We seem to be in eternal competition here in the United States. We compare ourselves to our neighbors. In fact, one of the major, annual competitions is about to start – house decorations for Christmas. Yep, with Thanksgiving almost upon us, in some area of every city, the competition is beginning to take shape. Who can put up the most lights? Who adds music to highlight their Christmas display? And, if you really have your “A” game on, who can synchronize the lights and the music. Oh, we may laugh and talk about how we all enjoy any lights, but the competition can get fierce. The competition exists in regards to all kinds of things – and I mean things. Stuff. The cars we put in our garages, or leave parked in the driveways because our garages are full of stuff. The watches we wear. Our kids’ accomplishments. Everything becomes a competition because the winner is best.
Sometimes I wonder “best what?” Is God going to base our entrance into heaven on our light displays: the better your display, the more He can trust that you can care for your mansion? If so, I might get a pup tent in the woods. Still, we seem to think that the acquisition of material goods is part of the competition God has planned for us and that the more we have, the more God loves us. And so, we look at the “Stuff” others have with resentment, wondering what makes them better in God’s eyes than us, His most faithful servants. And in our resentment, we belittle others because they have so much. “You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:2-3)
“Stuff” by itself isn’t necessarily bad. James deals with a different issue here: the attitudes towards stuff. James deals with an extreme attitude issue in this passage: you desire something so badly that when you can’t get it, you kill. Taken literally, this would mean that you’d stick a gun into the face of someone who had what you desired, but couldn’t get. It could mean that you’d manipulate others or work them to death to gain your desires. Taken figuratively it could mean that you suck the life out of someone just to gain “stuff.” Or, as in the case of Cain and Abel, the favor of God. You covet what someone else has, so the fight starts. Perhaps you finally get around to asking God to get you that stuff you want, but you don’t get it because you ask with the wrong motives. According to James that means that you seek and ask God for stuff for your personal pleasure, forgetting that God blesses us so that we can bless others.
The problem we have is when stuff becomes more important in our life than our relationship with God and His love for all people. The rich young ruler refused to get rid of his stuff when Jesus told him that was necessary for eternal life. Zacchaeus was so excited about his relationship with Jesus that he started giving stuff away and paying back more than he needed to. His commitment to Christ freed him from his commitment to stuff. We want everything we get to support our pleasures. You won’t see many ads on TV for ways to give away your stuff to help others: most advertising is designed to make us think we need more stuff to be happy. Either we are supposed to want the stuff that’s advertised, or we’re supposed to use the product advertised to get more of the stuff we really want. Society calls us to eat, drink, and be merry, because new and improved stuff is on the way. Before you search out the newest stuff to bring yourself pleasure, seek God’s will. See if you need to give stuff away to support others.
Oh Lord, I have so much stuff in my life that I don’t have time for others. Remind me to care for others before I worry about stuff for my pleasure.