Money, Masters, Simplicity…

A dear friend who is a financial consultant asked if I would share with him and his church leaders about how my views on money might have changed as I’ve moved from the US and a career in medicine to missionary physician in a developing country.  The way I view money is among many significant changes that have occurred (and are occurring) in me during this somewhat unique transition.  I’ve revised it a bit for this post.

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I once had a physician friend (making $300,000/year) say in the course of a conversation, “One day, if I become wealthy…”  In the United States, many Christians are like this friend of mine, ignorant of their incredibly wealthy status.  We don’t recognize that even those in the majority middle class are among the richest people, percentage-wise, who have ever lived.  We ignorantly and passionately work hard to serve both God and money while we don’t appreciate that we are incapable of serving two masters.  We have a very real desire to have a Kingdom focus, but because we are trying to do what Jesus said was not possible (serving two masters), pulling it off is… impossible!

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Jesus made it quite clear that we cannot maintain allegiance to both Him and money (and what money buys).  We’ve so tried, however, and this divided allegiance has created in our churches (as it did in me) a prosperous, comfortable, lukewarmness that allows us to attend services, study the bible, pray, etc and yet be too busy (working and chasing what money buys) to have real concern for what concerns Jesus.  We actually believe we are concerned with the Kingdom (by giving Jesus a small part of our affection) as we serve comfort, security, pleasure, and other things that are purchased.  We are double-minded, conflicted and confused as to why we struggle to find intimacy with our Father…

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Jesus identified one commandment as His new commandment.  In addition to our relationship with Him, He wanted our focus on the rest of the world, most of whom both live apart from the Kingdom of God and suffer tremendously from sickness and poverty (in need of the resources that we hoard).  Money keeps our time and energy focused on us and away from Jesus’ heart.

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The American dream glorifies more, more, more (never being satisfied) and this attitude has sadly become part of the gospel among churches, pastors and missionaries.  Jesus spoke of “thirst no more” and the lack of this godly contentment (peace beyond understanding) in American christians validates that something is amiss.  I believe it has to do largely with money.

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For many years prior to leaving the States, I arrogantly and subconsciously believed that I could do what Jesus said was not possible.  I sought to serve both masters well (not intentionally, which is quite irrelevant).  This left little time in my wealthy life for a Kingdom-first focus, and I was too tired to serve others (no “margin”).  I was running the race of the common, church-going American christian, living with an ever-underlying frustration at my level of devotion to the things that Jesus cares about (“I just have no time or energy.”).  I finally realized, only after leaving the States, that I had been, indeed, trying to serve two masters.  After entering the developing world (where life is radically simple), I was able to look back and realize which master I had so often served, and the damage that it had done to me and to my relationship with Jesus and others.  I pursued what money buys (comfort, security, leisure, stuff, etc) and therefore could not serve Jesus with abandonment, though this went largely unrecognized until I was torn away from the bondage of wealth and lived with far less.

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Adding to this, it’s been quite eye-opening and challenging living among people who have virtually no comforts and realizing that prosperity and comfort have nothing to do with happiness/contentment.  These extremely poor folks have the same percentage of happy and sad without a car, comfortable furniture, electricity, running water and discretionary spending.  In rural Angola, I so often see contentment with little and it is beautiful to behold.

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We absolutely MUST move away from the attitude that money is a blessing, a gift from God.  It is NOT.  It is rather often a “gift” from the enemy to distract us from the blessings of our Father (love, joy, suffering, relationship, etc).  Jesus’ life was marked by blessing from His Father, and NONE of these blessings were purchased!  Little else in the bible is so singularly identified as a separator of man and God (camels and needles…).  Money has the power to turn us painlessly, unknowingly and directly away from Jesus.  It has been a challenging transition in perspective to live with little and to see that what is truly precious in life and in my Father’s kingdom cannot be purchased.  The only money that is a “blessing” is that which He gives to us to then give away to something or someone that matters to Him.

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Recently we removed all electronics from one of our kids for two weeks and they remarked afterward about how many cool (new) things they were able to do with all of their time.  A Kingdom focus is this simple.  Those who give their money away are not sacrificing, they are gaining freedom!  If we would strip away much of what we now spend money on, we would be shocked at how much time and energy (and money) remain to love those He loves and to be directed into new frontiers of His work.  The single reason we don’t have more Jesus-followers “go” to where the spiritual and physical needs are greatest, is our love of what money buys.  It is also why many missionaries live, work, and “church plant” in larger cities.  Comfort is among the biggest idols within the church today and comfort is purchased.  Missions is like parenting… more is “caught” than taught.  As His church, we’re evangelizing the world… to bigger, to better, to more, to a love and pursuit of what money can buy, in Jesus’ name.

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In our pursuit of Jesus, we cannot maintain a Kingdom-first focus (doing what is dear to our Father’s heart) while chasing distractions. More money (and what money buys) always equals more distractions.

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I’ve learned the hard way that more money and more stuff do not yield happiness, joy, peace, better ministry, etc, and that money (and what money buys) steals from our relationship with God and people.  I’ve had a lot of money and I now have very little and I would now always choose the latter.  In fact, I so regret the years that I tried to serve two masters because I now see how that kept me from my true heart’s desires.  C.S. Lewis said,

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. 

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Largely because of changes in my perspective on money, our simple life in the “third world” has not been sacrificial as much as it’s been liberating for more of an unburdened pursuit of loving my father and loving those He loves.  The road less traveled can be narrow and steep, but it also runs along unknown quiet steams and magnificent vistas.

3 comments

  1. Your words are so poignant! At times I can catch a glimpse…a small window opens to the truth of what you are saying, yet most of the time my heart is divided, ever seeking comfort and convenience. Someone once said that the persecution of America is its materialism. Jesus, help us…help me.

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