Trends in our culture are changing with ever-increasing speed. Technology, clothing styles, housing trends, entertainment options, education, and even the way Christians do church, are changing at a dizzying rate. But one thing seems to never change: humanity’s love of money. Money fuels our trend-hopping lifestyle, enabling us to lay hold of the next thing that promises fulfillment to empty souls. The hunger for more started in the garden of Eden and has raged through every generation since. Two of the Ten Commandments given to Israel by God reveal our desire to acquire, specifically forbidding coveting and theft. It’s no wonder God’s Word contains approximately 2000 verses which address the subject of money. Most Christians can quote at least a few Bible verses about money, and man’s inability to serve two masters, but we don’t live like we believe them, including me.
As much as I have inwardly and outwardly preached against the materialism of our culture, and of the church, I have been as resistant as anyone to give up my material dreams and aspirations for the sake of the gospel. Studying Philippians, seeing Paul’s willingness to give up everything, everything, for the furtherance of the gospel has brought needed conviction into my life. Not only did Paul give up everything, he did it with rejoicing! Paul knew what it meant to serve only one master. I have been trying to serve two.
Though longing for time to write, more time for study and prayer, and more time for ministry, I’ve been frustrated at how difficult it has been to set aside that time. With grown children and an empty nest, God has given me the privilege of time to pursue Him on my own schedule, yet, I put that privilege on hold in order to pursue money. Money, to help me gain my dream of a home that is larger than the one we have, and hopefully, newer. It didn’t have to be fancy, just more than I have. I thought I could have both my dream house and time for ministry. But working even part-time was giving away time the Lord gave me to do the very things I desired. In hindsight, it is quite apparent that discontentment and idolatry have marked my life for many years. What foolishness!
But what freedom there is in giving up an idol. It is only after surrendering our idols to God that our eyes are opened and we see how blind and foolish we have been. Faith does, indeed, become sight. It always seemed giving up the house dream would be sad, but that was Satan’s bluff. Liar! Reality is, the thrill over the opportunity God has given me to study, write, and serve Him full-time has far outweighed any sadness over my surrendered dream. Yes, there are twinges of wistfulness over the house. Woven into those twinges are threads of expectancy. Expectancy is not expectation that God will be so proud of my sacrifice that He will provide the house as a reward. There is no illusion that His request for my idol was just a test, and having passed it, I will receive the desires of my pre-repentant heart. Rather, I have expectancy that God will work His beautiful and perfect will into every twinge, changing the longings of my heart, cultivating contentment, and working in and through me in ways I have always desired, but have thwarted with my own idolatry. Those who have given up everything to follow Christ and preach His gospel have always captured my heart. The house dream was my primary stumbling block to being free to follow Him unreservedly (not that I am yet one of those people, but I press on). I knew God wanted me to give it up. I was like a child gripping a fascinating, fuzzy, striped bee he longs to possess, while it is stinging his palm and bringing pain. It is a difficult lesson to learn that bees are painful to hold, but delightful to appreciate when they are free to be exactly where God wants them to be. Idols are no different. God’s children are not to grasp for anything but to give our hearts and attention fully to God, knowing that He is a good Father who desires to give His us only good things. We must trust God to give good gifts, placing certain blessings where He wants them, knowing that what He desires to give us is unfailingly the most perfect gift, designed for perfect blessing of His child and for His greatest glory.
In Philippians 3, Paul has given up everything (status, achievement, worldly goods, and even freedom), counting it all rubbish, to know Christ in the power of His resurrection, the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, in order that he may attain to the resurrection from the dead. The fellowship of Christ’s sufferings would mean wanting the same things Christ wanted: God’s glory alone, such that He was willing to be absolutely single-minded in His pursuit of glory for God. Verse 15 instructs us to also have this attitude, and Paul is confident that God will reveal areas in which we are not like-minded and fully surrendered as Christ was, and as Paul was. That is exactly what God has done for me. At first read, that verse felt like a “done to me” verse, but His interruption has been a huge blessing and gift from God, a “done for me” event. Knowing the heartbeat of my Father God assures me that every interruption He brings is not done to me, but for me. God took away my idol, but in its place, He gave me an undivided heart, a clear mind, and time to serve Him. An idol for a ministry – what a trade!