The more time I spend with Jesus, the more disenchanted I am with the things of this world. I'm soaking in His words and realizing once again what He is all about. And I'm wondering. Pondering. Over and over in my head...
How can people who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ live a life of EXCESS?
I don't know the answer...because there are so many more questions that go hand in hand with this:
"What IS excess?" "Is one person's excess different than another person's?" "Is living with excess ever ok?
Let's start by defining excess:
1. The state of exceeding what is normal or sufficient. 2. An amount or quantity beyond what is normal or sufficient; a surplus.
Ok. So...excess is having more than you need. But what exactly is a "need"? Is having a new living room set a need? Is having brand name clothing a need? Is having more than two pairs of jeans a need? Is having organic food a need?
See what I mean? It's very difficult to nail down exactly what a need is. Everyone defines it differently. I may look at someone and think that they are living a life of excess...but chances are, they don't see it that way. They may see it as being "blessed". Each part of the country will have a different answer. Each income bracket. Each church. Each family.
Has our definition of excess and need changed over the years? Yes. TV and advertising has radically altered our view of necessity. Your parents' and grandparents' definition of need is most likely different than yours. Go a few weeks without watching TV. Don't visit the mall. Don't read the advertisements from the Sunday paper or open "SALE!" emails in your inbox. And then....see how different those wants and needs feel. How much less "urgent" they seem.
Is excess having more than one of something? Is it having two or three or four of something? Bikes? Cars? Cell phones? Coats? Shoes? Pots and pans? Why do we have so many of these things? When there are people in the world without shelter, without food, without basic necessities...how do we go on accumulating more for ourselves? It reminds me of the quote by Ghandi, "Live simply so others may live". How can we stop consuming so much...so that we are able to provide more resources for others?
I would suggest that we figure out WHY we are running after all of these "things". Why are people working 80 hours a week to pay for a house that they are never there to enjoy? I've heard it so many times since we hit the road for the tour...people saying "I wish I could do that!". When I tell them that they COULD do it...they give me all the reasons why they couldn't. They have a big house payment.They just bought a new car with payments. They have too much credit card debt. Notice a pattern? Everything holding them back is related to money. Money they spent that they didn't have anyway. They were seduced into believing they needed these things, and now they must work endless hours to pay for it all. And now they just want a real life.
On a somewhat related note... I've often heard it said that if there weren't wealthy Christians with an excess of possessions and money, who would minister to the wealthy unbelievers? Who would be "in their crowd" to show Christ to them? What about Christians who use their abundant resources to reach the lost? Who open up their large homes for people to use? Could all of that extra money be used in a different way that is more effective in ministry? I don't know what the answer is to this. I've asked so many people this question over the years and no one gives me the same answer. My initial thought: Isn't God bigger than that? Does he not own all the resources in the world? I don't think it's necessary to "blend in" to the world to minister to the world. I think everyone could live simply and still minister to all types of people.
I read an interesting excerpt on the Youth Specialties website regarding how Christians and consumerism:
The materialism of American Christianity rests entirely in the fact that we’ve turned one single verse on its head. Paul surrenders himself with the words, "To the Jews I become like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those not having the law" (1 Cor. 9:20 NIV). When in Rome, we might say.
But American Christians are largely doing this in reverse order. Paul chose to be like the Gentiles to minister to the Gentiles. We choose to minister to the suburban middle class, because we have chosen to be like them. The average American Christian seeks to go to college, secure a career, move to the suburbs, have 2.5 kids, and then declare, "Here I am, Lord! Send me!" We, the crew, have cast out the anchor and settled down before asking the captain, "To where are we sailing?" And I imagine that Jesus feels like his call to us is like a captain trying to steer an anchored ship. In the Navy, this is called mutiny.
I just wonder. I wonder what kind of amazing, crazy adventures God would take us on if we gave Him the reigns before we TOLD him what we were doing and asked Him to come along?
Jesus makes it very clear in the following parable that having "riches" makes it more difficult, but not impossible to follow Him.
The Rich Man
16 Someone came to Jesus with this question: “Teacher,[a] what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17
“Why ask me about what is good?”Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. But to answer your question—if you want to receive eternal life, keep[b] the commandments.”
18 “Which ones?” the man asked.
And Jesus replied:
“‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely.19 Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself.’[c]”
20 “I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?”
21 Jesus told him,
“If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples,
“I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.24 I’ll say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”
25 The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.
26 Jesus looked at them intently and said,
“Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”
I've found this to be so true in my own life. In times where our income has been small...I rely on Jesus for EVERY LITTLE THING. I ask him to help me be wise in my grocery shopping...to help me choose the right foods for the right price. When we are bringing in more money, I tend to forget about praying before I head into the store. More money feels like security. I mistakingly believe that I have provided myself with a safety net. But in reality...ALL things come from God. Nothing is ours to begin with. And if you continue on that road long enough...believing that YOU are the one who EARNED your income to buy all of your excess things, it will be harder and harder for you to rely on God for your daily needs.
I do not believe that making a good income is bad in itself. It's when people start to put their hope and trust in it...when they start to think that the world would fall in if that money went away tomorrow. The following quote by John Wesley really hits the point home:
“When I have money, I get rid of it quickly, lest it find a way into my heart.”
Jesus knew the seductive power of money...and this is why he spoke about it more than most things in the Bible.
“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 John 3:17).
“Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘who is the Lord’? Or I may become poor and steal and so dishonour the name of my God” (Proverbs 30:8).
“And my God will supply all our needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
Living simply and giving money away to others is a radical way to live in today's society. But are we not called to live a life set apart? A life that is different? Right now, it just seems like most people are blending in. Be different...and confront your ideas about excess.
I'd love for this to be a starting point for a discussion about these ideas...I truly have no answers here. In fact, I think I asked more questions in this post than I answered. These are ideas that are constantly in my mind...and I would love to hear your thoughts. I know there isn't one "right" answer to the question about having excess...but let's all learn from each other's experiences and insight.