It’s been a long slow walk lately. I haven’t been trying to find my way through a damp dark tunnel. It’s not been a major crisis that has catapulted me into dire straights or emotional tumult. No, this walk had been out in the open, some days in the sunshine, some days in the rain. It’s been a walk of recovery slipping and sliding between denial and obedience, repentance and forgiveness. It’s been day in and day out and it has been economically costly.
The road I am referring to is the dreaded, don’t talk about it, finance road. You know the one; buy this, sell that, pay this, late on that. The money road is one I would avoid altogether if it weren’t such an integral pathway to where I think I want to be. I find myself looking around me taking note of those who seem unscathed. You no doubt, have noticed them too. Perhaps you are actually one of them; well-bred, well educated, well positioned, safe, sound, and secure. Perhaps you experience all of those things. We used to…but today, not so much.
Our today is filled with budgets and scrimping, job searches and coupons. My delights come more from bargains and clearance sales than name brands and fashion trends. Thirty-dollar bottles of shampoo have been replaced with store brands, and facial products are found at the grocery store instead of on the Internet. All of those changes and choices are impactful and noticeable, but perhaps the most noticeable to me in this particular journey is a perception change and a dramatic shift in my priorities. Let me explain…
In the rugged terrain of financial travel there are challenges so great that some have even taken their own lives rather than nakedly scale the mountains of loss. Giving up some man created standard of living seems a death sentence. Gratitude is all but absent. Generosity is not even a consideration. The all too familiar blinders travelers are willing to wear in the name of comfort and position serve only to block our ability to see there are others who have so much less than we do. We are wealthy in our country. We are so rich that even our cars have their own room when some humans around the world do not. In fact, if you are the poorest of Americans, you are still wealthier than sixty percent of the rest of the world! Probably doesn’t feel that way to you though does it? Maybe that is because we measure our security, our safety, and our very worth against the wrong standards.
Psalm 49 paints a pretty clear picture of the godless wealthy. After pondering what the psalmist has to say, I have to tell you, my feeling fortunate meter swung hard in the opposite direction of self-pity. Let me share a bit of my heart change with you?
The beginning of this psalm calls the attention of all people, young and old, rich and poor. The wisdom applies to all so that includes you and me. Verse five asks us a question; “Why should I, we, you, fear wicked deceivers?” Who are they, these wicked deceivers? Some of us think they are the Wall Street Gang. Some of us think they are our creditors. Some of us think they are the mortgage people who sold us a bill of goods along with a house bill that increases month by month. For some of us the wicked deceivers are our personal enemies. For me, they are the thoughts in my brain that try to convince my heart that the wealthier around me are somehow better, more righteous, cleaner, more saved.
Verses six through eight remind us very pointedly that no matter how large the fortunes have grown the owners of them cannot rely on them to redeem their life or the lives of another. If their child is dying from a fatal disease they cannot buy her way back to good health. If that same child dies and does not know Jesus as her own personal redeemer, she then stays eternally separated from love and goodness and light. Forever. In fact verse eight says that no payment is ever enough. The ransom for a life is costly.
Verse ten reminds us of a common view we all share; ‘All can see that wise men die, the foolish and senseless alike perish…though they had named lands after them.’ What? Bill Gates is going to die? Oprah will die? Sister Mary Margaret will die? Verse twelve says that man, ‘despite his riches does not endure.’ And then what happens? Verse thirteen tells us this is the fate of those who trust in themselves; death will feed on them, their forms will decay in the grave. Apparently maggots and worms make no distinction between rich flesh and poor flesh. Seems to me here that all of a sudden, in the moment of the last breath of life, I am just as insignificant as Oprah! That is a sobering, mind blowing contemplation isn’t it? My lack of wealth and her abundance of it is of no impact on that first day in death. But wait! There is a “but God” in this Psalm.
Verses fifteen and sixteen say that God will redeem my life from the grave: ‘He will surely take me to Himself. Do not be overawed when a man grows rich-when the splendor of his house increases for he will take nothing with him when he dies. His splendor will not descend with him.’ There you have it folks! No partying in the pit. No buying and selling. No comfort of the winning or the ability to bid the most. None if it. None, just the sound of maggots and worms as they crawl right over the golden adornments to do their work on flesh. Those who understand this live a considerably different existence in this world than those who don’t. Verse twenty says ‘A man who has riches without understanding is like the beasts that perish.’
I am not wealthy. I am not even particularly well educated. But today I have prayed a faith filled prayer that I know God will answer abundantly; “God grant me more understanding than riches.” This prayer is already being answered because I do know Jesus has redeemed my life for now in this world and for forever in the next one. I am wealthy. I am rich. I will now determine myself to gain understanding and thus leave behind rivers of generosity and love. For me, that’s way better than leaving behind empty thirty-dollar shampoo bottles.