What are Your Riches?
What if that childhood dream came true? You know the one—the dream where you have wealth untold and are able to purchase anything your heart desires. What if you were able to begin checking off every item on your wish list? Most Americans have spent time fantasizing about what they would do with countless riches. For many that “dream list” contains things like: rare jewelry, luxury automobiles, colossal homes, enormous spans of land, state-of-the-art electronics, priceless artwork, enormous book or coin collections, lavish vacations, etc. Just imagine.
Now think about the woman who was already in a lifeboat on the Titanic as it was going down, but suddenly wanted to return to her stateroom. The crew responsible for lowering the lifeboat into ocean could not believe their ears. Here was someone guaranteed a seat of safety from the icy-cold waters below, and yet she wanted to go retrieve something out of her stateroom. One of the crewmen looked at this pitiable woman and forcefully told her she had three minutes to return, or else her seat would be given to someone else. The woman raced back to her room, fighting against the tilt of the ship. She opened her closet and was immediately surrounded by expensive furs and priceless jewelry. The clock was steadily ticking as her eyes scanned for the specific items she was looking for. Her hand passed over the jewels, she tossed aside the furs, and finally clutched the items for which she had gambled her seat. Racing back to the lifeboat, she realized her decision to rescue her precious items might very well have cost her the security of the lifeboat, and ultimately her life.
Completely out of breath, with her heart pounding inside her chest, she jumped into the lifeboat just before it was lowered into the black arctic waters below. With curious onlookers surrounding her, she slowly opened her hand to reveal to the other passengers her treasure. Cradled gently in the palm of her hand were not jewels or money—but rather, three small oranges. In the midst of all the confusion and tragedy, this wealthy woman had realized they might need something to eat to stay alive.
How can someone treasure riches, jewelry, and furs one minute, only to cast them aside a few minutes later in favor of some ordinary oranges? How do those items instantly lose their significance? The answer is real value. She recognized that in a life and death situation those material goods held no real value. Now reflect back on your personal “wish list.” How much real value do those items possess—or is it merely “bling” that looks good in the moment? Jesus stated, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:20-21). Indeed, there are things of real value, but sadly, many times we don’t place any emphasis on them. Far too often, our hearts lust after corruptible material things of the world. We have become a nation that now bows down at the altar of materialism.
There is still a generation living today who can recall a time when malls were not even in existence. This generation grew up before the advent of television (and commercials). They can recall making all of their purchases from a single “department store” such as Woolworth’s. Many from this older generation can even remember paging through the Sears catalog in search of Christmas gifts or home furnishings. (In fact, some can even recall using catalogs for “other” purposes in outhouses.) While abundant material goods did exist in the past, they did not inundate every aspect of life as they do today. Reflect on how much time and attention is given to advertising today. Our modern-day society is bombarded with ads of luxurious products—products to make our yards greener, children smarter, houses cleaner, television signals stronger, or food taste better. We constantly see the products in magazines and on television. We hear about great sales on the radio. We look across the fence at the possessions our neighbors have, and littlebylittle we develop a deadly condition known as “Keeping up with the Jones’s.”
For decades, schoolteachers and professors instilled in young people the American Dream—the idea that hard work and perseverance would lead to “the good life.” That principle was just a part of what constituted a healthy foundation for living—a foundation framed around elements that included family, friends, religion, education, etc. But for many young people growing up today, the American Dream no longer includes hard work, perseverance—or any solid foundation. According to scientific studies, young people today just want the “goods”—without the strings of family, education, or religion attached to it. Rarely, it seems, do boys aspire to be astronauts, firemen, baseball players, or physicians. Many girls are putting off dreams of becoming mothers, nurses, lawyers, or schoolteachers. According to recent research, the only thing young people want to do these days is to be rich! This attitude is prevalent even among grade-schoolers, and many psychologists see nothing but danger in this “excessive materialism” found in today’s children.
For instance, California psychologist Allen Kanner asked children to discuss what they wanted to do when they grew up. He noted that, ten years ago, their aspirations began taking a sharp turn toward their piggy banks. As Bruce Bower noted in a recent issue of Science News, “Gap-toothed grade-schoolers and gangly middle-schoolers started telling Kanner that they just wanted to be rich.” Bower continued: “From Kanner’s perspective, these kids represent the tip of a materialistic iceberg that’s increasingly freezing the joy out of many people’s lives in Western societies. Modern citizens are consumed by life, liberty, and the pursuit of more and better stuff.” Material wealth is the god of these young people. They strive for it, collect it, and worship it—hoping it will fill some empty hole within them. When they realize that their most recent material purchases are unsuccessful in filling that hole, they simply go out and try to find more things with which to fill it.
According to Kanner, the data from this study reflect a two-pronged problem: “In some cases, people who buy into the values of consumer culture end up starved for close friends, family, or any deeper meaning in their lives. For others, money and possessions are hollow compensations for doubts about self-worth, worries about life’s uncertainties, and, especially, fears of death.” He continued: “Think of it as beating back death with a designer cane.” I don’t doubt these findings for one second, because I spent several months working part-time in a large national bookstore chain. Night after night, I watched individuals drive up in luxury automobiles, trying to find the latest “self-help” book to repair the hollowness in their lives—all to no avail.
It’s not surprising, then, that in the same issue of Science News, Bower reported the findings of a seven-year study by researchers at Duke University Medical School. Epidemiologist E. Jane Costello and her colleagues noted that 1 in 6 children in North Carolina had a psychiatric ailment, and at least 1 in 3 of the youngsters developed one or more psychiatric disorders by age 16. Their lives were void of any career plans. Thus, young people have no motivation, creativity, or aspirations—they simply wanted to become rich. And according to our culture, this is all that really matters. Yet, it is this very environment of selfish materialism that is leaving so many people empty, void, and without any inner peace.
How many families have filled up three-car garages, constructed larger homes, purchased more land, or built up more impressive portfolios, only to wake up and realize that their own children’s mental and spiritual health has been sacrificed? They do not have that “peace that surpasses all understanding.” At what point will we as a nation realize that “material goods” do not guarantee “happier and healthier” families? Have you given serious consideration to limiting the amount of exposure your children have to the materialistic world of advertising? Your children are being taught materialism by the world. Unless you actively focus their hearts and minds on things of real value, they will continue to grow up seeking the latest and greatest to fill voids in their lives.
If we are going to get our families to heaven, we must abandon this modern-day form of idolatry. Paul warned the Christians in Colosse that covetousness was a form of idolatry (Colossians 3:5). We must instill in our hearts, and the hearts of our posterity, Jesus’ admonition to “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15). Consider the real difference we would see in our nation if our families recognized what holds real value and took to heart Paul’s words to Timothy: “Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these shall we be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:6-10). Just imagine.