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Resisting the Cultural Urge to Buy, Buy, Buy

Earlier this year, our family switched to an energy company that uses more renewable energy and was less expensive than other providers.
I looked at our usage online recently, which revealed that in the summer months our energy usage is much lower than it will be in the winter.

We use less gas because there is no need for the heating to be on, and we use less electricity to power our lights because the days are longer.

At the moment, we are in credit with the energy supplier who is paying good interest on that credit—better than my bank!

Throughout the summer, we will no doubt build up a lot of credit, which we will then use up in the winter. I am hoping that at the end of the year it will all balance out.

It seems reminiscent to me of Joseph’s advice to Pharaoh in the Bible—to store up food in the years of plenty that will be ready for the years of famine.

Our consumer culture seems to discourage that approach. If we have the resources, then the ubiquitous advertisements will urge and entice us to spend it on newer versions of what we already have, or on new things that we don’t have.

If we don’t have the resources, then that’s OK. Stick it on your credit card and pay it back later.

If you can’t get a credit card or you have already maxed it out, this is no problem. Take a so-called “payday loan” and repay it at iniquitous interest rates that bear no relation to the actual cost of borrowing.

Buy now, spend now, live for the moment. Don’t worry about the future. This is the cultural message.

In Luke 12:16-21, Jesus addresses this mentality through a parable about a rich man reaping abundant harvests.

Having filled up his current barns, he decides to tear them down and build bigger ones so that he can “take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”

Jesus’ story parodies the “more, more, more” mindset that is behind our consumerist lifestyle: the part of us that responds to the enticing advertisements. He concludes his parable with a surprising twist in verses 20-21:

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich towards God.”

It’s not that prudent planning for the future is wrong. What is wrong is a dependence on ourselves, our resources and our plans, and a failure to recognize that there is a God-dimension to all of this.

God wants us to acknowledge and rely on him for our daily bread, recognizing how valuable we are to him and how much he is looking out for us.

He wants us to realize that living a comfortable lifestyle is not the aim and purpose of life.

Saving and planning for the future is not bad. Living within our means is not wrong.

In fact, they are commendable and worthy approaches to life. But if that’s the limit of our forward thinking, we are investing in the wrong things.

Nick Lear is one of the pastors of Colchester Baptist Church in Essex in the United Kingdom. He will begin his work as the regional minister of the Eastern Baptist Association in November. A version of this column first appeared on his blog, Nukelear Fishing, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @NickLear.