by Mike Stimpson
Do you want to become poorer than you are now? Are you truly happy with the money you have? Or would you like more money?
Almost everyone would like to have more money. A co-worker once said that he didn't want to be rich. I said, "No? But I bet you'd like to have more money than you have now." He replied, "Oh, yes, a lot more!"
Why do we want more money? We expect it to enhance our lives. These expectations seem to center on four broad areas.
Now, these four things - satisfaction, identity, security, and rest - are basic human needs. There is nothing wrong with wanting them. However, in Matthew 13:22, Jesus used the phrase, "the deceitfulness of riches". Riches deceive us into thinking that they will meet these basic needs, but they are really unable to do so.
- Some of us expect to be able to do the things we want, to live the way we want, without being limited by the lack of money. We expect that this will make us happy, that it will give us satisfaction.
- Some of us expect that money will give us an identity, that it will make us somebody special, that it will make us significant. We expect that people will give us acceptance and approval because we have money.
- Some of us expect that money will protect and take care of us, that it will give us security.
- Some of us expect that we will no longer have to work so hard. We expect that money will give us rest.
People also try to meet these four needs via other avenues such as things, jobs, sports teams, and relationships. What we say about money will also apply in a general way to these other avenues.
When you are looking for happiness and satisfaction, money fails because having money doesn't satisfy.
My brother-in-law states that he was happier in Los Angeles on $19,000 per year than he was six years later in Denver on $45,000 per year. The cost of living was much higher in Los Angeles, and inflation was low during those six years. More money - and a far higher disposable income - did not lead to more happiness. Money wasn't enough to satisfy.
Perhaps you are thinking, as many people do, "If I had enough money, I could do what I wanted, and then I would be happy!" Perhaps you should listen to The Rolling Stones. They were both rich and popular enough to be able to have and do just about everything they wanted. Yet when I mention The Rolling Stones, the first song that comes to mind is "I Can't Get No Satisfaction". Being able to do just about whatever they wanted wasn't enough to satisfy them.
John D. Rockefeller, the richest man of his day and the first billionaire, said, "I can think of nothing less pleasurable than a life devoted to pleasure." He certainly could have bought any pleasure he wanted, but he knew that true satisfaction takes more than owning everything you want and doing whatever you think sounds like fun.
True satisfaction comes only from God. The Bible says, "Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart" (Psalm 37:4,5). This does not mean that if you really want a Porsche, delight yourself in God and He will give you a Porsche. It means that if you delight yourself in God, He will first and foremost give you Himself. In doing so, He will meet the true needs of your heart, so that you won't need a Porsche to try to fill the empty places in your heart.
If we pursue God, He will truly satisfy us. When we pursue anything else, it leaves us empty. Why? Deep in our hearts, we all long for the presence of the Living God. No matter how many other things we fill our lives with, this deep heart-felt desire is still there, aching for the only One who can satisfy it. God Himself made us this way. Blaise Pascal, the French scientist and Christian writer, said that in each of us there is a God-shaped vacuum that only He can fill. As we delight ourselves in God, as we come to know Him, His presence in our lives fills the deepest longings of our hearts.
If true satisfaction really comes from our relationship with God, money and things are irrelevant. Worse, they may actually be hindrances to our true happiness if they distract us from God. Those who acquire too many things have less room in their lives for God, less room for other people, less room even for themselves. All they have is things - and an aching emptiness that all the things in the world cannot fill.
Identity and Significance
The fundamental problem with finding your identity in money is that significance does not come from being worth something. Significance comes from being worth something to somebody. A second, cheaper form of identity comes from being able to do something that other people consider worthy of respect.
Money only gives you the cheaper kind of identity. If you have more money than others, people respect you for it, but that by itself doesn't make you worth anything to them. And if you ever quit making (or having) money, you will lose people's respect - and with it, you will also lose all the identity you derived from their respect.
When a panhandler approaches a rich person on the street, does he or she really respect the rich person? Probably not. The panhandler probably respects the rich person's money, and regards the rich person as someone to try to manipulate in order to get their money.
To manipulate someone is to disrespect them. It is to treat them as a thing rather than a person. This is a hidden trap in trying to find your significance in money: you are left with the nagging fear (or worse, the certainty) that while people regard your money as significant, they still regard you as nobody special, someone to be used rather than valued.
Money is shaky ground on which to build your identity. In contrast, in God we find a rock-solid foundation. His view of us carries considerably more weight than the collective opinion of all mankind. Also, as our Creator, He is the One who has the right to define who we are. Best of all, in His eyes we are of tremendous value (not because of how wonderful we are, but because God has chosen to love and value us).
Who does God say you are? You are created in His image (Genesis 1:27). He loves you so much, He sent His Son to die for you (John 3:16). If you are a Christian, He says much more about you. He specifically chose you; out of the entire human race He hand-picked you (Ephesians 1:4). He has forgiven you of everything you ever did wrong (Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 1:13,14). You are loved by God (Romans 5:8, Ephesians 5:25-27). He has adopted you as His child (Galatians 4:4-7). He has given you His Spirit as a seal of His ownership and a down-payment on His promises (Ephesians 4:30, II Corinthians 1:22). God Himself dwells in you, in the form of His Spirit, making you - your physical body - the temple of the Living God (I Corinthians 6:19).
As Christians, we do not need physical things like money or possessions to make us significant or to give us an identity. We are significant because the Living God lives in us. We have a magnificent identity in that God, the Creator and Ruler of the entire universe, loves us and has chosen us to be adopted as His children.
God has placed us, free of charge (or rather, purely at His Son's expense), in a position that is far higher than any amount of money could buy. He places an extremely high value on us, and His actions show it. In this fact lies our true significance, our true importance, our true worth, rather than in our bank account or our American Express card.
Money doesn't fulfil the third human need, security, because money itself is not secure. It can be lost, stolen (Matthew 6:19), or wiped out in a bank failure or stock market crash. If your security is in the money, and you lose the money, you lose your security.
Younger people are often skeptical of Social Security. They are afraid that, by the time they are old enough to need it, Social Security will be bankrupt. They sometimes derisively refer to it as "Social Insecurity". These cynics understand a fundamental point: Real security, by definition, can only come from something that will always be there for you. Money does not meet this standard.
Even if you don't lose your money, it still fails to give you true security. In a total economic collapse, money won't help at all. Money in the bank won't shield you from a bank failure. In the event of war, money may allow you to move to an uninvolved nation, but it can't stop a bullet or a missile.
When my wife suddenly was taken to the emergency room, money could not reassure me that she would recover, but only that the bill would be handled. After we knew she was fine, when we got the bill, money was relevant.
In a time of famine, money lets you buy what food there is, but when there is truly no food left, you can't eat money.
When a loved one has died, money lets you buy beautiful flowers for their funeral, but not another minute of their company.
Patty Hearst was part of a wealthy family when she was kidnapped. Not only did all that money not protect her, it actually encouraged the kidnapping!
Job's great wealth couldn't protect his family, his property, or his health (see Job 1 and 2).
John Lennon was a rich man when he was killed by a total stranger.
No amount of money can keep God from declaring, "Your life is over now!" at any given moment (see the parable of the rich fool, Luke 12:16-21).
Worst of all, riches cannot provide any security whatsoever in eternity, because even the whole world is not enough wealth to buy your way into heaven when you die. "For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul?" (Matthew 16:26a).
Thus we see that, though money provides some security, it is completely inadequate to make you truly secure.
Unlike money, God will always be with us (see Hebrews 13:5,6). Unlike money, God has all the power He needs to make us truly secure. Unlike money, God cares about every one of us, cares deeply enough that He desires to give us real security (if we will allow Him to do so).
The security we find in God is not some abstract, nebulous concept. God gives us security in real life in some very concrete ways.
First, God is trustworthy to provide for our needs.
"For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for you life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life's span? And why are you anxious about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these. But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith? Do not be anxious then, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'With what shall we clothe ourselves?' For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you." (Matthew 6:25-33)
We don't need to worry about our daily needs; God Himself provides for us. This does not mean that things will never look worrisome. It also doesn't mean that we can quit working for a living. It means that, from whatever source, it is ultimately God Who provides for us and not, for example, our money or our job (see Psalm 37:25).
Second, God gives us security by protecting us.
"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea" (Psalm 46:1,2).
With God as our protector, we don't need to fear, even when the earth is rearranging itself around us. God's protection makes us more secure than the ground under our feet!
Third, only in God can we find any form of security for eternity. Jesus said,
"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" (John 10:27-29).
Genuine love desires that which is best for the one loved. Since God loves us so deeply, we can depend on Him to always act for our good. This is the ultimate foundation for our security. Paul said,
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:35,37-39).
This does not mean that nothing unpleasant ever happens to us. In fact, Paul lists "tribulation" and "distress" (times of difficulty), "famine" and "nakedness" (no food or clothes, or too poor to afford them), "peril" (dangerous situations), and "sword" (people trying to kill us, and maybe succeeding). But in fact, no trials will come to us except those that have been filtered through the One who knows us totally and loves us more than we can ever imagine. God in His love empowers us to conquer any trial that He in His love allows to come to us. (Sometimes He Himself simply conquers on our behalf.) He even empowers us to conquer (not avoid!) death. This gives us, not the security that nothing "bad" will ever happen to us, but the much deeper security that, no matter what happens, the God who loves us is still in control, still acting in love toward us, and will see us through every situation He allows us to encounter.
In God we find the kind of security that money can never provide. He Himself never changes. He will never leave us. He provides for us and protects us, both in this life and through all eternity. His love empowers us to triumph over all adversity that His love allows us to face. What more could we ever need to make us truly secure?
I once left a job without having another job lined up. I had money in the bank and very few expenses. I had some definite plans, but I was looking forward to a chance to relax after working hard for two years, a chance to enjoy the absence of stress - a chance to rest.
Four months later, I still had plenty of money and no job. I had caught up on my sleep (which was very nice). I was rested and relaxed - and I was lonely and bored. There was nothing to do, and nobody to do it with, and I was tired of doing nothing with nobody. In a word, I was restless.
Too much rest can make you restless? Oddly enough, yes. The problem is that there are two kinds of rest. There is the absence of work, and then there is an inner state of calm or peace. Money can only get you the first kind of rest.
You can buy sleep (in the form of sleeping pills), but sleeping pills can't remove the inner turmoil that robs us of our sleep. You can buy the absence of work (if you have enough money to retire), but without an inward peace, all the free time will merely give you time to feel the war in your own heart.
However, even though we cannot find true rest in money, we can find it in God. As St. Augustine said, "Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord; and our heart is restless until it rests in Thee." Jesus said,
"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light." (Matthew 11:28-30).
God gives us rest in part by the things He does, that we therefore don't have to do. He justifies us (Romans 4:3-5), so that we don't have to make ourselves righteous before God (not that we possibly could). He gives us the desire to do what He wants us to (Philippians 2:13). He produces His fruit in our lives (Galatians 5:22,23), so that we never have to try to produce such fruit in our own strength. He works all things for our good (Romans 8:28), so that we don't have to try to control the future.
In most of these areas, we must do our part but we don't have to do it all. We don't even have to do the hardest part - God does the hard part. He also provides the strength and ability for us to do our part, and works through us as we do it.
But the rest that God gives us runs deeper than just not having to do everything. He creates peace and calm out of the turmoil in our hearts. When we are in His presence, He can give us rest, no matter how chaotic our circumstances are.
As Christians, we don't even need money to make us rich! Christ has already made us rich by His grace. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich" (II Corinthians 8:9). In knowing Christ we find great wealth, for He Himself contains all that is truly worth having (see Colossians 2:2,3).
"For you... accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one" (Hebrews 10:34). In Christ we have so much wealth, so much of what really matters, that mere material things fade to insignificance.
We don't need to depend on money for our happiness. We don't need to depend on money for our identity. We don't need to depend on money for our security. We don't need to depend on money for our rest. We don't even need to depend on money to make us rich. We don't need to depend on money at all. We have the option of incredible freedom in an area where too many are slaves.
We also have a brand-new problem. What do we do with money?
First, we should remember that God is the owner of all we have; we are stewards of it. For if we belong to God, if He owns us, then surely He also must own our money.
Second, we should remember that God gives us money for a reason, and use it accordingly. The reason is given in Psalm 67:1,2,6,7:
"God be gracious to us and bless us,
God blesses us by giving us resources so that others may know Him. Since we are stewards of what God has given us rather than owners, we have a responsibility to use the resources He has given us according to His desires (see Luke 16:10,11).
And cause His face to shine upon us -
That Thy way may be known on the earth,
Thy salvation among all nations...
The earth has yielded its produce;
God, our God, blesses us.
God blesses us,
That all the ends of the earth may fear Him."
Note that this does not automatically mean that we have to give all our money away and live in extreme poverty, though I often fear that. I am afraid that if I truly give God control of all my possessions, He will leave me nothing left to live on. This shows that, deep down, I have an incorrect view of God. He gives freely and graciously, but I fear that He will take too much. He gives abundant life, but I fear that He will try to wring every last drop out of me and leave me dry. When I finally understand what God really is like, I can freely give Him ownership of all I have. I do not need to let the fear of future poverty inhibit me.
David testified, "I have been young, and now I am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, or his descendants begging bread. All day long he is gracious and lends..." (Psalm 37:25,26a). Those who follow God in giving will not find their own needs unmet.
Perhaps you think that you need more money in order to serve God in a particular way. And in fact, money is often of great service to the kingdom of God. But we must never let our focus drift from ministry to money.
Ministry is God's ministry, not ours. The problem of finding sufficient resources for the ministry is therefore God's problem, not ours. And He is big enough to handle the problem.
"And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; as it is written, 'He scattered abroad, He gave to the poor, His righteousness abides forever.' Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness" (II Corinthians 9:8-10, emphasis added).
God has the ability to supply all the resources needed for us to minister as He desires, and He has promised to do so. Therefore, if you would like to serve God in a particular way, and you do not have the resources to do so, only a few possibilities remain:
This may sound very harsh (especially to someone desperately trying to find enough money to keep a ministry running), but in reality it is very freeing. You don't have to find the money. It's not your problem. It is God's responsibility. Your responsibility is merely to faithfully follow God's leading. You do not have to carry the burden of a responsibility that is not really yours to carry (and one that is, in fact, beyond your ability).
- God is already preparing to meet the need, and desires you to endure patiently until He does so,
- the ministry you envision is not His will,
- you are not the person He intends to do it,
- this is not His timing,
- you do not intend to do it the way God desires, or
- you do not have because you do not ask (see James 4:2,3).
Putting Things In God's Place
In Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5, Paul states that covetousness and greed are the same as idolatry. Why is this true? In both passages, Paul merely states the equivalence in passing, without giving any rationale or explanation. But I believe that coveting is idolatry because it places money and things in two roles that belong only to God - the roles of "provider of our needs", and the role of "focus of our life".
Idolatry has consequences for those who practice it - they walk after emptiness and so become empty (Jeremiah 2:5-8). Looking to money to meet your needs will, in the end, leave you empty rather than satisfied.
I have learned from my daughters the difference between a pacifier and a bottle. Both satisfy the superficial need for something to suck on, but only the bottle satisfies the deeper need for nourishment. In the same way, money meets our needs superficially, but ultimately leaves us empty. Only God truly meets our needs.
What we look for in money is found in its fullness in God. In His presence, we find real satisfaction; in His loving, choosing, and adopting us, we find our true identity; in His protection and provision, we find real security; and in His completed work, we find true rest.
How about you? What do you pursue to try to fill your need for satisfaction? For identity? For security? For rest? Maybe you pursue money, or maybe something else. Whatever you try, outside of God, will ultimately prove to be hollow. Only God can fully meet these needs in our lives. Rather than chasing after unsatisfying things like money, let us turn to the living God, who alone can truly satisfy us.
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