“Which represents money best spent: luxurious possessions or a good story to tell?”
I posted this question on my Facebook wall a couple weeks ago. Every comment was in favor of the latter — and with good reason. I wish someone would stand up and proclaim a Rolex to be a better use of $15,000 than, say, a year spent traveling and serving people all over the world on an adventure like The World Race. That would be almost as idiotic as one of the Pharisees in Mark 3:4 standing to tell Jesus that it’s better to do evil on the Sabbath than to do good. There’s an obvious correct answer. But the “correct” choice between materialism and sentimentality is (for me, at least) still much easier to say than to show.
I completed The World Race three years ago (Rolexes aren’t really my style anyway), and yet I still find myself wanting to save and pad my bank account as much as humanly possible. I mean, what if I need a truckload of money one day and don’t have it? It’s natural for me to want to receive a tangible item as the result of a large transaction. It’s really hard sometimes to be charitable, to take time off for a service trip somewhere, or to simply be generous to others as a way of celebrating something that God is doing. None of those expenses give me anything more than a (hopefully) good story to tell, which I can’t physically touch. The invisible but eternal security those God-honoring experiences celebrate is somehow more difficult to invest in than tangible but short-lived possessions, which really only celebrate myself.
“Time is money” is a universally known adage in our culture — and it’s absolutely true. These two precious resources are joined at the hip, however, this phrase puts massive emphasis and priority on the idea of accumulating more money rather than spending what we do have wisely. It’s a phrase that is often muttered to explain why someone can’t give their time to help another person in need.
When we view time simply as an opportunity to accumulate more money, we’re stopping short of what those resources were meant to represent all along.
Jesus taught that our time and resources should be spent celebrating God. In whatever form that may take, the way we celebrate Him will determine the quality of our lives. The possessions we collect in our storage units and spare bedrooms don’t go as far as we think (check out the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:13-21). I don’t know of anyone that reaches the end of their lives with the final regret, “I wish I worked more, made more money, or had nicer things.” At that final point of our lives, it’s the relationships we’ve invested in (or not invested in) that will be on our minds.
That’s not to say all luxurious possessions are sinful, or even wasteful. For example, take the alabaster jar of expensive perfume Mary used to anoint Jesus only days before He was arrested and crucified (Mark 14:3-9). It’s a perfect illustration that our resources should be taken past the accumulation, display-it-on-the-mantel mindset and spent as a way to point back to God, celebrating the story of who He is. In other words, the perfume (or the year’s salary it was worth) was not the goal of Mary’s life. It was simply a method of worship for her and a way to invest in her relationship with Christ.
We cannot cling to and trust in our worldly treasure and grow closer to God at the same time. This lesson is actually first taught from the opposite perspective when Jesus encountered the rich young ruler four chapters earlier in Mark 10:17-27. Clinging to our stuff while trying to grow closer to God is like trying to hold your nose and hum at the same time. Can’t be done. (But you might as well try since no one seems to be watching.)
After you un-pop your ears (and maybe look around to really make sure no one was watching), consider the money you make in a year. Mary spent that in probably no more than 15 minutes on Jesus, and yet she woke up the next morning with the satisfaction that her most prized possession had been used wisely. Jesus (with His faith in humanity at least partially restored after his unsuccessful encounter with the rich young ruler) promised that the story of what Mary did for Him would be told everywhere the Gospel is preached. And true to His word, it’s one of the very few stories that are described in all four of the individual gospel accounts.
There’s something about a great story that gives so much more satisfaction than any physical possession could ever yield. Possessions don’t have near the power to give us spine-tingling goosebumps or make our bellies and cheeks hurt from laughing so hard that stories and memories give us. So take a volun-cation somewhere; give to long term missionaries who are doing work that very few of us can do; help your friends out at your own expense. You’ll likely see that the resulting beautiful photos of people you care about or memories you’ve made are a much better use of spotlights on the walls of your home than some expensive statue or vase you picked up at Pottery Barn. And that’s just the smallest example of why God’s idea for the resources He’s blessed us with is to invest in the adventurous pursuit of eternally-minded relationships. It’s a hard concept to trust, but the end result is heavenly treasure that Jesus said never erodes or collects dust (Matthew 6:19-21).
The biggest reason why God wants us to use our time and resources to celebrate Him actually isn’t about us at all. God uses our time and resources to bless those around us. It’s terrible economics to silently expect God to make money appear out of thin air so that other people can be helped. The resources He wants to use are in our control, and He’s counting on us to loosen our white-knuckle grip on what He’s gifted us with. Those resources represent Him to people who really need an unforgettable story of His faithfulness for themselves, and God wants to give it to them. He’s asking us to let go of this idea of getting so that we can give as freely as we’ve received.
If you have five more minutes, I highly recommend watching this video about how a middle-aged mom acquired a motorcycle. Go ahead and admit it… you’re curious.