I went shopping the other day. I dislike shopping. There’s a reason why my mom and sister picked out my clothes until I was about 16. It just doesn’t occur to me very often that I need things. I’m not saying this to brag. That’s just who I am.
But I was shopping for Christmas presents. These are things that I don’t need, that the people I’m shopping for probably don’t need, and yet… here I am, walking at a Target with a bunch of 30-something women skeetering around on their carts, shopping for Christmas presents.
While I was at Target, something wild occurred to me. I realized that this wasn’t what I anticipated when I left college to go to D.C. What do I mean by this? I meant that the narrative I kept getting in culture is that wages are so low and prices are so high in D.C. that I would be literally scrapping for crumbs every day just trying to survive until I get my promotion. When I took my job I was thinking that the first year at least would be extremely difficult financially – that I would be hanging on by a thread on my salary.
And yet, here I was, buying gifts for people. This was after taxes (which are ridiculously high for an earner like me), rent, tithe, savings for retirement, and essential spending (health care, food, etc.).
I’m rich, and I don’t mean that with any kind of irony. I don’t want to speak for anyone else but me here, but I am. No, I don’t have a family inheritance. No, I’m not making secret stashes of money beyond my typical DC salary. But I am rich. I have all of my needs taken care of and then some – much more.
I’ve been thinking about God and the Christian life. What I’ve started to realize more and more is that the Christian life is totally incompatible with the way the world wants to live. It’s so incompatible, in fact, that the way God defines a word like “rich,” or “happy,” or “fulfilled,” is completely the opposite from the way the world defines it, and tries to trick you into believing it.
Look at what Jesus says about birds for an example of what “rich” means in God’s eyes: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26)
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. ” (Matthew 6:28-33)
Under God’s eyes, the very fact that I am watched over and beloved by God makes me rich. So rich.
But that’s not the way the world wants me to think. The world wants me to think that I am poor.
Don’t believe me? Why do you get free magazines in your inbox advertising a new house, or new clothes, or cosmetics? Why would a stranger pay money for the creation of the magazine, as well as the postage, for the opportunity to send you free stuff?
The answer is simple: because they want to make you want what they have. No one who is satisfied in their current home would seek to buy a bigger one. No one who is satisfied with their current looks would seek to buy cosmetics. No who is satisfied with their current relationship (or singleness) would go on Tinder.
The object of the world is to make you feel poor. It’s the ultimate Jedi mind trick – to convince a rich person that they are poor. Because when you are poor, you want stuff. You feel like it is a basic necessity to have whatever they are having. You may even feel like there is a great injustice in the world that you don’t have it.
Already Christianity – in other words, the truth – is so radical. What God wants for us is to feel rich. But not in that idiotic, prosperity-gospel, Joel Osteen falsity about God giving us our new house or new yacht or whatever. In the truest sense of what richness is: lavished in God’s giving. Including the ultimate gift of all – in the sense of full and total communion with Him because of the death of Jesus Christ.
But that is a decision we have to make – to act like we are rich, and not poor. And the world will hate us for making that decision. It means less money for the world. It means less time spent scrolling through our phones, jealous of the manufactured lives cultivated on Instagram and Tinder.
Furthermore, to take the mantle of the rich means to take the burden of the rich.
“And as [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” (Mark 10:17-22)
The rich young man that Jesus asked to give away all his possessions was sad that Jesus told him that. He loved the world too much and Jesus too little. He probably thought to himself, “but I need these things.” Indeed, even a rich man in Jesus’ time was convinced by the world that he was poor.
But did you see that note that Mark made in that passage? “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘you lack one thing.'”
Jesus didn’t seek to destroy the life of this rich young man. He loved him, and saw that he was suffering from his moral poverty. He was chained to the things that he owned. Jesus asked him to give them away to set him free.
See, the burden of the rich isn’t really a burden at all. It is that, by giving and loving others with your money, time, and kindness, you experience the true joy that can only be found in Christ.
I want to close with my own personal story of my first tithe. For a long time, I resisted giving. I thought: “I might need this in the future.” I anticipated what the culture kept telling me: you are poor, hoard what you have, don’t give any of it away, lest you lose that edge that will allow you to survive. 10 percent of my income seemed like a lot. I was like, “10 percent, in this city, on my income?”
In other words, I was acting like I was poor. But I wasn’t.
A friend convinced me to start giving. At first I resisted. I asked him what if I started out giving 2 percent and then gradually move upwards? I realize now that was a cowardly mindset. My friend thought so too. He told me God’s grace is sufficient.
When I arrived in D.C. and got my first paycheck, the thought of tithing came up against my own insecurity. I thought: dang, that’s a lot of money. But it wasn’t. It was actually nothing. Still, I flailed around. Finally, I prayed, and said: “God, I surrender this to you. You have blessed me unbelievably.” And I put ten percent of my post-tax income to a bank account that would all go to my church.
I waited a couple weeks. I kind of half-expected something in my life to tighten. My pocketbook to suddenly stretch. Suddenly, I would go into debt. None of that happened. On the contrary – the money that I saw I was making acquired new purpose. I realized how much of an impact I could have on the world – if I would just give.
The Word of God is being fulfilled, right before my eyes.
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” (Malachi 3:10)
Over these past few months on my own, I’ve realized how blessed I truly am. My church. My friends. My family. My ability to do something that I love, for the sake of God and His Kingdom. Isn’t that just the greatest blessing?
The world makes you feel poor. But the Christian life makes you rich. It really does.