Life’s proper perspective

How much is enough? Going into the last week before Christmas, the Black Friday early morning deals and the online Cyber Monday steals are long ago in the rear view mirror. The boxes shipped from Amazon have safely arrived and have been hidden where the kids can’t find them. Some shoppers have limited resources and are trying to make their dollar stretch further than grandpa’s elastic-waist trousers.

For others, greed is the motivation. Violence erupts in the toy section as grown adults fight and claw to land a bargain. How much is enough?

Perhaps the antidote to the frenzy of Christmas “consumerism” we face in the stores, on our smartphones, and in our hearts is the wisdom of the Preacher in Ecclesiastes 5. There we are warned not to make the pursuit of possessions our life’s goal and chief desire. In the first place, material goods will never satisfy. They are not only addictive, they are unsatisfying. Work becomes a means to an end, defined by “how much” — how much one deserves and how much one gets. Work becomes joyless because it’s secondary to the pay. And what does the pay satisfy? Caught up in the web, we can never work enough because we can never get enough.

And yes, possessions are addictive. Contrary to popular thought, wealth does not make for a life of leisure. Material things own your schedule — they require continuous maintenance. In Ecclesiastes 2, the Preacher pointed out one who builds a house needs landscaping which requires irrigation in the summer which requires workers who need to be paid and fed. And so it goes. Lots of possessions make for a hectic life. The more one has, the vultures will circle. Just ask a lottery winner whose winning ticket became a curse. Or a child who is crushed to find out the neighbor boy was never interested in him as a friend and playmate. He only wanted access to the child’s toys. We look at a huge pile of stuff with eyes never satisfied. Delighting in them has turned into boredom. Strange!

Material things give no peace or rest, only sleepless nights and anxious worry. A surplus of possessions turns life into a nightmare and burning oneself out for what is utterly superfluous. Being a good steward means managing one’s goods according to the will of the owner. The owner is God. But instead of managing our goods and controlling our possessions, our possessions control us. Instead of investing our possessions for the sake of God and our neighbor, we tend to hoard our possessions. As we gather all our Target treasures and Macy’s marvelous discounts, we forget to pray “give us this day our daily bread” and thank the Lord for the enough we already have.

Possessions do control us. Acquiring multiple vehicles puts the owner at the “beck and call” of multiple hungry machines. Or, a young couple moves from an adequate space house into a much bigger one only to find it forever empty. After all, the occupants are always occupied, out in the business world working long days just to pay for the house that sits empty most of the time. There is a sense of relief and freedom that comes with disposing of household stuff and possessions.

There is only one place left for the heart to be … fearing, loving, and trusting God above all things. The Preacher helps us maintain proper perspective on all of life, possessions included. The things that can be lost at any moment in life’s uncertainties will surely be all lost in the end. We come forth from the womb needing parents because we have nothing. At death, we return to that same helplessness. No wonder the psalmist writes, “Show me my life’s end.” Otherwise we get so focused on the stuff we acquire but cannot keep.

The only place where we can hang any lasting hope is with God himself who justifies those who trust in Him alone. We have a God who cares so deeply for each one of us. He cares enough to alert us to the pitfalls of living to amass possessions. He cared enough to send us His greatest treasure, His Word made flesh, Jesus, to sacrifice His perfect life for sinners so enamored with earth’s fleeting, material objects. He comes to replace unholy desires with holy desires that grasp hold of Him and all He has promised. For at the end when death comes, nothing else will matter except the garments of salvation and the glorious raiment of resurrection bodies we are given through faith in Jesus. Is there a greater treasure than living in the presence of the victorious Lamb of God forever?

What does a person get for all his hard work? An embattled struggle midst the “would-be” heirs? A bigger tombstone that the worker himself will never see? The child of God says “Enough is enough!” about his countless blessings enjoyed in faith, peace and contentment. The rich gifts of God in this Christmas baby of Bethlehem won’t involve any pushing or lunging or clawing at Target. As the hymn writer Paul Gerhardt wrote in his beautiful Christmas masterpiece, “The world may hold her wealth and gold; But thou, my heart, keep Christ as thy true treasure; To Him hold fast until at last; A crown be thine and honor in full measure.”

May your Christmas be filled with the wonder of Jesus!