I’ve been struck very strongly recently by the fact that there are two possible, radically different ways to live. We each have the choice—I have the choice of which way I will live. This is a very personal conviction, so I’m going to write this as if I’m writing it to myself, which I am.
The first way is simply to live for myself. To spend my time, money, thought, and energy only on my own life. To work toward accumulating the things that I want, the things that I think will make my life better and more comfortable. To work hard to preserve the things that I have and to gain more and better things. To use my time solely to do things that I enjoy, not directed toward the good of anyone else. To spend my money only on me and things that I want.
In this first way, my only goals are my comfort, enjoyment, well-being, and gain. I seek to get more money and things, and I preserve them only for myself. My sole consideration when making a decision is, is this something I want? Is this something that will benefit me and further the goal of improving my life? I am the only consideration, my well-being the only purpose.
It doesn’t take much work to live like this. This is the default, the way we are all inclined from birth. It’s my natural inclination as well.
Jesus told a parable that cuts to the core of my inclination:
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:13-21)
In this parable, Jesus exposes how foolish this way of life is. No matter how much we accumulate in this life, we can’t take any of it with us when we die. Living as if this life and our material comfort in this life are all that matters, is to foolishly ignore the fact that we all must die, that we will face God’s judgement for how we’ve lived and used the resources he’s given us, and that eternity is forever.
In light of those considerations, the only way of life that makes any sense is the kind of life that Jesus continually calls us to: to give up ourselves, our comfort, our riches, our lifestyle, our time, our money, our energy, our love—in short, our lives—for him, his kingdom, and for others.
In this second way of life, nothing is considered ours. Everything is God’s. We hold it with a loose hand. We are willing to give it up, whether it be our time, our comfort, our money, or our possessions, to serve him and serve those he’s called us to love. We are generous with what he’s given us. We don’t seek to preserve our lives but to lose them in order to keep them eternally. We don’t fuss and grieve when we lose material possessions, because we know we have a better and lasting inheritance in heaven (Hebrews 10:34). We willingly accept a lower standard of life if necessary in order to further the gospel.
This strikes at the heart of our Western materialistic, secular culture, which teaches us that we “deserve” a high standard of life and urges us to continuously accumulate more and better things; and at the heart of mankind, which naturally seeks its own well-being above all else. Jesus teaches us that contrary to our natural inclinations, “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39)
I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, I want to be “rich toward God” and not toward myself, because that is all that is going to last forever. I don’t want to foolishly live as if this life is all there is, and lose everything when I die.