Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Frugality

“Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the LORD ?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”
Proverbs 30:8-9

As urgently critical and relevant to the human condition as any other topic, Jesus spoke more on our “relationship to money” than faith and prayer combined, heaven or hell and more than anything else except the Kingdom of Heaven. Fifteen percent of His teachings were money related and through His focus on that topic, Jesus demonstrated that our relationship with money is among the foremost of all spiritual disciplines.

Frugality, an uncommon term in our culture, is a nearly lost discipline that right-sizes the fleshly cry for possessions, titles and cash. Since it is a way of life that is, in a very real sense of the word, costly, it is not as “popular” of a discipline as fasting, prayer or confession. You can’t fake your way through this discipline very easily. And at the same time, it speaks out loud to the world, through actions, the condition of your soul. If someone needed to make a judgment as to your spiritual health, and could only use one metric, I would suggest going straight to your bank account. Where is your money going? I would look at percentages, not total dollars…. What percentage goes to God as your tithe? Are you giving the first tenth, that is, at least ten percent of your “before tax” salary? (Malachi 3:8-10) How much of your money is going towards bad debt? (Romans 13:8) How much is spent at the bars and on toys? A good eye-opening experiment is to look at all of your personal expenses over the past month… how much was spent on you? How much was given to God? How much went to others? Don’t worry, there’s no “holy percentage” formula… and the percentages really aren’t as important as the heart behind them (see Warren Buffet quote below).

The bank account method above is actually used by Christ to determine the spiritual condition of those he met in several instances in the bible. Look at Christ’s judgment, based on the level of sacrifice (percentage) in Luke 21:1-4: As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “I tell you the truth," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." The widow did not give a large sum, but a large proportion of what she had available.

Here Jesus discerns Zacchaeus’ inward salvation experience by his outward expression of his relationship to money: But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount." Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."

In Mark 10:21-22, when Jesus taught the rich young ruler that the love of money will make it more difficult for many to get into heaven that it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle: Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Money alone kept him from Jesus.

When John Joseph Surin was asked why so few actually achieve saintly character, he replied “The chief reason is that they give too big a place in life to indifferent things.” And while frugality often serves the good of others and God, it is of grave importance as a discipline in its ability to free us from (cut off) desires for “indifferent things.” In that kind of freedom, we are able to “to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.” (Micah 6:8) We are no longer busy jockeying for position, power or status... and can easily put others first. What if we just gave up on the desire to be famous? Or rich? If we did, would we ever have to compromise? Jesus hung on the cross after a compromise involving just thirty pieces of silver. The lust for money brings out the worst in men.

Frugality, then, is training in being satisfied with less – and using our money in ways other than to gratify selfish desires for status, wealth and fame. O. Hardman put it this way: “It is an injury to society as well as an offence against God when men pamper their bodies with rich and dainty foods and seriously diminish their physical and mental powers by excessive use of intoxicants… Luxury in every form is economically bad, it is provocative to the poor who see it flaunted before them, and it morally degrading to those who indulge in it. The Christian who has the ability to live luxuriously, but fasts from all extravagance, and practices simplicity in his dress, his home and his whole manner of life, is, therefore, rendering good service to society.”

Finally, we must counterbalance this discipline with the knowledge that frugality or charity does not save. Only the Blood of Jesus covers sins. When charity and frugality become a “good work” that earns us a place with God or in heaven, it is no longer a discipline. By definition, a spiritual discipline only positions us to know, receive and love God… it doesn’t earn favor.

Warren Buffet, after giving billions of dollars away to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was noted as saying, "There is more than one way to get to heaven, but this is a great way." He later qualified the statement as a “colorful phrase” he uses to describe successful investing, but further laid bare his actual spiritual condition to the whole world with this statement: "I don't know whether or not there is a heaven," Mr. Buffett wrote. "But, if there is one, I would bet that admittance in no way depends upon giving away surplus wealth (however large the amount), which in no way affects the well-being of the giver."

Here we see it all goes back to the heart. Our checking account and frugal lives are a good outward reflection of our inward transformation, but it is not spiritual check box. The Pharisees tithed religiously, but their remaining wealth was horded and selfishly spent, revealing their true priorities. Lord, teach us to trust you to provide. Please don’t allow me to be rich or poor, but give me only my daily bread, so that I may walk humbly with You.

From a study of the Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard

2 Comments:

Blogger Kate said...

Wow, Brad! Great post– Frugality seems to be a topic we don’t hear a lot about in plain language. It always seems to be a supporting actor in messages about greed or missions or something.

Anyway, talk about conviction! I was actually pretty affected by something you allude to, but don’t outright mention (sign of a great writer– you got me thinking). You talk explicitly about frugality standing in opposition to desires for position, power, status, wealth, fame... but what about self-satisfaction? Having just put my new apartment together, I know I probably have a lot more stuff than I need, and over the past two years I’ve spent way too much money on creating this place that just makes me HAPPY. O. Hardman would likely not be pleased. When I look around and think “This is all MY stuff, I have done this,” it’s this major endorphin-boost, and I probably take too much pride in it. It’d also be really difficult for me to part with a lot of my “stuff,” not because I draw power or fame from it, but because it feeds a part of me that is looking for affirmation.

Anywho, I suppose there are plenty more insidious things that I could draw my self-worth from, but they would all stand in contrast to the spiritual discipline of frugality. As a wise man once said, “I guess I have a lot of things to ponder.” (Tell me where that’s from!)

Thanks for the deep thoughts!

8:30 AM  
Anonymous Will said...

Brad,

Awesome post, as ususal. The 2 week clock is ticking buddy.

In reference to your post, I am also reminded of 2 quotes from previous pastors that have stuck with me.

"If you want to see what you love, look at where you spend your time and your money."

"In America, we live in a fur lined rut where we neither feel the pain of the world nor the love of God. We provide so abundantly for ourselves that we leave no room for God to provide for us."

...

Anyways, thank you for taking the time to share your heart and write this B-rad.

<3

Will

2:56 PM  

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