Kelly is always thinking of stuff she doesn’t have. A pastor’s wife, Kelly lives on an income that’s far tighter than she would like. She regularly reminds her husband of what a painful sacrifice it is for her to live on their income, and she constantly window-shops for things she would like to own.
Kelly feels guilty about secretly buying lottery tickets and even more guilty bout resenting the members of her congregation who live in large houses filled with more stuff than she has in her small townhouse.
Mike is always thinking about the stuff he has. He worked and saved for years to acquire things he dreamed of owning—a Porsche in his garage, a big-screen television in his living room, an extensive collection of suits in his bedroom. Mike can’t bring himself to get rid of all his stuff, but he frequently worries about whether it’s demanding too much of his time and money.
He and his wife sense a calling to start a family someday, but Mike doesn’t see how he can make the necessary sacrifices. Then there’s tithing, which Mike knows he should be doing but never does. When he finds himself feeling bad about it, he takes a ride in his Porsche, which never fails to put him in a better mood.
You may think you have either too little or too much stuff. But what truly matters is how you use the stuff you have. Here are five principles for using your stuff as tools to grow closer to Christ:
1. Your stuff is not a priority.
Don’t give greater priority—as measured by your time and attention—to your stuff than you do to your relationship with Christ. It’s often the case that the more possessions you have, the more they possess you. Buying, maintaining, insuring, fixing, cleaning, and storing your stuff can eat up a considerable amount of time. Do you really need that Oriental rug that requires you to take off your shoes every time you walk in your house? Do you need to get a wax job for your car every other week, or can you skip it?
More importantly, time you don’t spend taking care of your stuff can be spent in prayer or reading the Word. Take an inventory, not of your stuff, but of the time you spend dealing with your stuff. How does that compare with the time you spend with Christ? If the former number is out of balance with the latter, you’d do well to simplify. Jesus said, “ ‘No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.’ ” (Matthew 6:24).
2. Your attitude toward stuff should bless others.
Sometimes I find myself falling into the traps of ingratitude and miserliness. I can sanctimoniously congratulate myself on not wanting or owning a lot of stuff and still end up sinning.
One time a family member wanted to give my young daughter a present that cost more than I thought it should. She wanted to express her love for my daughter by being generous, but I responded to her offer with callous criticism for wanting to spend so much money on a toy. Another time I had several bags full of baby clothes a friend could have used, but I consigned them instead so I could make some money.
There’s nothing wrong with not pursuing more stuff or with getting rid of stuff you already have. In fact, those are often good things to do. But in all things—including dealing with stuff—an attitude of love should rule your actions.
Acts 2:45 records that early Christians sold their possessions, giving “to anyone as he had need.” They knew that material things are merely tools to express Christ’s love and grow closer to Him.
3. Your stuff should foster enriching experiences.
Manage wisely whatever God chooses to give you. Stuff isn’t inherently bad; sometimes it can enable you to experience something that will draw you closer to Christ. If you can hear God’s voice more clearly out in nature, it makes sense to own a tent and a sleeping bag so you can go camping. When Jesus attended the wedding in Cana, He chose to perform His first public miracle by changing water to wine. Serving wine was an important part of the wedding experience in that culture, and Jesus knew that preventing the supply of wine from running out would support the fellowship the wedding guests were enjoying.
4. Your stuff should honor Christ.
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:23, 31 “ ‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is constructive. . . . So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
Whatever stuff you choose to have should glorify God. Of course, that means you shouldn’t own stuff that is by its nature opposed to God’s teachings—such as pornographic magazines. Most of the stuff in our lives, however, doesn’t fall into that category. We should use whatever we have in ways that honor Him. For example, you can use your television to watch news that keeps you informed or an inspiring show that reflects biblical principles. Or you can use it to watch soap operas, filling your mind with values that don’t please God.
Think about how your stuff honors the Lord. If certain items don’t, it’s best to give them up. 5 Your stuff shouldn’t make you unhappy or discontent. Just as Kelly and Mike experienced, stuff can rob us of the contentment God wants for us. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to agree with the apostle Paul: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want”? (Philippians 4:12).
What is that secret? A close relationship with Christ. All of our stuff will one day pass away from us, but a relationship with Christ is eternal!