Friday, December 31, 2010

Idol of Consumerism: The More I Have The Happier I AM

As I was traveling through our city recently I observed the large number of storage businesses. When did the market for so much storage come about? I don’t remember seeing them in my youth. I live in a transient, military community and I know there may be a greater demand for storage here than in other places. In 1960, there was no notable storage facility businesses in the U.S. Today there are well over 30,000 storage facilities and the industry takes in over $12 billion every year! These vast numbers serve as a reminder that Americans are very much into accumulating stuff, lots of stuff, more stuff than we know what to do with.

Not only are we building more and more facilities to store stuff, we are also building bigger homes to store stuff. In 1960, the average size of a home in the U.S. was 1100 square feet. Today the average size of a home is 2300 square feet. In 1800 the average American family had seven children. Today the average family has two children. We’ve double the size of our homes but reduced the size of our families. So, what are we doing with the extra space? We are storing our stuff.

The greatest teacher who ever lived (Jesus) spoke more about money than he did about heaven and hell combined. Sixteen of his thirty-five parables are about money. There is more teaching in the New Testament about money than prayer. Five hundred verses in the New Testament refer to prayer and faith while 2,000 verses refer to money and possessions.

So, why was this topic so important to Jesus and what did he have to say about it? It was important to him because he realized how subtle is the temptation to be enamored by the external stuff rather than the indwelling Spirit. He told his followers, “Where you money is, there your heart is also.”

Jesus taught that men tend to overestimate the importance of wealth. There is no question that American culture is diametrically opposed to this teaching of Christ. We measure our success as individuals, as a people, by how much wealth we accumulate. We have embraced with gusto the lie that money will make us happy. America now has over 600 billionaires. But, when you observe the lifestyles of the rich and famous there is one blatant truth that cannot be ignored: there is no correlation between peace in the heart and wealth.

One man wrote this proverb thousands of years ago: “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.” (Proverbs 23:4) A very wise, ancient billionaire named Solomon once said, “A good name is more desirable than riches.” A foolish, modern billionaire recently said: “Whoever said money doesn’t buy happiness just doesn’t know where to shop.”

Christ never condemned wealth or possessions. He condemned the worship of wealth. He was deeply disturbed to see people in his culture who were possessed by their stuff. He expressed this concern and pushed for a choice from his listeners when he said, “"No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." (Luke 16:13)

Roko Belic is a Los Angeles filmmaker who has made a documentary about happiness appropriately named “Happy” commented on what makes us happy, “The things we are trained to think make us happy, like having a new car every couple of years and buying the latest fashions, don’t make us happy. The one single trait that’s common among every single person who is happy is strong relationships.”

Jesus taught that very concept two thousand years ago when he said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31)

We would be wiser to invest in events and experiences that create memories and build relationships rather than invest in stuff. Our attempt to establish our status in society or keep up with the Joneses leads to stress and frustration rather than true happiness. True happiness is born in relationships, not in stuff.

Kevin Probst - Is a teacher of Apologetics and History at Calvary Christian School and Associate Pastor of Crosspointe Nazarene Church church in Columbus, Georgia.

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