Jesus was a spectacularly loving person, caring and reaching out right through his crucifixion— so when he speaks about money, we’d be wise to listen up.
We’d be wise to listen because his desire, the reason he said he came, was for the fullest human flourishing, that we may have LIFE in abundance.
We’d be wise to listen because he only speaks in kindness.
* * *
I am re-reading the Sermon on the Mount. There has been a Christian conspiracy down the ages to quietly ignore parts of it.
But I bet Jesus meant it when he said “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, but rather store up for yourself treasures in heaven.” He’s consistent in this advice: Do not labour for food which perishes, but for food which endures to eternal life.
* * *
The standard financial advice is to keep 6 months salary in cash at all times, (and to have 10 times your final salary in cash or stocks by the time you retire).
In other words, save enough to ensure that you can live without needing to trust God, without needing to lean on his ingenious ideas, and without needing to see his miracles and deliverances.
There is no kindness nor God-wisdom in this advice, but a lot of self-imposed deprivation, of harsh treatment of the present.
Six months salary in cash at all times; ten times final salary squirrelled away–think of how much fun and adventure and experience and opportunities for kindness and generosity and hospitality we miss out on with this sterile focus on saving enough money so that we will never have to rely on God’s kindness or generosity. So that we can, completely erroneously, perceive ourselves to be invulnerable.
* * *
There is a popular cliché about work-life balance: Nobody on his deathbed ever said, ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office’. What is more likely is that nobody ever said on his deathbed, “I wish I had more money.”
But we may well wish we’d travelled more, seen more theatre, more film, read more books, taken more friends out to dinner, been more generous to our children, instead of working so darn hard, saving so much.
Stop worrying about saving for the future. And do not waste today worrying about the future.
This radical statement is, in fact, a sacred command. Do not worry about tomorrow Jesus says, setting us free, great liberator that he is.
* * *
The effects of 2008 world-wide credit crunch, and the subsequent contraction of economies are lingering. It’s probably a safe bet that many of my readers will not be on track to have ten times their final salary by the time they retire.
And neither am I!!
But, truthfully, I am not worried.
(If I received a cheque in the mail for ten years salary, I would bank most of it. But, in its absence, I would not deprive myself of travel or generosity or what is necessary for the flourishing of my work, or my family’s flourishing because I do not have 3-6 months salary in the bank and my retirement is not properly funded. I would not, however, go into debt, or put more on my credit card than I can pay in full this month for anything, except food.)
* * *
And that is why the Gospel is good news to the poor. Guys, do not worry, Jesus says, soaring into sublimity. The God who cares for the sparrows and lilies will care for you. Seek God today, and let Him worry about tomorrow.
It is splendid advice, and, with God’s help, I intend to follow it.
* * *
I once read some research that tracked people’s thoughts through the day. The top things women thought about were 1) their hair!! 2) money. How much they have, how to save, what to buy, how to get bargains, how much money others have, how they got it. Women thought more about money and their hair than sex, the study observed. Men, on the other hand…
However, why not gradually shift our focus in the direction Jesus suggests–to focus on alternative eternal treasures—and fill our bodies with light? In Matthew 13, in a slew of metaphors, living in God’s kingdom is consistently referred to as treasure: the treasure in a field, the pearl of great price worth selling everything to buy.
Why not slowly develop the habit of eating Scripture, this treasure hidden from the busy? Develop the habit of Scripture meditation, an acquired taste in our fast-fast world of distraction. Start small, start with a short time, and increase it as the appetite grows for time with Jesus in quiet eternal realms which stretch and expand.
* * *
Scripture meditation yields great rewards. Paul Meier M.D. found in his study of the psychological and mental health and spiritual lives of evangelical seminary students that students who practiced almost daily Scripture meditation for three years or longer were significantly healthier and happier than students who did not meditate on Scripture daily.
Or as Jesus might have said, their whole body was full of light.
* * *
For what we focus on determines the course of our lives. If our eye is good (“good eye” opthalmos haplos in Greek, refers to generosity) our whole body is full of light. If on, the other hand, our eye is bad, (evil eye, Greek ophthalos poneros, refers to stinginess or greediness) our whole body is full of darkness.
When I think of the most generous people I know, there is a lightness and loveliness to them. And when I think of the most stingy, money-focused people I know—who cannot part with money, cannot force themselves to be generous, who will manipulate others into helping them, but rarely help others—there is a kind of darkness in their lives. The English word miser comes from the Latin miser, “unhappy, wretched, pitiable, in distress.” The focus on money clouds their hearts and lives in darkness.
Whoa, Jesus, so many things you say are literally true!!