by Bronwyn Lea
One of the big challenges for me, as a believer living in the developed world, is trying to figure out how to manage the stuff we own. Words like stewardship, financial planning, investment, generosity, living debt-free and justice are all bandied around within the Christian community when the topic of money is raised, and we need some help. Thanks to Amazon Prime, there’s a world of shopping at my fingertips at every moment of the day. I ask, “Should I buy this?” hundreds of times a month.
Christian advice about how and when to spend money can sometimes seem confusing. Should we give generously to those who are hungry now, and trust God for the future as we learned from Jesus’ conversation with the rich, young ruler in Mark 10? Or should we invest wisely for the future so as to not be a burden on our children? “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith,” warns 1 Timothy 5:8.
Living as a believer in the land of plenty, what are healthy questions to ask before we buy something? Should we live simply, so as to avoid the meaninglessness of possessions; or is it okay to enjoy the things that money can buy if we are generous and grateful to God for His good gifts? Should I rent a small apartment, or buy a big house and use it for ministry? Should I buy the best of capsule wardrobes or embrace the life of thrift store shopping? Or is the Christian halfway point to commit to only buying things on clearance at Target? Should I listen to Shane Claiborne or Dave Ramsey? To Marie Kondo or Joanna Gaines?
Is anyone else confused?
My mind reels with those kinds of questions. Rich or poor, what does it mean to be “rich towards God?” (Luke 12:21)
Early in our marriage, my wise husband suggested one principle when it came to managing our belongings, and it has been a helpful a thousand times over as I’ve hovered in a store aisle or with my finger over the “buy now” tab on the computer wondering whether, in fact, I should buy this.
His rule of thumb when buying something is: if we’re not willing to lend it out, we shouldn’t own it.
This one little rule has helped me keep some perspective in both acquiring and using our belongings: they are for USE. If the car is too fancy to lend out to a friend in need, then then car is too fancy for us. If I’m not willing to lend out the dress, to offer our guest room, to say yes to a request to borrow the camping gear or to host a meeting for malodorous people – then I need to rethink the dress, the guest room, the camping gear, the sofa. We bought a new rug when we moved into our new home and had to get rid of it after a week: I kept freaking out about it getting dirty and realized my priorities were all wrong.
The rug is there to serve the people in the house. If I’m constantly harping at my kids and guests to “mind the rug!”, I have put people in the service of the rug, and maybe that rug is not right for us in this season. People should always trump possessions.
We do try to be discerning. For example, we don’t lend our car to unlicensed drivers. And sometimes things get returned damaged or with piece missing (speaking of which, has anyone seen the straps for our camping pads?) But that’s okay: those possessions gave us an opportunity to love people, and so they did their work admirably. Jesus made a similar point in his parable about the dishonest manager in Luke 16: he made some very dodgy deals to try and oil his way into a better situation when he knew he would be fired, but Jesus commended his shrewdness. For all his dishonesty, the shrewd manager got one thing right: he used his resources in service of relationships. People > possessions.
It’s our simple attempt to apply Matthew 6:42 – “Do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” And so when I have that gorgeous new throw in my cart and I find myself hesitating at the thought of Aunt Edna wanting to borrow it, that’s a clue. If I am buying pos- sessions I’m not ready to be generous with, I need to reevaluate the place they have in my affections.
Bronwyn Lea is an author, speaker, activist, and most recently, editorial curator for Propel Sophia. She loves Jesus, puns, her home country of South Africa, her adopted country of the US, her endlessly patient husband, her three goofy kids, wisdom and justice, seeing women thrive in the Kingdom, and quality ice-cream (in no particular order). Find her online on the web, and follow on Facebook and Twitter.