As Jesus and His disciples were on their way, He came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to Him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to Him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed — or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42
“Overconsumption has not always been a pattern of life in the United States. Though history shows that there was a constant tension between material acquisition and spiritual transcendence, most households until the twentieth century were not consumers but producers and manufacturers. People grew their own food, built their own homes, barns, and furniture, poured their own candles and see their own cloths.
Then a complex series of events moved our country into the consumer society. Just before the Great Depression, social innovators were planning self-sufficient communities that would give people a sense of belonging and integrate urban and rural towns…With the collapse of the economy these dreams disappeared. As the United States got back on it’s feet the American Boom Era began.
Leading economists felt that perpetual economic growth was possible. We, the public, only needed to be taught to want and consume more and more. In 1955 economist Victor Lebow wrote, “We seek our spiritual satisfaction or ego satisfaction in consumption…We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced and discarded at an ever-increasing rate.” Industry flourished as long as planned obsolescence reigned.
A theology of consumption began to invade our culture — and our churches. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, we wandered away from the foundational teachings of Jesus — sharing our wealth, identifying with the marginalized, living a life of grateful stewardship — and began to identify our worth with how much money we made or how many possessions we owned…Our identity has changed: from being American citizens to being American consumers.
We now produce little for ourselves. We have become voracious consumers of not only goods but services, all in an attempt to increase our quality of life. But has our affluence and consumption given us more fulfilling, happier and just ways of living? Today people admit to feeling stressed and tired with little time to care for and nurture relationships, family, friends or the environment.”
Evy McDonald in “Spending Money as if Life Really Mattered?” in Simpler Living, Compassionate Life: A Christian Perspective, ed. Michael Schut (New York: Morehouse, 2008) 60.
Jesus sums up the path of simplicity in a world of over consumption: “few things are needed — or indeed only one.” We live in a world that says, “You need this, and this, and this, and this, and this…” and the list goes on. All the while He whispers to us that He is all we need.
Yet still, we chase after these things by spending the resources God has supplied for generosity or by purchasing them with debt and because they do not satisfy, the pattern continues, leaving us empty rather than enriched. There is a better way to live. When seek God first, everything else falls rightly into place.
I am speaking at the fall retreat for Sarang New Harvest Ministry this weekend in Seoul. What a joy to serve two of my former Torch Trinity students, Eddie Chun and Andrew Gu, who serve as the pastors! God has led me to point them to a simple way of living shaped by praying Scripture and practicing spiritual disciplines.
Pray with me for God to show up with power. If there people like Mary in the room, may they attune to what the Holy Spirit has for them. And for those who come like Martha (and we have all been Martha at various moments in our lives), pray they latch hold to the one thing they need. What’s that? Again, it’s Jesus!
And lift up a prayer for my wife this weekend too. She’s back in Denver helping to facilitate and speak at the Women’s Retreat for our home church, The Bridge Church at Bear Creek. Christ be with her! Lastly, I pray that everyone reading this chooses “the One” rather than overconsumption. He is all we need!Read more