Monday, June 03, 2013

Wanting Less

“Jesus, the Blessed One, is poor. The poverty of Jesus is much more than an economic or social poverty. Jesus is poor because he freely chose powerlessness over power; vulnerability over defensiveness; dependency over self-sufficiency.” - Henri Nouwen.

I can’t fully express to you how profoundly this quote has impacted my heart. The implications for this are astounding for those of us who have decided to follow Jesus. Because if Jesus left the splendor of heaven to become nothing (see Philippians 2), then we should also step down from our earthly splendor and let go of our temporal wealth to follow Jesus into this intentional poverty.

I can hear some of you responding, “But, Jesus didn’t command everyone who followed Him to sell everything and give it to the poor. He only said that to the rich young ruler, right? Right?”

Right. And also wrong.

Yes, Jesus did tell the rich young ruler to sell everything and give it to the poor. That’s true. But he also said this:

“Anyone who does not give up all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33)

Read that again. Jesus is talking to “anyone”. Other translations use the word, “everyone” if you prefer. But either way, the meaning is clear. If anyone wants to be a follower of Jesus they cannot do so unless they first give up all that they have. Everything.

I’ve said before that Jesus only asks us to give up one thing to follow Him. It’s called “everything.” But for some reason this verse, and that quote by Nouwen, hit me in a new way this week.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been noticing a tendency in myself to become more materialistic lately? Maybe it’s because I’ve been a little fearful to let go of things and to share out of my abundance with people who are in need?

I think another aspect of this is the idea that the poverty of Jesus was intentional. As Paul noted, our weakness unleashes “the power of Christ” within us. (2 Cor. 12:9) So, the reason for Jesus to intentionally step into a life of poverty was to demonstrate to us the importance of depending on God for everything. It was also to model for us the value of people over things and possessions.

If I’m honest, the idea of letting go of my things is painful for me; physically and emotionally painful. I look around my room at my favorite books, and toys, and cd’s and games. What if all of those were gone forever? I consider my gadgets, my cell phone, my iPod, my X-box, and my television. What would my life be like without those? I wonder what items I simply could never let go of or give away and what it might take for me to let go of them for good.

This question of giving up everything to Jesus is uncomfortable for me to consider. The idea of taking these words from Jesus seriously frightens me. And why does it frighten me? Because it’s the Holy Spirit asking me these questions. Because the truth is, there are some things that I do not want to let go of. Jesus knows that I have to surrender everything to follow Him. It’s time to drop a few things I’ve been carrying to make it the next few miles of the journey.

See, on the global scale, I am rich. Filthy stinking rich. I make more in a year than most people on this planet will make in several lifetimes. I live in Orange County, one of the most expensive and extravagant places in the world. I have two cars. I have a garage full of stuff. I own dozens of electronic gadgets and toys. I eat better than most everyone else on the earth. I have a disposal income. I am rich.

The bible has a lot to say about those who are wealthy. None of it is very positive:

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mt. 19:23-24)

“He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:53)

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.” (Luke 6:24)

“Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.” (James 5:1)

“Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.” (James 1:9-11)

Here’s what I know about myself; one of my love languages is “gift-giving.” So, when I consider my recent desire for materialistic objects the truth becomes clear – I am trying to create an artificial feeling of love within myself by giving myself these gifts. But these gifts to myself are temporal. They do not bring me any joy. In fact, they serve to create a comfort zone around my heart that insulates me from others, and from trusting God.

So, in essence I believe that the Holy Spirit is urging me to change my posture from grasping to giving. If I can begin to let go of my things I will discover that true joy is found in letting go. By sharing what God has provided to me with others, this wall of comfort will begin to come down, and my heart will have more direct access to God.

Not coincidentally, I’ve also been praying lately for God to allow me to bear fruit in my life for His kingdom. Two things are required for bearing fruit:

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25)

So, the idea of letting go of my stuff involves dying to myself, and it involves sowing the seed of the Kingdom, and learning to trust in the Lord for everything. Not in my stuff.

Pray for me if you think of it this week. I’ll be continuing to seek the Lord about this and to begin sharing and giving away what I already have rather than seeking to gain more material objects that I do not need.

The irony? There are countless, priceless treasures in store for me as I cast away these temporal things and trust more in the God who loves me and gave Himself for me. He is a God who loves to give good gifts to His children.


More verses on wealth:

“You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter.” (James 5:5)

“Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” (1 Tim.6:9)

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (1 Tim. 6:17)

“The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.” (Luke 8:14)

“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Rev. 3:17)


Resurrecting Wilberforce said...

In the literary classic War and Peace, the protagonist, the Russian Count Bezukhov, has been imprisoned by the invading armies of Napoleon. During his time he learns the following: " is created for happiness, that happiness is within..., in the satisfying of natural human needs, and that ALL (emphasis mine) unhappiness comes not from lack, but from superfluity."

I think there is much truth in Tolstoy's writing here. We gain all by losing all. You are on a good road here, my brother. And you have my prayers.

Matt Appling said...

The especially frightening thing is that when Jesus says "everything," we just assume He means material wealth. But EVERYTHING has to be on the table, down to our very lives. Because He promises that everyone who loses their life for Him will find it.

Anonymous said...

Keith, I am at the same juncture and so get it.....pray for me and I am praying for you. With God even this is possible, otherwise I am sunk.

Kristina Skepton said...

Wow - this post hit me hard, esp. in regards to the material stuff. I work at a Mercedes-Benz dealership so I am especially challenged each day by looking at what "that half" has and trying to remember that it does not matter to Jesus or the Kingdom. But oh how easy it is for me to write this and another thing for me to actually let go... thanks for the challenge of this call!
Kristina, Blogger