Escaping the Cycle of Destructive Spending

Those of you who follow us on Facebook may have seen this image last week of a telling mural in a mall in Miami:

Admired, Desired, Required, Acquired

The message is blatant and their grip on human nature is uncanny; walk these hallowed floors and you WILL find something to admire. Your admiration will quickly turn into a desire, and your desire will soon make that object a requirement. Now this thing has found a foothold in your heart and the only way to satisfy your longing is to acquire it. So, you buy it and, oh does it satisfy! Don’t ever let anyone tell you that shopping and buying things does not satisfy. It does. When we buy that thing that our heart desires, euphoria washed over us. It’s a drug that’s not only legal, it’s encouraged. We get that injection and anesthetize our hearts, riding the blissful wave until our next hit. The trouble is, it doesn’t last and we buy into a destructive cycle that keeps us unhappy.

Just like a drug addict, when the high wears off, there are feelings of guilt and disappointment, but there is also a:

Surprise!

When you bought that thing at the mall, you signed up for a credit card because they were offering 10% off and you are just frugal like that. Well, the mice ran in their wheels all weekend and, by Monday, we’ve got a surprise bill in the mail.

No Savings

Oops. There was less in the bank account than we thought and we’ll just have to make the minimum payment for now.

Pressure

Now the interest is getting out of control and the screws are tightening. When the going gets tough, the tough:

Work More

When there’s not enough to pay the bills, what do we do? Roll up our sleeves, get a second job, or work more hours, leaving us with:

No Time

The extra hours working are keeping you from spending time with your family, which leave you feeling:

Depressed

As Christians, we can’t say we’re depressed. We call it “stressed out”, but it’s really depression. And there’s one sure way we know we can rid ourselves of the depression for a little while, by admiring, desiring, requiring, and yes, acquiring.

How do we stop the cycle?

One observer of the American brand of this cycle, Alexis De Tocqueville, hit the problem on the head in 1835:

“A strange melancholy … haunts the inhabitants in the midst of abundance … Americans believed that prosperity could quench their yearning for happiness but such a hope was illusory, the incomplete joys of this world will never satisfy the human heart.”

The only thing that will satisfy our heart is an affection for the Gospel found in Jesus Christ. Thomas Chalmers, the Scottish theologian, talked about expulsive power of a new affection:

“A Moralist will be unsuccessful in trying to displace his love of the world by reviewing the ills of the world. Misplaced affections need to be replaced by the far greater power of the affection of the Gospel. – Thomas Chalmers

I don’t think any Christian would disagree with this intellectually, but our lives and spending habits tell a different tale. It’s all well and good to talk about God being better than shopping, but we live in the real world, a world that God can’t possibly know much about or have any power over. So we stay on our cycle, trusting in ourselves for our temporal satisfaction.

There is a better way and so here’s what I want to challenge you with today: the next time you feel yourself admiring and desiring, take the money you would spend and do something courageous with it. Give it to a less fortunate family or to your favorite charity; sponsor a child or buy supplies to make something useful for someone. Do something selfless and see what happens.

This is God’s instruction and He promises that you will be more satisfied in the long run. Go ahead and test Him.

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