This is part ten of a multi-entry blog series titled “Lessons I Learned in the Desert.”
I don’t normally start my entries with a disclaimer, but I’d like to start this entry by simply stating that I think America is great. I wouldn’t choose to live anywhere else and I’m grateful I was born here because of the freedoms that I’ve enjoyed all my life. I do think we’ve seen better days and I fear for the future of my country, but overall, I still think we are the greatest society in human history. I would also like to say that I do not think money is evil. I, do however, think money makes a horrible master. Finally, I must state that I do not think poverty is a virtue. That being said, today I wanted to talk about the American Dream…
Per Wikipedia, the American Dream is a phrase used to describe “a national ethos of the United States in which freedom includes a promise of prosperity and success.” There are two important things to note about this definition. First is that prosperity and success are somehow promised to us; just because we are born and raised in America we are entitled to prosperity and success. The second thing is that our culture has a very, very materialistic definition of prosperity and success. Maybe this doesn’t apply to all generations and age-groups, but I know for certain that while growing up I was brainwashed by my culture to believe that success meant a six-figure salary, never, ever, under any circumstances allowing yourself to be uncomfortable, and having more stuff than I could ever possibly need.
How does the American Dream stack up against Scripture? As Christians, can we reconcile the American Dream against what Jesus teaches? In Rich from the Nooma series, Rob Bell says:
“There’s a popular bumper sticker that reads “God Bless America,” but hasn’t America already been blessed? It’s easy for us to fall into a mindset of viewing “our” world as “the” world, because it’s all we generally see. We’re constantly bombarded with images of the latest styles and models of everything, and it can easily leave us feeling like what we have isn’t enough because we see people that have even more than us. But how does what we have compare to what most people in the world have? Maybe what we have is enough; maybe it’s more than enough. Maybe God has blessed us with everything we have so we can bless and give to others.”
(This video is just an excerpt.)
Would I be crazy if I suggest that we Americans have enough? Go to the Global Rich List and see where you rank. The American Dream tells us we need more, more, more. Always, constantly more! As Donald Miller writes, “The average American encounters 3,000 commercial messages each day.” And, “these images and messages are designed to cause you to think of your life as incomplete, and desire the product they are selling to make your life complete again.” We’re bombarded with messages that tell us our stuff isn’t good enough. Your $200 watch can’t tell time accurately enough? The brand-new car you bought 6 months ago is too old already? Your life will be full of adventure and excitement if you buy a certain cologne? It may sound crazy in print, but pay attention to the messages that commercials and ads send your way. Beware of brainwashing!
Jesus talks about wealth and money; in fact He has some very timely advice. In Luke 12:15 he says that our life is more than our stuff. His exact words are, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Jesus then tells the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:16-21. When I first read that parable I realized that it sounded a lot like my plans and goals for life. I wanted to work most of my young life away, store up as much money as possible, then retire and wait to die. The problem was that I never wanted to serve anyone or give anything back and that I knew I wouldn’t be happy if all I got out of life was a fat nest egg. Instead, I’d rather make a difference with my life. I want to serve God and help people. I want to be remembered. I want to leave a legacy.
In Matt 6:21 Jesus cautions us that our treasure and our heart are tied together. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Then in Matt 6:24, Jesus draws the line and calls us to either be devoted to God or money, but not both. We can either serve God or serve money. Last September Connie and I went to Hawaii and I saw little Tiki gods for sell. I decided to buy the Hawaiian tiki named “Hapa.” That’s the Tiki god of money. I bought it so that, when I look at it, I would be reminded that money is just an idol. Nothing more. I can choose to serve that tiny, powerless tiki god, or I can worship the True and Living God.
So what is a good balance for a Christian to strike? I don’t think we should all give everything away and live in tents outside. In Prov 30:7-9, the author asks God to simply give him enough. “Give me neither poverty nor wealth,” he says. As Christians, I think we should desire enough; we should be satisfied with enough; we should thank God for enough; and anything else extra we should use wisely to bless others.
As Jesus says in Matt 6:33, we should seek to serve God first. He will take care of the rest. This may result in you not retiring with a $2 million retirement fund, a 10,000 square foot house with an indoor pool, and a brand new Mercedes in your garage, but I promise that you will make a difference in the world around you and you will be content. In Phil 4:12-13 Paul tells them the secret to being content: Jesus. Paul was not a rich man, he did not have a nice chariot, he did not retire at an early age. In fact, he was poor, he often went without, and he died in prison. Paul was a man who certainly lived a hard life, but the effects of his faithfulness resulted in him authoring most of the New Testament, starting churches all around the world, and leaving a legacy that has lasted for over 2,000 years.
Do not worry about the American Dream. God has not called us to be successful, He has called us to be faithful.