We are a society driven by consumerism and marketing. There are millions of ho-hum products out there. Many are being sold on shopping channels by people who are obviously on amphetamines. They peddle products that will eventually end up in our next yard sale.
We are spenders and consumers. This is the reason Americans are in personal debt up to their eyeballs. Living from paycheck to paycheck, we pay minimum payments. We clip coupons to save a few dollars at the grocery store and look for bargains in every store. Few of us have the resources to get what we want when we want it. Therefore, it is imperative that we pay double-digit interest to insure that we keep up with the Joneses—whoever they are.
Technology (including computers, televisions, stereos, etc.) is designed to be out of date from the moment you take it out of the store. Just around the corner is a computer with a faster processor and bigger hard drive. Coming soon will be something better than even high definition TV. Consumers drive the economy. Consumers consume “stuff” with a voracious appetite. We shop till we drop, charge until we max out the card, and pray for one more “0% interest until 2015” deal on furniture.
We want, we take, we consume. We expect the next purchase to satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts. We hope the new car smell will last past the first payment. We want the house that others long to have. We want, we want…but are we ever satisfied?
Take a walk through your house, closets, storage room, and garage for a moment. Really. Do it right now. This article will be here when you are finished. Trust me, I’m not leaving you hanging here.
Now that you are back, did you see anything that made you think, “Why did I buy that?” or “What was I thinking when I charged that?” Did you find any clothes you just had to have that are now out of style? You are probably still paying for that stuff if you put it on a credit card and are paying minimum payments.
Be honest, did you find anything there that makes you so content that you don’t need anything else? Solomon thought he could get to the point where he had everything he wanted. He never did. He did get to the point where he realized that having everything wasn’t all there was to life.
Solomon had it all, but it didn’t satisfy him. He didn’t have to use a credit card; he paid on gold. Solomon called it all “chasing the wind.” Funny thought, really. If man were evolving as some say he is, you would think he would have learned the lesson of Solomon by now. After all, on our middle income level, how could we ever get it all? And if we did, would we be happy? NO! Just ask Solomon.
Let me suggest an alternative lifestyle—the biblical alternative. Read carefully these words of Paul found in Philippians 4, from the Message translation, “I’m glad in God, far happier than you would ever guess—happy that you’re again showing such strong concern for me. Not that you ever quit praying and thinking about me. You just had no chance to show it. Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am“ (vv. 10-13).
My friend Peter Vidu is a pastor in Romania. He makes less than a WalMart greeter, yet he pastors a church with thousands in attendance. They have a school and orphanage. I don’t see Peter often, but he is a remarkably content person. He doesn’t seem envious of what we have in America. Our work is a cake walk, his is hard. I’ve never heard him complaining about it.
When Peter walked into my house a few years ago, I was, to be honest, embarrassed. We have so much; he and his family have so little. It was then that I knew we had to do more for others. We had to find ways to get rid of junk, stuff, clutter. We’re still working on it, but we’re getting better. As I looked at Peter, I realized I knew Philippians 4, but he was living it. It made me aware that knowing something and living it are two different things.
Most of my life, I’ve been a giver. Over the last ten years, I’ve learned the joy of giving. Not just money, but hugs, cards, clothes, tapes, books, whatever the Lord prompts me to give. For the last few years, I go to a bookstore, not just to shop for myself but to see if there’s a book some of my friends or the staff would like. Several years ago I gave some staff members a pen. The only thing I asked of them was that when they used it, they would pray for me.
Contentment is hard in a consumer society. Advertisers push you to be discontented and dissatisfied. They want you to want more stuff. This is a battle of the will and the wallet. The best way I know to fight it is to give yourself first to the Lord and then be a steward of what God’s given you.
If you are on the altar, you’ll be more committed to investing in things eternal. You’ll find ways to get freed up financially so you can do more for the kingdom. You’ll enjoy life because you will no longer be a puppet always having your pocket strings pulled.
Here’s a suggestion. If you are in bondage to debt or consumed by the desire to have, decide now that things have to change. Cut up the credit cards. Go on a “cash only” basis when you shop. If you can’t pay it in full at the end of the month, you don’t need it.
Some have never learned the joy of giving. I’m not sure why. Everything in life costs, except salvation. Why do some think church and ministry should be free? That is the attitude of a consumer, not one of grace. No one that I am aware of is in such debt that they can’t do something. Maybe you can’t start with a tithe, but start somewhere. Work your way toward a minimum of a tithe. If you’ll invest in kingdom business you’ll find yourself more content when you hear ministry stories at church. You’ll realize, in that moment, that in giving, you gained something that money can’t buy. Try it, you’ll like it.
(copyright, Michael Catt)
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.