“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
“’You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” Matthew 4:8-10. ESV.
Jesus was tempted just like every one of us. In Matthew 4:8-10, Jesus is offered material wealth, yet He remained steadfast in His love for His Father, God.
Studies show that a love of things is often linked to poor self-esteem. So ‘retail therapy’ can be seen as no more than a sticky plaster over a lack of self-worth. The rollercoaster highs and lows of emotions are then because we seek pleasure from things that are fleeting and empty. Material things are not lasting. They often get worn out, broken, lost or stolen.
Ultimately things have no meaning except that which our minds attach to them. Sometimes letting go of an object may be harder because a friend gave it to us. But if the object is no longer useful for us, and sits around gathering dust – why keep it? The object has no feelings, our friends would understand and may even have forgotten about it.
It is the sentiment behind giving a gift that matters, how that person made us feel by an action which showed they thought of us. That is the true treasure, not the thing itself. If we possess a thing that someone else wants we should be prepared to give it up. If it would mean more to someone to have it and by receiving it make them feel loved by us, then why would we not give it to them? If something is hard for us to let go of, then giving it up becomes an act of love. We have shown that we value the person more than we value the object or ourselves.
Objects that clutter our homes and gather dust, create additional psychological stress. The minimalist mind-set, including the latest ‘Hygge’ trend from Norway can be of benefit, as long as we do not spend more on establishing ‘the look’! But anything that redresses the busy, hurried, cluttered modern lives we have, and reconnects us to our value in God, and the simplicity of nature, must be good for us!
In July 2016 I packed up my belongings and put them into a storage facility. I kept back a few clothes and my camping equipment, thinking this would only be for a few months whilst I travelled the UK. Two years later, my things are still in storage, I have purchased a few clothes to go to work in, but essentially am still living with what had then. I do miss some things from time to time like my clarinet, shoes, teaching resources, books, cooking equipment, a large washing machine and dining table! It has however taught me we do not need as much of what we think we do.
Modern society with its sophisticated advertising and marketing to target and influence us, falsely makes us believe we need things that we really don’t. In the recent Facebook data scandal it emerged that marketing companies believe that if individuals use a product for free, they then themselves become the product!
In the modern age we love social media and search engines like google, but every click we make can be collected and used to tailor advertising strategies that have the sole purpose of getting us to spend money for the benefit of one company or another, not for our benefit, but theirs. It is a daily battle for our minds. You have to wonder how many of the choices we do make are actually our own!
But God is not going to suggest we purchase something if it means borrowing money that gets us into debt we cannot afford. When I was at university I had to use credit cards to purchase essentials like food, but how things work in one season of your life does not mean it is a part of God’s plan for the next. God will provide for our needs and we have to really question whether a purchase is to satisfy a desire or a need. Satisfying a desire is not necessarily His will for us. What we do for ourselves must be what we are prepared to do for others.
What God won’t do is provide for us something that we believe we need more than Him. Anything we look to in the world for greater fulfilment or comfort than God, has become a selfish desire and an idol.
“You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” James 4:3 ESV
I often hear people, and some pastors say that having received some material thing shows they are blessed. And when people make a gratitude list often material things are on it. But can we measure how fortunate we are by our material possessions? If that were so, then would we not keep pursuing material things, and keep wanting more and more to ‘feel’ favoured? This seems like an error and a false pursuit. A distraction.
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride of life – is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides for ever.” 1 John 2:15-17 ESV.
Instead we are to realise that true blessings come with the fruits of the spirit which work on the inside of us, renewing our minds and strengthening our souls. Being blessed with peace and joy leads to true happiness. Being rich in the fruits of spirit will see us in healthy relationships and able to fulfil our God given purpose which may then lead to material rewards. But we do not work for them, instead we work out of love for God, who works in us and through us for the common good of all people.
Loving Father, let Your light shine in the darkness of the world. Let us seek You above all things. Let us not hold on to material things and be prepared to give them up, to love others just as much as we love ourselves. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.