It’s a trip. It makes the world go ’round. It’s what I want.
Cash. Bread. Dough. Moola. Dinero.
Pastor Steve’s recent sermon series on Generosity has got me thinking a lot lately about money. Not in the “love of it is the root of all evil” sort of way, or in the “give it all away before you burn” kind of way, but just in how we see, perceive, and understand it. Its value to us as individuals, to the world, and, more importantly, to God. To God’s kingdom.
I think we all tend to see money as basically something we earn, spend and save. Generally, that’s the notion that fuels the economy. It plays out in different ways for different people in different places and cultures, but I think for the most part we’d agree that money is 1) earned in return for providing a good or service; 2) spent on goods or services we consume; and 3) saved for future expenditures.
At the heart of this very broad model of monetary awareness is the notion that money is “ours.” The money I have is money I earned for something I have done. I will spend MY money as it suits ME on things I want or need. If I choose to give money away, I will give MY money to causes I support because they align with MY beliefs. I will save MY money to provide for MYSELF, MY needs, MY family, MY future.
There’s a lot of egocentricity to our perception of money, isn’t there?
So when the government taxes us, or the church asks for an offering, or a need arises outside of our immediate sphere of influence, our response is that “those people” are taking MY money. And even when it’s in someone else’s hands (church, government, etc.), that’s MY money they’re spending. And they’d better dang well spend it on something or in some way I agree with. Because that’s MY money. I earned it. I worked for it. I get to control it. They took it from ME. I gave it to them. It’s MINE.
One of the things that really ticks me off is when people give money to the church, then try to dictate how it should be used…or, more often, how it shouldn’t be used. It’s one thing to give money to the church music department because you love how music adds to people’s experience of God. It’s another thing altogether to say that money can’t be spent on electric guitars because you prefer the sound of the pipe organ.
When do we ever let go?
I’m not talking about letting go of our money, per se. I’m talking about letting go of our perceived ownership of money. Of the notion that somehow, because we earned it, we get the ultimate say in how it’s used.
On the surface, that probably sounds a little nuts. At the very least, it’s counter-cultural.
But what if we thought about money a little differently?
What if, instead of seeing money as something we “own” because we “earned” it, we began to see it as a means of Grace? As a way that God blesses us so that we, in turn, can conspire with his kingdom work of creation and re-creation?
What if we started to see that God gives us each unique gifts, talents and skills that we, in turn, use vocationally in order to help provide for the common good? And the compensation we receive for that vocational use of our God-given skills provides us with a means to survive and thrive in his kingdom…not only by allowing us to compensate others for their vocational use of their God-given skills (by purchasing the goods or services they provide and we consume), but also by sharing that compensation with communities of people who leverage the gifts of many to provide a broader range of service to others who, for whatever reason, are less able to provide for themselves.
In short, what would happen if we began to see money as God’s rather than as ours? It’s His, not mine. I am merely a conduit through which he passes blessings to some part of the world. I receive blessing so I can share blessings.
So when I give money to the church, it’s no longer mine. It never was. God used me to use it for awhile, and now he’s using the church to use it for awhile. When I pay my taxes (my fair share of the community’s corporate expenses), that money no longer belongs to me. It never did. God is now using someone else to use that money.
Obvioiusly, it’s not a perfect system. Such a revised view of money requires a level of trust that is inconceivable for most of us. Past and current–and very real–abuses leave us very cynical. And so accountability is always an issue. But what if we can train ourselves to believe that money is never really ours to begin with, that it is a tool God uses for his purposes. And that our desire to control it is, at its heart, a desire to play God. To eat the apple all over again.
I’m not talking about giving away all of our stuff, or that wealth and posessions themselves are inherently evil. I’m talking about how we use and perceive those things. I have a big screen TV. An iPod for every member of the family. Two cars, one with satellite radio. Cell phones with unlimited texting. A camper. A warm, comfortable house. Decent clothes. Two computers. A Blackberry. A kick-ass coffee maker that grinds fresh beans, brews a killer pot of joe, and has it ready for me when I wake up in the morning.
It’s not about having or not having stuff. It’s not even about feeling guilty about the stuff we have. It’s about recognizing that none of it is really mine, and that God has called me into this particular life, where this particular stuff is available, for a reason far beyond my ability to earn, spend, and save. That the gift of living in a culture where stuff is so readily available carries with it a responsibility to use our lives–and lifestyles–as redemptive tools in God’s kingdom.
When we understand that money is not really ours, we begin to understand that we have no right–or need–to control it. That once it passes from us, it’s up to God to use it through someone else to accomplish his greater good.
Otherwise, we’re still just chewing on the apple.