[Devotional Originally Published by Highland Park UMC–used by permission.]
What is a star? There have been many poetic, romantic, and spiritual attempts to explain the tiny dots of light that we can see at night if we’re lucky enough to be in a place where we can actually see them.
However, let’s get scientific for a sec. Just a sec. Stars are actually spheres of different gases held together by their own gravity. And here’s the key factor: that gravity is exerting a constant force to collapse the star in on itself. The only thing preventing that collapse is the nuclear reactions happening in the middle of the star, causing energy to be pushed outward. This is called hydrostatic balance or hydrostatic equilibrium. The gravity of the star must be perfectly balanced with the energy output from the star in order for the star to exist in any sort of stable way. If the star’s gravity were to increase, or the energy output were to decrease, the star would collapse. When a star collapses, it can burn out, essentially, and become a cold, dark mass called a black dwarf. Or if it is a rather large star (15 times larger than our sun) it will collapse, explode in what is called a supernova, and then become a black hole, the gravity of which would be so strong that not even light could escape. There are definitely some more details to stars, but our scientific sec is over.
So, if, like mass and gravity, the more money and possessions we accumulate the harder it is to let them go, and we can easily fall into the trap of making our possessions our master and potentially turning into a cold dark mass oating around in space or, even worse, a black hole, how do we prevent gravity from taking over?
An obvious answer would be to not collect any possessions and then you would never be trapped by the gravity of your stuff, and your heart would always be free to worship God. It’s obvious, but not practical. And not necessarily biblical. Often misquoted, scripture does not proclaim that money is the root of all evil, but rather that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim. 6:10).
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, recognized that money is an “excellent gift of God,” but was very concerned with how the people called Methodists actually managed and used their nancial resources to the greatest advantage.
In his sermon “The Use of Money,” Wesley says, “[Money] may be used ill…but it may likewise be used well.” So, he lays out three very simple rules for how to use money well: gain all you can (with some guidelines), save all you can (think of this as not being wasteful as opposed to hoarding), and give all you can (out of gratitude and humility because of God’s generosity to us).
Gain All You Can
Now, doesn’t that sound just like the problem to begin with? If we gain all we can, then doesn’t that mean we’ll be more trapped by the gravitational pull of all that gain?
Yes. But that’s not what Wesley meant. He was a big fan of working hard, not wasting time, and being productive. But he says to gain all we can “without paying more for it than it is worth.” In other words, don’t gain in a way that hurts your life or your health; don’t gain in a way that hurts your mind or soul; and don’t gain in a way that hurts your neighbor. We are called to think through how what we do to earn money is affecting our lives, our hearts, and others. Does earning all we can require that we work grueling hours and ignore our families? That we sacri ce our integrity and cut corners? That we take advantage of the weaknesses and cause the destruction of others? If so, then we shouldn’t earn all we can in that way.
These parameters on how we gain our money mean that from the beginning our relationship to money should be mindful and thoughtful—we should manage our money, not the other way around. Even in how we earn money, we should be careful of how much we serve money as our master. If we can keep those standards in mind, then we should absolutely “make the best of all that is in our hands.”
Save All You Can
It’s not about hoarding (of which we’ve already talked about the danger). It’s not about piling up your money. It’s not even about saving for the future.
Saving is about being frugal, economical, prudent, and not wasteful in how we live. It’s about being content with what you have, and not constantly wanting what you don’t really need. It’s about living simply, as opposed to acquiring more and more and more. Wesley says not to spend more than you need on what you don’t really need. And certainly don’t spend in order to keep up with the Joneses. Because we can never keep up, and the more we try to, the more we end up spending in order to do so. But we get so many messages every day that tell us the opposite: if you had more, you’d be happier; if you wore these clothes, you’d be more successful; you need this and this and this in order to be complete. As we talked about last week, these messages try to convince us that our identity does, in fact, reside in our possessions and wealth. In his book, Enough, Adam Hamilton calls this issue “Restless Heart Syndrome.” He describes the symptom of “RHS” as always being discontent with what we have and constantly wanting more. We compare what we have with what we could have and with what others have. When we do that instead of being grateful for what we do have, it is harder to find contentment.
So how do we “save all we can” in a way that actually provides contentment? The Apostle Paul offers a suggestion:
“I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)
In order to truly save all we can, we have to realize that what we possess will not last. None of it. Things like natural disasters (think of a sudden re in your home, or of the tornadoes that tore through Oklahoma recently) can dramatically show the truth of that. It’s in Christ that we nd strength, contentment, meaning, and hope even in the darkest of circumstances. If all we had was lost, and it could be, what would bring us joy and contentment? The only answer is the peace, grace, and love of God.
Give All You Can
Finally, Wesley says that we can’t stop there, with gaining and saving all we can. Like a star, we can only nd balance when we also give all we can.
Wesley points out that God created us and placed us in this world as stewards, entrusting us during our lives with various gifts and resources. And, he says, “as you yourself are not your own, but his, such is likewise all that you enjoy.” Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God claims us. “I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1) We are God’s, created in God’s image, redeemed, sustained, and provided for by God. Everything we are and have is God’s. Like a child who has nothing of her own but what her parents give her, as children of God, we have received everything from God.
Giving all we can should be a response to God’s generosity to us. We should give out of gratitude for what we have received. When we sit down and really think about all God has done for us, all God has given us, all that God promises us, how could we not be grateful?
This is important. Giving is not because we have to, or in order to get something in return. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 9:7, “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” If giving is required, it becomes less giving and more an act of payment. You might part with the same amount of money, but one is a result of gratitude and generosity, and the other is a mere nancial transaction.
If we really nd our identity, hope, and strength in God, and not in what we have, then no matter how much we might have, giving becomes easier and easier. When we give, we begin to combat the gravity of wealth that is pulling in toward ourselves.
Like a star, it is essential that we nd balance in our lives so that we do not succumb to the gravitational pull of our wealth and collapse in on ourselves. We must learn to manage our money, and locate our identity in God, by gaining, saving, and giving all we can. And as we gain more wealth, we must be ready and willing to make adjustments that keep all in balance.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered; forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; succeed anyway. If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; be honest and frank anyway. What you spend years building someone could destroy overnight; build anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous; be happy anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; give the world the best you’ve got anyway. You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God; it was never between you and them anyway.”
REFLECTION & DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:
Do you have anxiety about money?
Do you think you maintain balance in your relationship with money?
Do you think the pursuit of wealth is a bad thing?
How does our culture judge the pursuit of wealth?
Are you able to save and, if so, what is your goal with those savings?
If you reach that goal, what will you do with savings beyond that point?
Read Luke 12:15-21. What is Jesus saying about our concern with saving?
Are you thrifty and careful about the prices you pay?
How do you prioritize what you will purchase?
How do you prioritize what you do with your money? Where on that prioritization list is saving? Giving?
Do you feel limited in how much you can give?
Do you hope to increase the amount that you give each year?