SHORT CHRISTIAN READINGS SELECTED FOR FORMER JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES
Riches that are Eternal
By Tom McGovern
The only survivor of a shipwreck was washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed feverishly for God to rescue him. Every day he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed forthcoming. Resigned to his fate, he eventually managed to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect him from the elements and to store his few possessions.
One day, after scavenging for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, the smoke rolling up to the sky. It was just more than he could take. He was stunned with grief and anger. "God, how could you do this to me?"
But the next day, he woke up to the sound of a ship approaching the island to rescue him. "How did you know I was here?" he asked in wonder. "We saw your smoke signal," they replied.
Adversity comes to every one of us, doesn't it? We all have good times in our lives when everything is going well. And we all have bad times when it seems like everything is going wrong. At times, things can seem to go so wrong that we just cant cope. Maybe we have lost a job. Maybe medical expenses that we never expected have arisen. Perhaps our debts are mounting. Finances can be a real challenge in times of adversity.
To that man stranded on a desert island, it seemed as if he had lost everything. Unfortunately, his inclination was to blame God. But he had the wrong perspective, didn't he? He was focused on the things that he could see and not the things that are invisible. He didn't understand how to cope with great material loss. He believed in God, but somehow his faith was lacking. And that lack prevented him from seeing God at work in his adversity.
As believers, we are not spared from having problems in our lives. We are not exempt from financial troubles. How can we achieve God's approval when we are faced with financial troubles? The disciple James had something to say about that in his letter to his fellow Christians.
James wrote to Jewish believers in the first century; in fact, his letter was one of the first books of the New Testament to be written, at a time when Christianity was still seen as more or less a sect of Judaism. When we think of James we most often think of his teachings about the relationship between faith and works.
In a manner of speaking, that's really the kernel of what we are talking about today. How should faith in God affect the way a Christian lives? How should faith in God affect the way a Christian views both the good and bad things that happen in this life? And, in particular, what does it mean for you when money problems arise?
It's really all a matter of perspective. As a Christian, you have treasure that is not perishable treasure that can never be lost. That's where you need to focus your attention. James shows us that when you encounter financial problems, you need to keep your eyes on the riches that are eternal.
John G. Wendel and his sisters were some of the most miserly people of all time. Although they had received a huge inheritance from their parents, they spent very little of it and did all they could to keep their wealth for themselves. John was able to influence five of his six sisters never to marry. They lived in the same house in New York City for 50 years. When the last sister died in 1931, her estate was valued at more than $100 million. Her only dress was one that she had made herself, and she had worn it for 25 years.
Right now you're probably thinking about what you would be wearing if you had $100 million, right? About how you would live if you had that much money? Why would anyone live as the Wendels did? Does it make any sense? Where was their focus? Where was their pride? What was it in life that really mattered to them? It seems obvious, doesn't it? All that mattered in life to them was having money. The money itself became their focus. It became their idol. And because they were so focused on their hidden wealth, the way they lived was never affected by it.
James tells us that Christians should live in just the opposite way. We have hidden wealth, too. We have all the marvelous things that God gives to those who love Him. They are stored up for us in heaven, where they are not seen by men. Those are the treasures we have eternal life, a relationship with God, the seal of the Holy Spirit, God's word and wisdom, the fellowship of the Church and so much more. You can't put those things into your checking account, but they are worth more than all the gold and silver in all the earth. And the greatness of those riches is beyond imagining. Paul wrote that, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Cor. 2:9). That's how rich you are! You are rich beyond imagining!
But maybe you are thinking, Well, that's nice, but my bank account doesn't reflect those riches very well. It's true that you may not have much in a material way; perhaps its a struggle just to pay the bills every month. Maybe you dread getting the credit card statements in the mail or hearing the phone ring, knowing it might be a bill collector.
James was talking to Christians who were in a similar position to that when he wrote: "The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position" (James 1:9). Its easy when you are in the heat of battle to get caught up in the day-to-day routine of trying to make ends meet. But James says we should change our focus. He tells us to keep our eye on the eternal riches that we know we have. He tells us to take pride in our high position. We are children of the King, we are His heirs and everything that He has is ours! We just have to remember that and allow it to comfort us when money starts to get us down. We should keep our eyes firmly fixed upon the things that are eternal the things that God assures us we already possess.
... That's kind of how this life is, "No guarantees". We don't know what's around the next bend or whether we can really hold on to what we think we have. But its so easy to forget what God has given us, especially when we are faced with trials that are immediate and urgent. But what He has given us is eternal. God tells us to focus on what we do have, on the eternal things that He has given us. He tells us to take pride in our high position! He tells us to be happy for the eternal riches that we already possess.
... If you gave people a choice between being rich and being poor, most of them would acknowledge that, although each has its problems, they would rather be rich than poor. If I just had a lot of money and didn't have to worry about my financial security, why, I could deal with whatever problems arose from that. That's how they think. The problem with that kind of thinking is that, even if you did have a lot in a material way, there's no guarantee that you would continue to have it. Thieves might steal it. Bad investments might cause you to lose it. Inflation might come along and cause it to lose its value. An economic collapse could turn a fortune into nothing. Nothing you have in this world is guaranteed to you.
Even if you managed to hold onto your wealth, what good would it do you in the long run? Sooner or later you will become sick, you will get old and become infirm, and eventually, you will die. And that's assuming that no tragedy overtakes you before your time. None of us is guaranteed even one more day of life. That's what James is talking about in verse 11:
"For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business." And then what good will all his riches do him? They are temporary at best -- they are temporary, if for no other reason, because he is temporary. We are all temporary, at least as far as this world is concerned. So all the material riches we may have just wont last. Don't put your trust in what will not last!
But what God gives us is eternal, imperishable. It is of infinite value. If we are rich, we still have our spiritual riches. If we are poor, we still have our spiritual riches. If we become sick or infirm, we still have our spiritual riches. And when we die, we have our spiritual riches in full. Nothing can separate us from Gods love and grace. Jesus Himself gave us the best advice about spiritual riches, when He said:
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal" (Matt. 6:19, 20).
What if we were to lose everything we have materially? What if one day, it just faded away like a plant in scorching heat? God says that is what happens with material riches. If nothing else, we will leave them behind when we leave this world. But spiritual riches? Ah, that's another story. Those heavenly treasures are the only ones that are real. They are the only ones that last. They are the only ones we can count on.
We need to keep that in mind when we face difficult problems in our lives. We need to fix our eyes on what we have, not on what we don't have. We can worry and fret when things go wrong. We can moan and complain about not having the things we would like to have. We can make sure everyone we know is well aware of how unhappy we are. We can live in the future, as it were, always plotting and planning our next move, always hoping for a brighter tomorrow. And we can feel sorry for ourselves, running over and over in our minds the way we wish our lives were. We can do all that.
Or, we can concentrate on everything we already have. We can see Gods hand in everything that comes our way. We can watch Him build our faith and our character through adversity. We can rejoice and be thankful for everything He has given us yes, even for the trials. And we can devote ourselves to serving others turn the focus outward. Yes, we can focus on the eternal riches, not the temporary ones. We can take care of the needs of others and let God take care of ours.
As I said earlier, its all a matter of perspective. We need to understand that. We tend to be very narrowly focused. We tend just to see whats right before us. We are finite and limited that means we can't take in everything thats really going on. We can't step outside our lives and look objectively at them; we can only see them from the inside. I'm sick. I'm tired. I hate my job. My marriage is unhappy. I failed my science test. My parakeet died. We all have our problems and I'm not trying to minimize or trivialize those problems.
But look at it for a minute from a global perspective. We live in the richest country on earth. The poorest among us have far more than the vast majority of the people in the world and that's just in a material way. People in other countries, other parts of the earth, have not been so blessed in a material way as we have. Its hard to be worried about passing a science test when you have no food to eat. Too many of earth's inhabitants are at that level.
Keeping the right perspective makes a big difference. Getting God's perspective makes an even bigger difference. God says that when we face trials we should consider our spiritual position. We have eternal life. We have His Word. We have a relationship with Him. Everything else fades into insignificance next to that. We may be rich materially, but He tells us to glory in our low position. In God's eyes, we are just the same as the lowest, poorest, most wretched believers on the planet. And in God's eyes, we are just the same as the wealthiest, most comfortable ones. He loves us every bit as much as he loves them, because His love is not based upon what we have or don't have. Its not even based upon what we are or are not. No, its based upon what He has done for us on His grace in our lives. He establishes us before Him in eternal, heavenly riches that can never be lost or fade. Compared to that, how important can the day-to-day things really be?
Its a pretty natural thing to want to be happy and its also natural to want to have good things in life. But if we look at matters through Gods eternal eyes, it may help us to avoid being like a little 3-year-old girl whose Mom took her to a restaurant. The little girl's meal came with a free sundae for dessert. When the waitress saw that the little girl was finished with her main course, she came over and asked, "Would you like your ice cream sundae?" The little girl instantly replied, "No, thank you I want it NOW!"
Aren't we like that sometimes? We want it all and we want it now! You know whats really neat about that? We do have it all and we do have it now! God has given us everything we could ever want and its all stored up for us in heaven, just waiting for us there. And that's not all. The best parts of it are even available to us now. We just have to look with the right perspective to see it.
And I'm not saying that's an easy thing to do. We all have to struggle to maintain the right perspective. While I was writing this sermon, I showed my wife the first draft, and do you know what she said to me after she read it? She said, I think I know someone who could stand to take his own advice. Letting go and trusting in God to provide our needs can be a difficult and scary thing. But we can trust Him. He wants us to trust Him and He is always faithful to us.
What's important for us is to maintain our faithfulness to Him. What God looks for is our endurance and steadfastness. He expects us to be faithful under every trial and to stand firm until the end of our earthly lives. He knows we will face trials of every sort. He knows that money problems will enter our lives and He knows that nobody is immune. But He also knows that those trials and our faithful perseverance build our character, make us more like Jesus, and draw us closer to Him in faith. And at the end of it all, we still have those eternal riches. Its just as James said, "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him" (James 1:12).
Its a very easy thing to let our troubles separate us from our fellowship with God. But in every aspect of life and every circumstance of life, there is a way that can be found that is pleasing to Him. How do we keep God's approval when we are faced with financial trials and problems? Remember, the answer involves our perspective. When financial problems arise, we need to remember our invisible wealth and rejoice in it. We need to remind ourselves just how temporary and transitory the things of this world really are. And we need to keep our focus on eternity, where our true treasures lie. Ten thousand years from now, will you really be worried about that credit card bill thats sitting on your desk today? Of course not. But you will still have your eyes fixed on Jesus.
Taking God's viewpoint wont make your troubles disappear. God wont suddenly dump money into your lap because you see things the right way. You will still have to work hard to earn a living. You will still have to watch your diet and exercise to stay healthy. You will still have to study to pass your science test. And youll still feel bad if your parakeet dies. But keeping the right viewpoint the right perspective will help us to see what is really important. When we focus on Jesus really turn our eyes to Him and keep Him fixed in our line of sight all the things of earth just seem to fade into the background. And the wealth that He gives us -- the eternal riches -- becomes the focus of our lives.