Buying things makes us happy. It busts depression, grows our circle of friends, solves our family problems. Buying things is the quickest path to robust health and a future of ease.
At least, that’s what the ads tell us.
Experience, on the other hand, tells us something quite different: that buying things usually just gets us more things—more things that need to be taken care of, more things that break.
In our materialistic world, shopping has become a common addiction—something we end up needing to do not to supply our needs, but for its own sake. The greed habit comes with a high cost: escalating debt, pervasive discontent, stress-related sickness, strained and fractured families.
There is a cure for all that madness. If any single thing can yank us out of the rat race of materialism, here it is: thanksgiving. An attitude of gratitude for those blessings we already possess—particularly the spiritual blessings.
Putting It in Perspective
In the United States, the fourth Thursday in November is Thanksgiving Day. This noble public holiday represents a godly attitude we need to cultivate daily throughout the year.
Jesus Christ tells us not to accumulate treasures on Earth, which can break down, fall apart or be stolen (Matthew 6:19). Instead, a Christian is to seek incorruptible spiritual treasures (verses 20-21). The Apostle Paul offered this timeless wisdom: “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (see Colossians 3:1-2). He followed his own advice and remained always content, whatever his physical circumstances—rich or poor, better or worse (Philippians 4:11-12).
When we concentrate on and worry about what we don’t have, we make ourselves poor. When we are grateful for and content with everything we do have, we discover how rich we truly are.
A lack of contentment is really a lack of perspective. If you are anxious about what you’ll eat or drink, your perspective is off, Christ instructs us. Just be thankful you have a life to sustain with food and drink! Don’t fret about clothes—be thankful you have a body to clothe! (read Matthew 6:25-34).
And God not only wants us to have an attitude of thanksgiving, but He also wants us to express that thanks to Him. Follow Paul’s admonition in Hebrews 13:15 to “offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.”
My three children are growing up with a much higher material standard of living than the one my wife and I had at their age—in their home, their toys, the opportunities available to them. As they have been able to travel and attend certain special events, my wife and I have detected an unattractive side effect: a sense of entitlement. Woe be to any of us when we start feeling entitled to what are actually luxuries. We have talked to our children about it, taught them to be vigilant against it—and even limited some of those special things in their lives.
In making this decision, my wife and I are simply trying to follow God’s example as a parent.
Read the 8th chapter of Deuteronomy; it vividly shows how God walks the line with His people between blessing us and spoiling us. Just as the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land, God had a powerful message for them—one extremely relevant in our world today. If you remain obedient, He told them, I’ll bless you abundantly! Then He reminded them of how much gratitude they owed Him for bringing them there. Surely they looked back on their time in the wilderness as a massive trial—but God said, Look, I orchestrated that whole experience. I was right with you the whole time, and it was all for your spiritual benefit. Remember that. Now, as you enter the Promised Land, I want you to enjoy it to the full! But remember where it came from. That prosperity is not a result of your own doing! Be thankful, and don’t take it for granted.
God knows human nature well enough to know there was a danger that the Israelites would get their minds too much onto physical things and off Him.
How thoroughly up to date that speech is! We are modern-day Israel, frighteningly susceptible to the same traps our forebears fell into.
What’s More Important Than Stuff
God has much to give; He could prosper each of us to the heights in a minute! But He knows that instant prosperity could hurt us, and only supplies what we can handle. Like any parent, He wants to bless us abundantly—but when He detects a lack of gratitude, then He thinks twice. And sometimes He withholds blessings in order to benefit our character.
“Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die,” reads a prayer recorded in Proverbs 30:7-9: “[G]ive me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.” These few verses contain much wisdom. They provide insight into how God must reason when considering which blessings to extend to us and which to withhold.
In the end, God is after our character development. Sometimes physical blessing helps us develop character. Sometimes deprivation helps us even more.
How do you respond to God’s blessings in your life? God gives us blessings as it pleases Him—and as we please Him. Once we receive them, He expects us to thank Him. And He wants us to be content even when we don’t receive those blessings.
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights …” (James 1:17). Make a mental list of all the good and perfect gifts your Father has given you. God even tells us to count trials as blessings since they produce positive spiritual growth in us (e.g. James 1:2-3). Can you honestly think of one thing in your life, then, that isn’t a blessing for which to thank God?
When we begin to set our affections on things on this Earth, it is easy to lose this perspective. There will always be plenty of material things we lack. Nearly all people think they would be so much happier if their paycheck was just 10 percent bigger.
But what peace and joy flood into our lives when we focus on the real, the true—when we can sincerely thank our great God for all the blessings He gives us, even our trials! Greed shrinks; discontent dissolves; materialism melts away. When thankfulness moves in, it brings its companion, contentment. “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful” (Colossians 3:15).
How nice—a cure with no negative side effects. And on top of all the other benefits, it will probably fatten your wallet.
So, “therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.”