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Have we not all at some point envied wealthy persons, their lives or possessions? I know I have. Everyone desires a comfortable life, and the more comfort always seems the better.
Now it doesn’t take a change in status to be comfortable. People who, in the eyes of the government, live at the poverty level can and do live comfortably because how one manages their income matters greatly. Unfortunately, poverty stigmatizes people as lacking restraint, but that’s not necessarily true.
The bottom line about true wealth and poverty has nothing to do with dollars and cents. Instead, it has everything to do with inner happiness.
Humans have a tendency to romanticize wealth. And let’s be clear: there is nothing wrong with being rich. The scripture nowhere condemns it. Everyone has a responsibility to work and wealth is a possibility for all.
I must be careful here lest I paint a stereotype about wealthy people; and I do not wish to spurn them or their wealth. But I do intend to express how often erroneous is our conjecture about riches and rich people.
If only at the nether reaches of our minds, we sometimes think people with lots of money…
- Need nothing
- Experience no hardship
- Possess the power to do as they please
- Deserve recognition and honor
- Know more than less wealthy individuals
- Are people of integrity
That is how television often portrays the wealthy—right before you see that they deal with the same life issues common folk deal with. And you notice how their wealth and power influences their choices and decisions, not unlike how poverty affects the choices and decisions of others. The test of struggle is to survive its dearth; however, the test of prosperity is to survive its flood.
America has increasingly become a society of people chasing after riches. But many people are only discovering disappointment when they find them. It’s not because they don’t enjoy the many ways money makes their lives easier; instead, it’s because they realize how it makes their lives harder.
I can never escape Asaph on this topic. He paints a lucid picture of impious wealthy people who do not realize the toll they’ve allowed their wealth to take on their hearts.
“For they seem to live carefree lives, free of suffering; their bodies are strong and healthy. They don’t know trouble as we do; they are not plagued with problems as the rest of us are. They’ve got pearls of pride strung around their necks; they clothe their bodies with violence. They have so much more than enough. Their eyes bulge because they are so fat with possessions. They have more than their hearts could have ever imagined. There is nothing sacred, and no one is safe. Vicious sarcasm drips from their lips; they bully and threaten to crush their enemies. They even mock God as if He were not above; their arrogant tongues boast throughout the earth; they feel invincible” (Psalm 73:4-9, VOICE).
Asaph describes people who having trusted their wealth don’t notice the side effects of doing so. They never realized how their privilege allowed all their desires and inhibitions to surface and take control of their lives. (Again, I do not generalize.)
What we often don’t see with these folk are the effects of vice on their hearts. Plastered smiles and a pompous glow only go so far before the pain of inner distress and sadness causes you to buckle.
You may have heard the stories of those who evangelize or make prayer visits to astute communities; they sound much like the stories told of those on the other side of the tracks, sometimes worse. We don’t readily assume that wealthy people are hungry, violently abused, bound in addiction, drowning in debt, or suicidal, yet many live this way behind closed doors.
Sometimes it’s real tough for these people to find freedom because they can get buried beneath the trappings of their lifestyle. Issues of pride, image, reputation, dignity, etc., keep their problems shut out of view and keep them away from help, which only allows trouble and vice to run rampant.
Folk with lesser wealth often have less of their life invested in their reputation to allow such a thing to threaten their well-being.
Perhaps too some wealthy people don’t know how to call for help. They’ve always been in a position of control and security, the ones making decisions and helping everyone else never expecting that they would ever need rescuing. That role reversal must surely be difficult.
All Things are Possible
After the rich young ruler walked away from Jesus, the Lord twice exclaims to the disciples how difficult it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. It doesn’t mean that they won’t or that it’s impossible; if you will, this was Jesus telling them, “I’m just saying…”
He’s really pointing to those weeds he speaks of in his parable of the sower. They represent all the fineries, gaieties, and pleasures of life but leave one bereft of spiritual wealth, stymied in his spiritual efforts and bankrupt in the life to come.
But a powerful truth he speaks next—“With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27). For all of us the leap from folly to faith is impossible without God. But hopefully you didn’t miss what was so plain to Jesus and remarkable that we don’t see: just how burdensome wealth can be on the soul, the one place that never factors into our dreams of being rich.
Yet God, he says, can give even the wealthy the grace to make the leap into kingdom life.
I trust that you pray for the lost. The next time you do, say a prayer for those who are wealthy. Pray that they be good managers, even stewards, of their wealth. Pray that God would rebuke the Evil One who desires to drag their souls to hell. Pray that they will know the rich love of Jesus, that God would dispel all religious exoticism and foolish revelry so they would know Truth.
God loves the wealthy.
Other reads: 2014 Gates Annual Letter; Why Do the Wicked Prosper and The Perils of Covetousness