clothing, and glitzy jewelry, there are people with a real, true need for a Savior.
Counting blessings really helps. I have a confession. I used to resent being told to count my blessings. It seemed so…cliché. I inwardly rolled my eyes when receiving this advice. Give thanks in all things, God admonishes us repeatedly. (Psalm 100:4; Psalm 95:2; Ephesians 5:4; Philippians 4:6) Sigh. I just didn’t feel like doing it.
However, one day I tried it. I was really low down and desperately needed a pick-me-up. I reluctantly thanked God for every single thing: clean air to breathe. Fresh water in which to wash clothes. Hot coffee. A co-workers donuts. A working body. A full head of hair, at least for the moment. People who loved me (again, at least at the moment.) After a while, I began to feel better. The burden of misery and discontentment started to dissipate. I realized how truly blessed I was. I was amazed how weighty unhappiness can be. After thanking God I felt so full, so lucky, so light, and ultimately so content. My love for everyone overflowed.
You see, we really are blessed. Sure, we may not have that big house like the Millers. Our clothes may not be as cute or bright as those of our enviably beautiful co-worker. My boots aren’t designer and my jeans are embarrassingly mommish, but so what? There is a silver lining in everything. My friend, who battles a disease by which she lost most of her hair, exclaimed how excited she was to now have the opportunity to try different hairstyles via wigs and extensions. Talking about looking at the bright side. Bitterness is so easy and often so inviting. We’ve had it rough and by golly, we are going to hold onto the pain. It’s our God-given right, isn’t it? Nope. God commands us to let it go. (Ephesians 4:31) And besides, thankfulness sure feels a lot better. And lighter.
We’re living on borrowed time. Believe it or not, time is short. Whether you pass into eternity via the Rapture of the Church or death, your time is coming. As dreary and depressing as it may sound, we’re probably all closer to the finish line than we care to admit.
I read something interesting the other day. Apparently middle age is now being redefined. It’s now defined as age thirty-seven instead of your fifties or sixties. Unbelievable, isn’t it? However, it makes sense: the average American life span is seventy-five years, and thirty-seven is smack dab in the middle. Wow. Apparently when you reach your late thirties, it’s all downhill from there. I’m kidding, of course.
My point is, this is not a dress rehearsal. You never get a repeat. This life is your only chance. Time is not forever; it is ticking by and your Spiritual gift is itching to be used. You have got to get on it, right now. How you invest your talents is the measuring stick by which you will be judged. (Matthew 25:14-30; 1 Corinthians 3:15) Not your bank account. Not the size of your house. Not your flashy car or beautiful clothing. But what you did with God’s gifts. Whatever you do, if you never remember anything I say, remember this: if you do not invest your life wisely right now operating fully in your area of gifting, your regret at the end will be enormous. I’ve seen it. Don’t do it.
As hard as it is to accept, most things in this life are temporary. They’re fun and enjoyable, but they have their place: secondary to the most critical element in life. And that element is discovering and using your Spiritual gifts. We all know God could have swept you into Heaven the moment you decided to follow Him forever. He didn’t. He left you here to be a powerful, mighty Saint. When you are remembered, it won’t be by your fancy possessions or hefty bank account. It will be by your bright smile or loving gestures. Only the Spiritual stands the test of time.
Next week in our last installment of The Love of Things, we will learn about the treasures and rewards which await us in Heaven. Until then, be blessed.