Here's an excerpt from a chapter in Searching for Wisdom entitled, "Dangers of Wealth."
Wealth slowly numbs us to our need for God
In Proverbs 30:7-9, the wise man appeals to God:
O God, I beg two favors from you; let me have them before I die. First, help me never to tell a lie. Second, give me neither poverty nor riches! Give me just enough to satisfy my needs. For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name. (NLT)
When most of us pray, we ask God to deliver us from poverty. But the thought probably never enters our mind to ask him to rescue us from wealth.
Wealth leaves us feeling self-satisfied. Most of us never say to ourselves, “How am I going to eat?” or “Where will I get my next meal?” Most of the time, we ask ourselves, “What do I feel like eating?” or “Should I keep eating?” When Jesus provided us an example of how to pray, he included, “Give us this day our daily bread.” He was showing us that we should depend on God for our needs. But what’s the point of praying for daily bread when you happen to own a bakery?
It’s easy to ignore God when you live in abundance. In Revelation 3:15-17, Jesus sharply rebukes the Laodicean church:
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
Materialism blinds us from seeing our spiritual need. It dims our spiritual perception. It reduces our gnawing spiritual hunger into a rumble we can ignore. John Steinbeck once wrote,
A strange species we are…We can stand anything God and nature can throw at us save only plenty. If I wanted to destroy a nation, I would give it too much, and I would have it on its knees, miserable, greedy, sick.
Having more doesn’t quench our materialistic thirst
We get a brief surge of excitement when we tear open the package containing our new device. Or a wave of euphoria hits us when we hand a sales associate our credit card to purchase a new pair of shoes. Yet, these feelings quickly evaporate. We long to experience that rush again. So we buy even more.
But over time, nothing we purchase can mask the emptiness we feel. Money and possessions will never leave us feeling full because we’re trying to fill what Blaise Pascal called the “infinite abyss.” God designed us to be in a relationship with him. Only he can satisfy what’s missing.
Yet, we find ourselves unable to disrupt this cycle of materialism. We can’t control our impulse to spend. We feel trapped in a rat race of career advancement. We’re unable to turn down opportunities to make more money, even if it impacts our family and friendships.
In many ways, materialism resembles some of the worst addictions that afflict our culture. You could easily replace “alcoholism” or “prescription pill addiction” with materialism. Yet, most people don’t view materialism as harmful. In fact, our culture guides people toward a materialistic way of life.
Many of us grew up with parents who were hopelessly addicted to materialism. They bought us all the stuff we wanted. But they never gave us the one thing we wanted most: time with them. Sadly, we’re likely to repeat this pattern unless we turn to God for help.
Wealth threatens to highjack the security we place in Christ
Proverbs 18:11 observes, “A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and like a high wall in his own imagination” (NASB). Some of us criticize people who flash their wealth. We consider it tacky when someone vaunts her designer clothes or expensive jewelry. Or we sneer when she pulls up in a brand new sports car.
We feel more drawn to gaining financial security. We store up our wealth in stocks, retirement funds and savings accounts. Viewing our monthly statement or online account brings us a sense of security. But the Proverbs warn, “He who trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like the green leaf” (Proverbs 11:28, NASB). As Christians, we don’t believe in financial security –we believe in eternal security.
A few years ago, my friend’s dad passed away. He suffered a massive heart attack and died instantly. When my friend was sharing how his dad’s death affected him, he noted, “My dad was obsessed with retiring. He funneled most of his time and energy into making sure he had a cushy retirement. Any time I spent with him, he would talk about it.” Then my friend paused and said, “It’s sad because he never saw a day of retirement. He died just days before.” When we strive to attain financial security, we’re investing in something with no ultimate future.
Having too much can create anxiety
Proverbs 15:16 says, “Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil.” In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus drew a straight line connecting anxiety and materialism. He concludes his lengthy critique of materialism with these words:
So don’t worry about these things, saying, “What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?” These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. (Matthew 6:31-33)
The things we own may eventually own us. The more things we own, the more we have to worry about. I remember when my wife and I lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment. When something broke, we didn’t fix it. We called our landlord and he fixed it. I found little to complain about in our little apartment, except that the Asian restaurant next door aimed its exhaust fan at our apartment. When we opened our windows during the summer, our place would smell like Mongolian beef.
Now we own a house. That places the responsibility to maintain and repair it on our shoulders. If my furnace takes its last breath, the money comes out of my pocket to fix it. If my lawn starts looking like a wild prairie, I’m responsible to mow it. We didn’t deal with any of these headaches when we lived in our one-bedroom apartment.
You could say the same thing for other purchases. When you trade in your 15-year-old car for an expensive new car, all of a sudden you’re paranoid that someone might dent it. If you purchase a new couch, you feel on edge when people put their feet on it. Or you may feel reluctant to host gatherings at your house because you don’t want people to track dirt onto your new white carpet.
It takes time and energy to maintain your possessions. And you must reclaim that time and energy from somewhere else. When you fuss and tinker with the classic car you plan to restore, that’s time you could spend with your family. When you spend several hours setting up your new high definition TV and surround sound, you could spend that time cultivating intimacy with God. Randy Alcorn offers a grim prognosis for anyone who allows their possessions to overrun their lives:
What will happen to the affluent person or society that does not rectify its materialism? The basic laws of physics give us the answer. The greater the mass, the greater the hold that mass exerts. This explains why the largest planets are capable of holding so many satellites in orbit. Similarly, the more things we own—the greater their total mass—the more they grip us, hold us, set us in orbit around them. Finally, like a black hole, a gargantuan cosmic vacuum cleaner, they mercilessly suck us into themselves, until we become indistinguishable from our things, surrendering ourselves to the inhuman gods we have idolized.
Our wealth can’t purchase for us what we need most
Proverbs 11:4 observes, “Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death” The Bible declares that we will all stand before God at the end of our lives. All of our money and possessions will lose their value on that day. None of it will help redeem us. The psalmist states it forcefully:
Why should I fear when trouble comes, when enemies surround me? They trust in their wealth and boast of great riches. Yet, they cannot redeem themselves from death by paying a ransom to God. Redemption does not come so easily, for no one can ever pay enough to live forever and never see the grave. (Psalm 49:5-9, NLT)
Alcorn has thoughts on this as well:
The only thing worth buying cannot be bought with money. God’s Son bought us our salvation, and freely gives himself to all who seek him. Money cannot buy salvation, and it cannot buy rescue from judgment.