Worry in a World of Wealth

We’re not rich people when you look around the city and compare our house and our standard of living to the rest of the city.  You don’t want to be comparing yourself to everybody else, but it’s easy to see that our house is not the biggest and our van is very old.

But on the other hand, we have a van, and we have a house in a very expensive market, in a really great city.  When you compare our house and our standard of living with the rest of the world, suddenly we are rich people.

We do all right, that’s for sure.  But how you feel about your status in life is not so much based on how much you have as how much beyond what you have your aspirations and “needs” stretch out.

I’ve written about our basement before – how much of a disaster it is.  But we do we need to spend thousands of dollars to dig it out, finish it, build a really nice laundry room and waterproof it?  There are cheaper ways to make it into a usable space that probably wouldn’t be as satisfying or as thrilling.  The problem in our situation, or the opportunity, depending on how you look at it, is that there are a lot of financing options available to us to make choices about what to do on our house.  There are a lot of institutions or companies that would be happy to allow us to increase our debt to do all sorts of things on our house.

It means that decision-making in our finances becomes a funny thing because there are all these things that we could buy or decide to do that maybe we couldn’t “afford” but which we could still do and figure out later.  It’s a bit disconcerting because it means that there’s all this wiggle room to decide that something is “worth” it or “necessary” and you just go into more debt.  One day you’re having a conversation about how to reduce your mortgage faster and then the next you’re having a conversation about making it bigger.  It’s very strange.

So,  ironically, or perhaps appropriately I’ve been meditating this on the part of the sermon on the mount in Matthew where Jesus tells his listeners not to worry about what to eat or what to wear because God knows that they need it and will provide it.  He tells them to strive first for the kingdom of God.  I just keep coming back to it.

Due to this privileged life we lead, with all kinds of options to go into debt, it has me thinking about the fact that I don’t actually, really and truly trust God for much.  I don’t even really know how, and I want – desperately want to learn how to do this.  Sometimes I wonder if maybe I’m supposed to throw myself violently into a situation where I’m without a pay cheque to see how to do this, but I strongly suspect that this is not the wisest or best way to learn more about trusting God.

So I’ve been reading about worry and about striving first for the kingdom.  So today it struck me that Jesus was talking to people who probably understood pretty well the reality of worrying about what they were going to eat and what they were going to wear.  These were people who were much closer to the line than I am and Jesus was telling them not to worry and to strive first for the kingdom.  Jesus was telling a lot of poor people to not worry about what they will eat, drink or wear and to focus first on God’s kingdom (whatever that might mean for them).  When I realized that he wasn’t speaking to me (at least not directly), it made me feel a little funny.

I was one of the guys on the fringes looking in.  I mean, Jesus is talking to me – he’s talking to everybody, but he was gearing these words to the people who really knew what it meant to worry about these things.  I don’t really worry about these things.  I worry about going into debt.  I worry about the fact that the job I have that provides a good salary really leaves me feeling a little empty sometimes.

“Don’t worry about it,” Jesus says, “Strive first for God’s kingdom.”

“I don’t know how,” I think to myself, “But man, do I ever want to figure out how…”

But somehow, it’s so helpful to realize that Jesus was talking to people much closer to the line than me and he was telling them not to worry.

One of the things that has sometimes concerned me in the back of mind is that Jesus is saying that God knows that we need these things and will provide them, and I wonder if God thinks that I need this house or that my kids need to take piano lessons.  Maybe if I learned to really trust God, God would take away this house and give me a much worse house and no extra money for piano lessons.  He’d provide everything that I need, just at a much lower standard than I’m used to.

I think this is an interesting thing to consider but probably not helpful to worry about.  At the same time it’s worthwhile to remember that for some people these words are a great comfort while for others maybe they should raise the question of what it is that we really need and how much it matters to God how high our standard of living is.  (I’m clearly not a prosperity gospel guy.)  But really what we need to come back around to is that Jesus tells them to strive first for the kingdom of God.  That’s the thing.  That’s what must come first and it’s imperative that we don’t let anything get in the way of that – whether it’s worry about survival or a high standard of living.

So when it comes to our basement and the prospect of further debt, the answer from God doesn’t really tell us what what we should do, but it reminds us what is the most important thing –

Strive first for the kingdom of God.


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