MARK 10:17-23 (ESV) | And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
I grew up in middle class America, but when my husband and I moved to Laos my entire world changed. Our toilet was an outhouse behind the kitchen. Electricity, powered by the provincial generator, was available only two hours a night. All we owned were a few pieces of wooden furniture, a gas stove, and two bicycles. We had no toaster, no microwave, no A/C or fans, no TV, no washing machine, and no motorized vehicles.
During those years a friend romanticized our life, commenting, “Ah, for the simple life you live!” Simple, yes… but not easy. It’s a lot of hard work to wash clothes by hand, boil water to do the dishes and bathe, and live without refrigeration. Yet in a way my friend was right. No home entertainment meant lots of free time to interact with family and neighbors. No appliances meant no wasted hours or money on repairs. When the electricity went off every night at 10 pm and everything around us became quiet, my husband and I would stare out the open window at the stars in the dark black sky and pray together.
By American standards we were far below the poverty line, but in spiritual standards we were rich in the things of the Kingdom—time to be with God, space to hear his voice, and abundant relationships.
Ten years later we now live in the second largest city in Thailand. We have three motor vehicles, 24/7 electricity and Internet, numerous electrical appliances, and cupboards filled with stuff. Recently, while cleaning out a closet, I was struck with how many possessions I have accumulated since moving here. Quietly the Holy Spirit asked, “How much of your life is currently invested in things rather than in me?”
Immediately it hit me how much easier it had been to walk with God in a village setting—no market, no choices, no distractions. Since moving to the big city too much of my time had become invested in taking care of my possessions.
Jesus warned his disciples that the deceitfulness of wealth can choke God’s word from our lives, making us unfruitful (Matthew 13:22). If we’re going to follow him, we can’t be taken up with the things of this world. The Lord saw that wealth was keeping the rich young ruler from obedience to God, and his remedy was radical: “Get rid of it!” he advised.
I’m a pack rat by nature and I love beautiful things, but I want the Kingdom of God more than anything else, so that day I decided to simplify. Some things I sold, many others I gave away. These days my house is less cluttered and so is my spirit. Every day the choice is mine to be consumed by wealth and possessions or to be consumed with him.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
- What percentage of your time is typically taken up acquiring, sorting, caring for, or storing your possessions?
- Picture what God’s Kingdom means to you. What would you be willing to sacrifice to attain it? What can you do to decrease time spent on your “wealth” and increase time spent with Jesus?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: At the time of this writing, Alice (name changed for security reasons) and her family were living in North Thailand, training leaders from many different organizations and cultures to plant churches that reproduce and multiply. This article was originally published as part of our Lent 2012 devotional book.