Itemize the things you covet As you squander through your life Bigger cars, bigger houses Term insurance for your wife Tuesday evenings with your harlot And on Wednesdays it’s your charlatan analyst, he’s high upon your list
Ray Stevens wrote the song somewhere around 1968. I must admit I’ve only ever heard the version Cliff Richard recorded in the mid 80s, but it was jolted back into my mind this afternoon.
I spend time on Facebook most days, it’s inevitable when your closest friends live 1000 miles or more away from you mostly. But I also look at site pages from Huffington Post and a few others for some inspiration for subject matter to write about when I’m having a dry spell.
I wanted to post today, but it was one of those days until I clicked on a link that took me to the story of a father watching his young daughter playing. She keeps asking for “Just 5 more minutes” and he keeps giving it to her. Another parent commented on his patience with the little girl. His response is that her older brother was killed by a drunk driver not far from where they are now and his deepest regret was never having enough time for his son, so his daughter may think he is giving her more playtime, in reality, she is giving him more time to be with her.
Robin in late 1984
As I read it, the lyrics of the song popped into my head, along with an image of my own brother who died after being hit by a car in 1985. Whilst it was his own error that caused the accident, I wish I could just have 5 more minutes with him, even after 31 years. That loss is acute even now as an adult in my 40s and it’s rare for me to go a day without something putting him in my mind.
Spending counterfeit incentive Wasting precious time and health Placing value on the worthless Disregarding priceless wealth You can wheel and deal the best of them And steal it from the rest of them You know the score, their ethics are a bore
My training is in business, and the song definitely strikes a chord opposing normal business practices. Everything is about money in business, with nothing else ever seeming to be considered important enough to matter.
I remember a job interview I went on several years ago to be an insurance salesman in England. I applied because I was interested in the job, not for financial motives. I went through the interview and was asked the normal questions, ending with “Is there anything you’d like to ask?” I couldn’t think of anything, so I simply asked “Is there anything you’d expect me to ask that I haven’t?” At this point the manager asked if I was at all interested in salary and potential. It hadn’t occurred to me to ask.
I’m probably a minority these days, but my priority has never been money when I’ve looked for work. I look at a number of things. Yes, I consider if the income will be a living wage, but that’s not the main thing. For me, a job needs to be interesting enough to old my attention – something that’s not easy to do. It’s why I love writing. I can choose my own topics and write when I feel like it, research the rest of the time. It’s probably also why I’ve spent much of the last 20 years self-employed.
As Christians we place too much emphasis on money. Either we’re complaining we don’t have enough or we’re trying to get more. The insurance job I had paid extremely well, but one of the reasons I left was the effect it had had on the people I worked with. Two had left eldership in their church because the job took them away too much and one had started it as a way to sustain himself while he worked as a missionary – a call he’d left because of the job. I resigned after about 6 months or so as I felt I was in danger of becoming too focussed on money.
I never regretted leaving that job. My income dropped a long way, but I was far more at peace with myself afterwards.
How much time do we spend trying to earn a counterfeit incentive? We sacrifice friendships, family relationships, marriages to pursue more money. I’m told Howard Hughes was once asked how much money brought him happiness. His response was allegedly “Just a little more”. We fall into that place ourselves today.
It’s the attitude Jesus was talking about when He said a rich man would struggle to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. What comes with worldly riches is a worldly mindset in too many cases. The wealthy get tied into making more money and their work becomes their place of worship. Their paycheck becomes their god.
We lose sight of what it is to be Christian very quickly when money comes into play.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe it’s Godly to be broke any more than it’s Godly to be rich. Either extreme will make money a god in our lives – and I’ve been at both extremes and experienced it. It’s easier to break the mindset when you have a lot as you can literally walk away from it, but when you have little or nothing walking away isn’t an option. You have to guard your heart so you stay centred on Jesus and not let anything draw you away.
There’s a place for financial prosperity in the Church. It’s vital for growth. Whilst there are people who will criticise a church for spending money on itself in the form of buildings and car parks etc when that money can be used for missionary work to the less fortunate, there’s the other side of that coin. If the church itself has no building in which to meet, or if there are signs it is growing and needs more space, then how can it hope to reach its own local population if there’s no spending on itself? It’s a contentious issue anywhere, but especially in South Africa where a large percentage of the money is concentrated in a very small percentage of the population. The mindset is dangerous because it ties into people giving out of guilt for the past rather than what God puts on their heart to give. It means churches can lean more towards reaching out to the poor financially, when the people who may need that outreach are actually the richest. Yes, the poor need financial help and support from local churches can be a major part of that, but the poor know they need help and look to God to provide it. The rich often trust in their money and get blinded to the Truth of their need for God to lead and guide them.
It’s a tricky line to walk.
Spiritual health can’t come from concentrating on creating money-spinning projects any more than it can come from poverty. Everything needs to be balanced. Just as iron is made strong by adding carbon to form steel, so the church needs to be strengthened by having all demographics represented. The First Century church had the wealthy selling their belongings to feed, clothe and house the poorest members – often their own slaves – and treated everyone as equals. We’re a long way from there in many ways today.
We need men and women who are capable businessmen and managers to invest and generate income for the church, but these people are there in the congregation already in many cases. Administration is listed as a Spiritual Gift by Paul – who was himself a businessman, as were the fishermen disciples. Being business savvy is not a sin. What we do with that savvy can be a different matter.
We have a responsibility to not give in to guilt or greed, but to find God and use our resources, whatever they may be, as He would have them used. Sometimes that means outreach to a poor community, but sometimes it can also mean updating or even upgrading our existing fixed resources. We have no problem when our work needs to upgrade their computer system to allow better access, or renovating our own house if the paint is chipped, or even building on a granny-flat or garage at home. So why do we question when a church wants to do it? Why can’t it be considered that a building needs more space if the ministry inside is growing? It may need the space to grow so it can provide employment opportunities, or to expand the youth work.
The key in ministry is to avoid making the ministry a mini god by accident, whether it’s a church or a parachurch organisation we need to look at what God would do with any income received.