God and My Stuff
Why are we rarely satisfied with what we have?
A magazine landed in the mailbox today, and I find myself flopped on my bed, slowly turning its pages. I keep hoping I get to the articles soon, but I find myself wading through page after page of … stuff. First, a model in "dangerously low" low-rise jeans poses in front of a vintage car. Then, a nail polish advertisement promises me a "rainbow in every bottle." A group of well-dressed, smiling friends frolic under a hot air balloon, and they all happen to be wearing clothes they purchased on the same website. Hmmm.
Finally, I get to the articles, but there's even more stuff here. One story is about which cargo pants I should be wearing. Another story features shoes, bags and jeans that are "in" right now. There are plenty of articles on what to wear, what to put on my hair and face, and cool stuff for my room.
Sometimes I feel like ads and commercials do more than make me interested in trying a new product. In some ways, they make me feel a little less content with what I have, a little dissatisfied with the clothes I've got in my closet, and a little like something new would make me happier.
I'm not really trashing articles on the latest fashions or cool stuff to own. I don't have a problem with companies making advertisements and commercials to sell their products. And I don't think there's anything wrong with being interested in the latest fashions, the newest DVD players or the hottest cars around.
But I do worry sometimes about the way these ads affect me. If I don't pay attention, I can get the wrong idea about what's really important. Even though I say money and things can't make me happy, my actions and the way I spend my money might tell a different story. And what if I'm so interested in having new things that I never have any money to save or to give to God?
Does God Care?
So why should I be concerned about this? The fact is, God cares very much about the way I use what he's given me. In God & Your Stuff, author Wesley Willmer points out that 17 of Jesus' 38 parables were about money! The Bible mentions possessions 2,172 times. Money and possessions definitely matter to God.
Even though it's OK to like nice things, it's not a good idea to take it too far. The Bible points out that materialism is a dangerous disease. Solomon, the writer of Ecclesiastes, said, "Whoever loves money [and things] never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income" (5:10). Solomon knew what he was talking about! If we are too focused on having things, we can get to the point where we're never satisfied. We'll always want a new backpack, tickets to another concert or whatever people at school are wearing. Maybe we'll even take on more hours at our jobs than we can handle—letting our schoolwork and church activities slide so we can earn a little more cash. Or perhaps we'll work really hard in school and shoot for a college major that will make us more money so we can buy more stuff.
Have you noticed that the more stuff you have, the more time you have to spend taking care of that stuff? Cars have to be vacuumed, filled with gas and serviced regularly. Clothes have to be washed or dry-cleaned, ironed and repaired. CDs have to be organized. Sometimes, taking care of things makes you realize that these objects God provided for our use can own us—we only think we own them!
TV commercials are right about one thing: having something new can feel good! When I'm feeling a little down, a new CD or a new shirt can be a fun pick-me-up. But if I use new things to give me confidence instead of turning to God, I can start to depend on things to make me feel like I have worth—instead of remembering that my worth comes from the fact that God made me and loves me.
Plus, I know that if I'm not content with the stuff I already own, having more stuff isn't going to help. (See Philippians 4:11-13.)
To Buy or not to Buy
So, am I ready to sell all of my stuff and give the money to the poor? Have I decided that I'll never go to the mall again? Uh, no. I'm not saying that we shouldn't ever go shopping for fun, or that it's wrong to have more than one coat. But we should remember that God has given us everything we have, whether it's extra babysitting money, a check from a job, or birthday cash from Grandma. How we spend our money is important to him. Jesus taught that we can know the condition of our hearts by thinking about what we treasure. He warned that we can't serve God totally and be obsessed with having more stuff at the same time (Matthew 6:21,24).
So what's the answer? I'm learning to think carefully when I see an ad, or when I see something on a commercial I'd like. I try to ask myself questions like these:
1. Have I given money to God's work?
2. Have I saved some money?
3. Is this something I need, or something I want?
4. If it's something I want, should I wait until later or save for it?
5. Why do I want this? Do I want to impress somebody? Am I trying to make myself happier? Do I think having this will fill up some "hole" that only God can fill?
I'm learning to pray about my money, clothes, and other things, too. After all, God promises to provide for my needs (Philippians 4:19). I'm also trying to be more grateful for what I have. I know I can count on his help to get my wants under control. I know that he wants me to seek his kingdom (Matthew 6:33). He wants to help me…even more than I want a new pair of shoes I saw at the mall last weekend.
Written by LaTonya Taylor