Learning to do without the things you can afford
TRA: 19 September 1999
I had finished filling my car with petrol at the service station when a man riding a pink tandem bicycle pulled alongside to get some air for his tyres. Pink tandem bicycles are not common near our place so I wandered over to speak to the rather overweight man who had been riding the long bike. It was his first ride on the brand-new machine, he told me proudly. He had just retired from his working life after 30 years at a power station. He received a good pay-out for his services and is on superannuation for the rest of his days. He does not intend working again.
Being just a sticky beak, I asked him what a forty-eight year old man planned to do with the rest of his life. He rattled off a list of purchases he had just made: a house up the coast, a speed-boat with a 200 HP motor, a bobcat sail boat, a four wheel drive off-road cruiser, fishing, skiing and motor-bike gear, a tandem push-bike, a huge new room under his house for the full-size billiard table - and I am sure he could have included some other purchases. Now he was off to enjoy himself for the next 30 years!
Many would be envious. I felt sad for him. I had the same feeling one Christmas day, when on my Mission rounds, I called into one of our childrens homes where a number of children were unwrapping their presents. They were bursting with eager anticipation and pulled the paper and ribbons off present after present. Children in care tend to get many Christmas presents from well-wishers. It is our way of saying sorry that they have no family.
The children shouted with glee at each new gift. They said it was just what they had always wanted. They shook it, started it, or shoved it. Then they turned to tearing open the next gift. Soon all the gifts were scattered over the layers of Christmas wrapping covering the floor. Some toy was the centre of attention. Then I noticed that one by one the children drifted into the kitchen to our staff preparing lunch. They asked for something to eat and said: "I'm bored. What is there to do?"
We are an increasingly hedonistic people. We want to be amused by others. We need more and more shining baubles to distract us from the boredom of living. Great areas of every city are being taken up by amusement parks, wonderlands, entertainment centres, pleasure palaces, video arcades and those adult equivalents of children's sand-pits, the casinos. Our growth industry lies not in work nor in productivity but in gambling. Gambling with other people's shares, companies, and money.
The greatest household expenditure is now personal pleasure, entertainment, and distraction from the pain of living. We clutter our lives with more and more things, each purchased with the hope of giving us a meaningful experience. Yet we are no more satisfied than Christmas day children. This week's purchases become next week's garage sale. My over-weight tandem rider has thirty years of desperately outriding boredom. Pleasures generated by machines last only as long as the ride. Instant gratification lasts only an instant. Things do not satisfy. Yet there is a compulsion within us, perhaps a hang-over from our early insecurities, to buy and store more and more things.
We warn people about not buying the things they cannot afford. For such people over-extend themselves into debt which cripples. But we should also be warning people about buying the things they can afford. For such people clutter their lives with possessions which can choke the life out of them. What you can afford may threaten more than buying the things you cannot afford. When will we learn, in the words of Jesus "Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."? That "a person's true life is not made up of the things he owns, no matter how rich he may be"? How we need to learn again the teachings of Jesus about cluttering our lives with meaningless possessions.
1. POSSESSIONS TROUBLE US MORE THAN POVERTY.
Jesus once described a rich fool. LUKE 12:16 "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17 He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' 18 "Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." This scenario mirrors the expectations and hopes of many Australians.
Do we believe that we ever have enough?. We always want more to make happiness. Yet the world about us, is peopled with the deprived. So many people in the world are poor. We do not like the television ads of World Vision or International Compassion which show pitifully thin children crying for food. These desperate people invade our lounge room without warning and interrupt us at supper.
So many people in Sydney are also poor. Five thousand men and women are homeless in Sydney tonight. Most people do not like to be reminded of them. So many of us are poor: economically, spiritually, lacking personal qualities, motivation, accomplishments, achievements. We buy things to make up for personal inadequacies. Often the first thing a man does after he has worked his way up to a position of very high income is to buy books, art works, paintings, tickets to the opera and the outward symbols of education and culture to hide his inner poverty. One wealthy Sydney man in 1986, sent an employee out to buy 50 metres of books for his newly built office bookshelves. He did not care what the books were, so long as they were thick and heavy with very good bindings! The facade of leather bindings could never cover his inner poverty! He could not buy learning.
The problem for most is not poverty but an abundance of possessions. Our lives get cluttered with things. We need, as Jesus said with an amazing insight into human nature, "to watch out and guard yourselves against every kind of greed." We have a significant problem, not with poverty, but with possessions, the things we can afford. We have to learn to live without the things we can afford.
2. POSSESSIONS PILE UP AT GREAT COST.
Companies are aware of the tremendous cost of storing goods. Inventories cost. Strict inventory control is needed. "Just-in-time" stock arrival is the aim. Supermarket checkers zap the bar-code on each item. It adds the price to your bill but also tells the computer in a warehouse a hundred kilometres away to include that item in the next delivery.
It also informs the distributor, the packer, the grower and the manufacturer that one more item of that product needs to be replaced. Inventory control is strictly essential if a business to become profitable. So too in our personal lives. Many businessmen exercise stock control at work but their wardrobes bulge with clothes that will never again be worn. Their garages are full of golf-clubs they do not use, tools that are no longer required, and stuff that will be an executors night-mare! Imelda Marcos was not the last person to have 3000 shoes in the bottom of her wardrobe! Things dominate our lives. How do we cope with them?
We build bigger and better barns. The rich fool said: 19 And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." 20 "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'" Our barns have car-ports, sheds and double garages. We plan one day to take life easy, to eat drink and be merry. We will one day slow down and enjoy ourselves. But retirement may bring a sudden shock. We have safeguards against everything. We check our insurance policies, our burglar alarms, our dead-locks and security lighting. No thief can break in and steal. No moth can eat and no tarnish and rust can corrode. We are secure and comfortable among our things! 20 "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you." Except a little clot of blood moves to our brain or coronary arteries. Then God says: "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?"
You do not take it with you!. Before the funeral finishes the plundering hordes, like the Vandals and Goths who sacked the Roman Empire move in to take your goods to add to their pile of things! How happy are they to have more things. Now they can build some bigger barns to store their things. So the cycle of acquisition, storage, death and disbursement continues. Like the sands through an hourglass these are the days of our lives!
3. WE MUST BE CONCERNED FOR GOD NOT THINGS.
We often discover that too late. Jesus said 21 "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." There is a song: "Loving things and using people, that's the way it used to be, but using things and loving people, that's the way it oughta be!" One of the great arts of life to learning to distinguish between the things we possess for the here and now and the things we will possess for all eternity. Jesus taught there was a difference between the treasure we acquire on earth and the treasures we accumulate in heaven. We must learn not to worry about those things that are merely transitory. What things? 22 Jesus said to his disciples: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life ? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? 27 "Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it."
Jesus immediately centres on the things of greatest concern: food vv22-23; clothes and drink v29. His alternate teaching is that instead of constantly worrying and hording these things, we should trust God more. We must learn to trust the Father 30 "The pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well." That is probably some of His most difficult teaching to practise.
21 "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." It is difficult to learn to be concerned with His Kingdom before all these things that look so attractive. But God promises "these things will be given to you as well.". What things? Just those which are enough and necessary. What must we do? Seek first God and His kingdom and trust Him for the rest, to practise love, justice and righteousness. Those who seek the Lord and His Kingdom, know peace and inner satisfaction that can never be found in the things we can afford. When will we learn, in the words of Jesus "Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."? Instead, "seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well." Our poverty is obvious if we do not learn to do without the things we can afford.
Gordon Moyes 1999
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