More or Less?
I’ve never claimed to be that bright. Perhaps that’s why one of my favorite books is a children’s book called, “The Ox Cart Man“. It is a simple book about a man and his family in colonial America. It tells the story of how he loads his cart with all of the goods his family produced over the course of the year and then walks at the head of his ox for ten days to sell the goods at the market. He sells the potatoes and the birch brooms and the goose feathers and the honey as any modern day reader might expect. But then there’s a twist. He sells the barrell that the potatoes were in and he sells the cart that carried the goods and he even sells the ox. He walks back home with a few supplies for the year and coins in his pocket. The whole tale inspires a nostalgia that I may never truly know. I long for such simplicity in my life yet I find nothing more elusive. Maybe you can relate with a modern dilemma such as this: I love the idea of selling everything and just having enough to get my family through the year but I also love my smartphone, tablet and laptop.
Near the end of Proverbs there is a collection of sayings by a man named Agur. His attitude toward wealth convicts me:
“Two things I ask of you; Deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is needful for me, Lest I be full and deny you and say, “who is the Lord?” Or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:7-9 ESV)
This prayer of Agur is quite unlike many of the prayers God must hear each day. Undoubtedly, God often hears prayers for riches or at least to get out of poverty. But that is only half of Agur’s prayer. He also asks that God would not give him too much because the result of having too much or too little is the same. Both end up far from God. Agur wants to live in the sweet spot of having just enough.
Heart check: Would you be content with never being wealthy but always having just enough? Can you, with a joyful heart, ask God to give you “neither poverty nor riches”?
Read Mark 4:1-20
In my life, my desire for ox cart man simplicity and Agur-esque “enough-ness” is often choked by the thorns that Jesus described in Mark 4’s parable of the sower. Even when I read that parable, I think about how serious and deadly the first two soils are. I’ve seen many on the path, swallowed up before they ever got started and just as many in the rocks who failed to develop deep roots and withered quickly in their shallow faith. Yet, when I hear about the third soil, “those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things”, I somehow excuse it or see it as less dangerous than the other conditions that cause people to leave God. Being choked out by the world may be a slower death, but it is a death all the same.
Our attitude toward wealth is one of the greatest challenges in our society and our church. We have been virtually silent for too long as the thorns tighten their grip. As with any challenge, there is also great opportunity. If we can figure out how to live in the space between more and less and content ourselves with enough, we will set for the world an inspiring example that will cause many to give Jesus a first or second look. If we ignore this issue, we will realize the unfortunate label that Jesus placed on the third soil: “unfruitful”. Please pray for me and for my family to set an example and find contentment and joy in the land of enough. I will be praying that the reader’s of this blog will find the elusive Christian simplicity that brought them here.