I was prompted recently by a speaker and pastor Dave Engbrecht to consider our appetites in life. Not just eating, of course, but ones where we say “I want more _____” and then we fill in the blank with all sorts of desires. In a country that already has so much more than most, we Americans still crave the bigger, better, and best. Our economy is crafted to create these appetites through constant marketing. And consumerism is shaping our faith practices too. And we can’t always see that, like eating, the appetite for more is never satisfied forever. We want more … beyond the more.
When I teach youth about this topic, I sometimes begin by having them fill in the blanks of this phrase with as many options as they can:
“If I can have ____, then I’ll be happy.”
I think we all can think of ways we’d answer this, right? Money, new car, fixed garage door (that’s me this week), or better job. What are the non-material ‘stuff’ we’d put in there? More status? Better job title? More impact? Be respected more? A bigger platform? For me, I think of all the ways through the years I had filled in that blank – car, salary of $34,000, sprinkler system, etc. Still not satisfied. Contentment is an elusive value, isn’t it?
For Christians, this consumeristic bent is under-discussed. It’s as if we want to ignore any discussion on materialism. We’re more comfortable discussing all sorts of moral and philosophical, even theological, topics, but we are hesitant to discuss topics where we’d consider sacrificing something.
Pastor Dave mentioned that a financial expert said the typical American family cannot tithe even if they wanted to do so. They have spent to levels where it is financially impossible for them to be obedient to God in giving. He share a Department of Treasury report that in 2002 more people declared for bankruptcy than graduated from colleges. (And it’s true, I looked it up!)
The litmus test in this for me is not to ask if I want more, but rather where I want more, and then why I want more. Identifying our ‘thirsts’ is a great first step toward a deeper reality in our trust and love for God.
The church has been fascinated with simplicity at various points in its history, but that discussion is mostly absent today. Christians seem equally focused as non-believers on having more with the latest style and keeping pace materially with the people ‘down the street’. There are more than a few scriptural passages that challenge and confront our culture’s consumptive value system. But that’s too painful, too counter-cultural.
The proverb, “Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich. Be wise enough to know when to quit” (Proverbs 23:4, NLT) has been running through my meditations lately. A biblical word study on riches, money, and wealth will reveal how far consumerism wants us to stray from Christian stewardship. Given the work hours Americans put in (and, hey, college is expensive!), perhaps we need to reconsider our lifestyle and faith practices. I’ll not dive in too far here, but consider the monthly bills we pay and the reasons why. Consider your latest purchases and for what ‘function’ they were made. Often we stretch for the newest, latest, or most automated rather than buying something that gets the required job done, but without a UV sterilizing time-controlled, water-sensitive, cool stainless steel ball-bearing studded function. Or something like that.
What do you think? What have you recognized in your life when it comes to ‘thirsts’?