In 2020 the annual income needed to be happy (in the USA) was roughly $75,000—earn less than this and you may be a little miserable, and earn more… well, the happiness per dollar does not increase by much. Situations vary, but this is the rough calculation. I wonder if it is fair to ask whether desiring more than “enough” is a love of money? I do not think this is always the case. If you want it so that you can give it, that is one thing. If you want it so that you can keep 90% of the increase for yourself, assuming you give away 10%, then that is different. In fact, it may be “the love of money” which we are told to avoid like a novel virus.
“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have…” says the author of the book of Hebrews.
Dealing with greed is a tricky thing because we convince ourselves we need more. Contentment: it is easy to say it, but hard to stay in it. An experiment has been done where five people of the same age and life circumstances are offered a blank check from an anonymous donor to enable them to retire. The catch is, only the lowest bidder gets the check; the rest of them forfeit the opportunity. It is an interesting way of doing the “how much is enough?” calculation.
When we turn to the bible to get help with the problem of greed or the possibility of contentment it offers an interesting answer that is not found on a spreadsheet or retirement planner. In fact, it asks a different question: “Were you ever really on your own; did I ever not come through for you?”
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
There are some foundational principles in this simple statement, “…because God has said…”
First, God’s answer is usually himself. Before you gloss over this as “things I learned at Sunday School” recognize that in seven parting messages to key churches in seven cities (which you find in the last book of the bestselling compilation of books, just to add weight) the answer to each group’s problem was found in the way Jesus described himself. (One hears, “These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” Another is addressed by “These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.”) The same principle is true here.
Second, God wants to disavow us of the notion that lacking assets (such as cash, liquid assets, a stock portfolio, real estate or a healthy retirement plan) equates to being alone. This is a huge lie of the enemy: “If Jesus was with you, you would have more money.” This is a spectacular untruth since it will always win the argument when we have the wrong definition of “enough.”
Third, before one can calculate how much is enough, the hole in one’s bucket has to be fixed, and that hole is fear of lack. Fear is never a friend of financial stewardship. It might drive you to hoard, save, invest “wisely” but it will seldom lead you to being a generous steward of what you will leave behind. As the saying goes, “There are no U-Hauls going to heaven.” In effect, God is asking, “Did I ever not come through for you?” (I hear some say, “Yes, but he didn’t come through in the way that I thought or on time…” If we do not have eternity factored into our measurement scales we automatically set ourselves up for a “never enough” disappointment.)
Fourth, the presence of God is more tangible than Marmite (something I have run out of in the US right now… the next person coming from South Africa or the UK can bring me a large bottle, please). You might run out of ___ but “Never will I leave you.” I remember letting my last staff member go because we had “run out” of money in The Institute. I turned out the light and said, “I guess I am on my own now,” and he replied, “I will never leave you.” The good elephant in our room needs to be marked Presence, not the fake, blow-up pink plastic version labeled Poverty.
Fifth, it is one thing to be left, but another to be forsaken, forgotten, left off God’s team like the kid forgotten by parents in a large shopping mall, marked by loneliness in a sea of abundance. “…never will I forsake you.” God is not going to leave us stranded. He leaves the 99 to find the 1. He carries us back on his shoulders. This is what our Good Shepherd is like; he never decides we are a spare part, not wanted or needed.
Bottom line: our ability to stay content is linked to what we are looking at. If we cannot see Jesus for looking at things, we have it wrong. If our measure of God’s pleasure is linked to our treasure we will never have enough. If the health of our spiritual life is not the counter-weight on the scale, we will have a perpetual money problem. If the right side of your scale is “only Jesus” then you can assess the stuff on the left scale of life correctly. Then we will know enough and know when enough is enough.
Perhaps we should end with some declarations: