Friday, June 22, 2012

Riches I heed not ...

... nor man's empty praise.

Or so goes one of the lines from the classic hymn, Be Thou My Vision.

It's an arresting statement.

The next line is equally striking. Be thou mine inheritance now and always.

Well, I think that they are confronting statements, when one really sits down and thinks about it. They are completely counter-cultural: unsurprising, I suppose, considering the Gospel itself is counter-cultural. But how often do we really pick apart what this means for us, for our lives and the way we respond to others?

We don't actually have to look to hymns, however soul-nourishing and challenging they can be, to find what Jesus thinks about things. You know, things. CD collections, shoes, a penchant for fine dining, coffee snobbery, musical equipment, friends in high places. Houses by the ocean, houses with brand new kitchens or bathrooms, or whirlwind world tours. Inanimate or animate, it really amounts to the same thing.

The Gospel of Matthew records Jesus' words in chapter 6 verse 19: Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal.

That's a pretty clear directive, isn't it - but it's one that we in the West seem to find really, really hard to keep. Christians, too.

Why do I ponder these things? Good question. Our 8 year old is obsessed with Stuff. A common lament is But if I only had that, I would be HAPPY! It's caused us a fair bit of angst. How can we teach our daughter about contentment? In fact, I actually thought this blog post was going to be about that very topic. How to Solve Consumerism in Your 8 Year Old By Friday.

Recently, though, we've realised that all she is doing is holding up a mirror to ourselves. We are craftier, sneakier, more creative with our desire to consume, to have things which will surely, surely make us happy. That will make us feel secure. That perhaps will lift our names in people's esteem ( ... man's empty praise?). Nonetheless, our soul's greatest lament is but if only I had that ...

Recently, Jim and I paid off our car. We were three years ahead of payments, and it was a darn good feeling to not be in debt anymore. We loved our car. It is small. It is unprepossessing. But it starts every time, and for two people who used to have to jump-start a beat-up Camry Spirit, that is a good feeling. But it's amazing how quickly I have forgotten that feeling of gratitude.

When we rolled into Burnie earlier this week, our little car stuffed to the gills, we passed a strip of car yards. Ah, such shiny glorious beasts were on display. I even went and had a look. Nissan is offering low interest finance deals on those overgrown vehicles now known in the Australian vernacular as 'SUVs'. I went home and told Jim with some excitement that we could get a much bigger car for, really, not much cash. Really. I even started having visions of myself cruising through town in one of these you-can't-touch-me vehicles. Probably with shinier and glossier hair than I really have, but hey, it was my dream.

Long story short, we realised that our hearts had become discontent. We were starting to desire treasures on earth instead of vowing that God is our inheritance, now and always.

I doubt that we are alone in this.

Our culture celebrates the instrinsic linking of what we have (or enjoy, or cherish) with who we are. Although she enjoys pinterest, to a degree, blogger Sarah Bessey has written about the phenomenon that is the website, writing that:
'Here is the thing I have noticed about Pinterest:

We pin the clothes we wish we wore.
We pin the places we wish we could visit.
We pin the home we wish we lived in.
We pin the crafts we wish we had time to do.
We pin the quotes and sentiments that we wish defined us more.
We pin the meals we wish we made.

Really, we pin the life we wish we had.'

(You can read more about this at Sarah Bessey's site; something I found particularly insightful was her observation that, in the postmodern age, we scorn consumerism but really, what we consume has become what defines us. Food for thought). 

The question I have is this though: how do we escape desiring the treasures of this earth? Can we escape desiring the treasures of this earth? Is Sarah Bessey right, and we just redefine our consumerism over time?  Timothy Keller would likely agree; anyone who knows me would have heard me rave about his book Counterfeit Gods. The subtitle for the book is The Empty Promises of Money, Sex and Power, and the only Hope that matters. It's an amazing book. Buy it. Read it. And read it again. Essentially, Keller's thesis is that we turn good things (and yes, sometimes bad things) into our ultimate security - or rather, attempt to, because there is no way that these things can truly satisfy.

The answer clearly lies in Jesus. When he spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, he gave the answer we need, and need daily. Referring to the water of the well, he declared that “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,  but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13 & 14).

Today, my prayer is that I will remember this. That I will stop craving 'the lesser gods' instead of the God who is the only one who can satisfy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Awesome revelations there. Food for thought. :)