Monday, April 24, 2006


C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letter writes, “Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels that he is finding his place in it, while really it is finding its place in him.”

I find myself constantly thinking about selfishness and self-centeredness and how those two things continue to manifest themselves in my life, our culture, the church and my kids. When it comes to money and possessions, we’ve had so much for so long that we don’t even realize how much we really have.

Followers of Jesus, who should be leading the cultural charge against self-centered materialism, are prone to follow the lead of the culture rather than Christ on this matter. When it comes to integrating our faith into the material and financial part of our lives, we’re having difficulty. I wonder if the most serious problem facing the church today is materialism? I wonder if materialism is the least-recognized and most-unaddressed sin of believers, of which I am one.

Tom Sine says, “all seem to be trying to live the ‘American Dream’ with a little Jesus overlay. We talk about the Lordship of Jesus, but our career comes first. Our house in the ‘burbs comes first. Then, with what’s left, we try to follow Jesus.”

Some of you will remember Bruce Wilkinson’s little book, The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through To The Blessed Life. Many people are familiar with this bestseller that focuses on two verses found First Chronicles. If you haven’t heard of it, you’ve either been asleep or you’ve failed to interact with one of the millions of Christians whose fervor for Jabez and his prayer has led them to lay out millions of dollars to purchase the various versions of The Prayer of Jabez and other Jabez Junk. “Jabez fever” swept through the church as everywhere you turned someone else was telling you with “Amway-like” enthusiasm about how they were embracing the prayer, praying it daily, and expecting God to release great blessings into their life.

I wonder about this prayer of “bless me and enlarge my territory!” and to “let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain” was a new and popular way for many to ask God for more stuff and an easier life. Could it be that an obscure Old Testament passage was being marketed to a 21st century church that was eager to find Biblical justification to have more? Perhaps the Jabez phenomenon and its rapid embrace as a mechanized and magical mantra is the greatest indicator of how self-centered and materialistic we’ve become. It plays well in our wealthy, market-driven, consumer-oriented, narcissistic North American Christian culture.

OK, I ask God for blessing and protection every day. To be honest with you, I even prayed the prayer of Jabez! But while I oftentimes catch myself wanting more stuff, the fact is that I already have far more material “territory” than I need. Why is it, though, that third-world Christians who scrape for food, clothing and shelter while living in material poverty have a fervor, joy, selfless depth and richness to their faith that puts us (me) to shame, while we walk around prone to dissatisfaction with what we already have, desiring more, and consumed with wanting to live a life free from God’s gift of pain?

There is another Old Testament prayer that seems to be worth embracing, but I am sure no one will make millions of ‘ka-ching’ off it. I have run across it numerous times in my readings of Proverbs 30. But something jumped out at me like never before. The author Agur prays: “Two things I ask of you, O Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God” (Proverbs 30:7-9). All Agur wanted was to speak the truth, and to have just what was necessary for him to remain committed and obedient to his God. Agur understood human nature and he knew his weakness. In wisdom, he prayed to be rich in faithfulness. I’m not sure Agur’s prayer would sell books and junk in today’s Christian market, that’s too bad, it’s a challenging prayer that shakes up our attitudes and reflects God’s will, way and priorities. Actually, it is a God-centered prayer that focuses on thy will and not my will, as we ask God to bless by giving and withholding as He pleases.

Why is it that in the New Testament that money and wealth is talked about more than and hell combined? Why is it that there is more said about money than about prayer? Why did Jesus say: “do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Is it because of the dangerous and consuming grip this reality puts on us? The sad result of our prosperity and desire for even more is that we’ve become even more prosperous and desiring of even more. All the while, we fool ourselves into believing that we are entitled to it all and that we are walking the path of discipleship.



Mark said...

Yeah!!! It's Buddy Jesus from Dogma.

Bravemonkey said...

haha, to skew it very narrow -- it's all television's fault!

The message of the advertising has gotten into our hearts after years and years of it (not just television of course, but all advertising).

Men & women think, 'I need this to be happy' or 'my life will be better if I have this'. Men think, 'my wife doesn't look as good as her' and women think 'my husband doesn't romance me like him'.

Sorry for the disjointed thoughts - I'll end with a quote I've always loved though, from the movie THX-1138: "Buy more, buy more now. Consume. Be happy."

Jamie Arpin-Ricci said...

We are continually bombarded by our culture to consume, not just for pleasure, but for survival. We are convinced that if we don't, we won't be as smart, loved, beautiful, fulfilled, hip, etc. as everyone else. It is reinforced (more so in the US, but also somewhat in Canada) by a civil religion that equates our national politics and economy as reflections of God's Abrahamic blessing on us, therefore NOT to participate in that wealth is to deny God's gifts to us. Besides, we LIKE stuff. Good thoughts, bro!


A Not So Desperate Housewife said...

I always found it ironic how the prayer of Jabez was commercialized so much as it was. Honestly, I'm quite surprised they didn't just scrap the W.W.J.D? bracelets and revamp them with What Would Jabez Do? What about the way Christ taught us to pray, "not MY will, but YOURS be done"? And you're right, what about "give me my DAILY bread"? Because in essence that's all we really need in life. Perhaps it will forever be the Christian struggle, to seperate what is simply desirable from what is truly essential? I want to be a good stewart of what God has blessed me with, but my prayer is that I will never become so engulfed into "stuff" that I begin to find my self-worth in obtaining it, or possessing it. At the end of the day, my "stuff" doesn't define me, it doesn't listen to me, answer my prayers, feel my heart, or save me. And though I struggle with the grip of materialism, at the end of the day, I know....that it is only God and I and it is Him that I am accountable for what hides within my heart. I'd like to say it is not filled with earthly treasures, where moth and rust decay, but rather my treasure lies with Christ and there my heart lies as well.

SoulPastor said...

Good posts
Keep them coming

Gio said...

It's funny how we've wrapped consumerism with what is called being "blessed", which in turn is tied into a so called spirituality. The more spiritual, the more blessed you are, which means you get more of the stuff you want(house,cars,money, etc.)So your spirituality or faith is measured by the amount of physical possesions you have. Surprise! you have a born again "market-driven, consumer-oriented, narcissistic North American Christian culture."

Cathy said...

Wow! What a good post. Really hits home. Thanks for always keeping me thinking:) I really appreciate your blog Gerry.
ps I'm doing well:)

Steve & Gillian said...

I heard a sermon a few years ago in Victoria where the pastor put it in perspective nicely. He said that as Christians we seem to be okay with the idea of giving our 10 percent (although this is still not done by most) but we never even consider what we do with the other 90 percent of our income!!! This idea was so simple and yet it slammed me like a ton of bricks. We are so good at justifying how we spend money as long as we give a regular peace offering to the church, however, do we consider whether how we spend the remaining 90 percent is honorable before God? After all, your perspective will change a little once you view your money not as your own, but as God's.

This past weekend my wife and I attended the Invisible Children rally and walk from the Legislature to the U of M, where they showed the documentary. They showed literally thousands of kids sleeping on concrete floors everynite just to stay alive...and yet they still sing praises to God every morning?! This got me thinking back to when we first got married and we'd purchased a mattress that we both found a little too soft. We decided to endure it for a few weeks (cause you get a 90 day return policy) and eventually ended up keeping it...but i thought, how ridiculous...i'm stressing over a 900 dollar mattress that's too soft while these kids are sleeping on concrete in puddles. We're all in dire need of gaining a new perspective!

The sooner kids learn that 'stuff' doesn't satisfy the better. When I was a kid i remember that the day after Halloween i'd be flipping through the Sears Wishbook for potential Christmas presents. I'd want a Pogo-ball or a Nintendo or something like that, and this pattern repeated itself till I was 14 or so. But I found that every single year as soon as i'd finished opening my presents i'd be left with this hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. i wouldn't be satisfied or excited or proved to be all about the anticipation...which led to shear emptiness and a pile of stuff. I often think that this was possibly one of the most valuable lessons i've ever learned. as soon as i made that connection my appetite for stuff largely diminished and i became more thankful for the stuff i did have (admittedly i still fight this battle daily but now i crave being able to travel or go to concerts). However, when I see my friends caught in the yuppie rat race I'm reminded of the trap we can get ourselves into...buying sexy cars, big homes, and trendy clothes.

As one of my friends sarcastically began a sermon about materialism with: "Instead of asking our selves WWJD, we seem to be asking ourselves WWJW...What Would Jesus Wear???