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Richly Blessed, Richly Purposed
by Jennifer Aulthouse
I’ve realized a horrifying truth: I’m rich.
I suppose most people would question me here. Am I actually rich? If so, why am I horrified? Well, this is a game of comparison. I’m middle-class, living in a middle-class town, with a family income pretty much in line with my peers’. But my eyes have been opened to a far deeper truth.
Three years ago we moved into our current home, a three-bedroom split-level in a nice neighborhood, giving us much more space than the cramped semi-detached home we had lived in since before the children came along. Our new home is all we need and more, but it wasn’t long after we moved in before I found myself still desiring more space and wishing we could afford higher-quality upgrades and fancier home decor. But reading a familiar Bible passage one day pierced my thinking.
Matthew 19:16-26 (NIV) tells the story of a rich man who asks Jesus what good thing he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus replies with the command to be obedient. The man claims he has done what Jesus says. Jesus then tells him he must sell his possessions and give to the poor. The man walks away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus poignantly remarks to his disciples that “it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven”.
For the first time in my walk, I realized these words were for me and others like me: people of relative financial privilege, able to pursue at least most of the opportunities put in front of us, but who largely focus on what we don’t have while drowning in material wealth when compared to the rest of the planet. Further, His words apply to financially-privileged Christians, who really do love the Lord, yet if faced with the challenge of giving up everything to follow Him, would we?
In very subtle ways, my things and my attitude towards them owned me. My desire for a comfortable lifestyle in which I can express myself through my home, feel affirmed in my value as a person by measuring up to my peers, and experience enjoyment in what my possessions can offer me certainly affects my discipleship, as it did the rich man in Matthew 19. In fact, anything that makes me think twice before obeying the Lord holds too high of a place: therefore, it is an idol.
My possessions can hinder my obedience in other unintended ways, as well. They have a way of occupying much more than just shelf or floor space. My things can occupy my time as the maintenance required to care for my things may keep me from being available to Him in ways I may have no idea He has planned. Maybe God wants me to spend that time helping a neighbor to clean up her yard.
My things can occupy my mind as I focus on what I’m going to do with my things and then ponder over the other things that I need to have to go with the things I have now. Maybe God wants me to use that mental space instead to pray over how I can bless a struggling friend.
My things can also occupy my wallet. I spend money on things, and then I need to spend money to maintain the things, and then more money on the things I pondered over that I need to go with the things I already have. Maybe God wants me to invest that money in a family who has lost their income.
Convicted, I asked God to change me and to help me see opportunities to assist in this change. The insight I received was that my possessions must have a purpose to them: a purpose rooted in Him and offered to Him to use however He wishes. For me, this means I carefully pray and consider how having this item might bring pleasing fruit to Him. It isn’t about being miserly; it’s an attitude of devotion and daily thanksgiving for His abundant provision.
So I started intentionally analyzing my possessions, pulling out not simply the items that I didn’t like or use anymore, but also items I did but felt called to give anyway. Most represented purposeless accumulation, and I donated many of these things—such as clothing, shoes, cd’s, movies, home décor, toys, jewelry, cookware—either to other families or to charities. I have barely even made a dent. I’ve committed to continually consider each item, offer it to the Lord, and reduce as I feel called. I must constantly remind myself that as I am His to do with as He wishes, my things are also His to do with as He wishes.
Jennifer Aulthouse is a Christian writer, speaker, and teacher. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Penn State University, is married with two children, and is currently working on several writing projects. Check out her blog at www.jenniferspen.com.