Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
It is a hard thing to give up on our own desires and give ourselves willingly to God.
I have a friend with whom I regularly talk about how non-intrinsic Christian spirituality is. My friend is always looking for the angle, the payoff for why we do what we must do in order to obediently follow Jesus. For my part, I tend to think that obedience is most frequently rewarded with closeness. God calls the plays, and I execute, and because of that He rewards me with more of Himself.
But my friend is dissatisfied with this understanding. He wants his life to be better (don’t we all?). He doesn’t just want to obey for the sake of remaining in right standing with God, and he isn’t really interested in getting closer to God either. He wants to obey in only those things for which there is some tangible return.
That’s why he likes the biblical teaching on money. It’s good budgeting practice, he says, to set aside some funds for the church. It teaches me to better manage the remainder. It’s good fiscal practice, he says, and it allows me to keep some money away from the government at tax time.
My friend is economically obedient because it suits his purposes.
This is also why he likes the biblical teaching on sex. After all, you can’t risk an STD if you each only have one partner.
Here, too, I think my friend is economically obedient.
He budgets his obedience, looking for the tally at the end of the ledger. If his life is better–safer, richer, more recreational, with more free time, happier–then he is willing to obey.
To be honest, I wasn’t entirely convinced my friend was wrong until I began to think about things like justice and self-sacrifice, showing mercy, and doing good deeds in secret. These are entirely selfless acts for which there is no tangible payoff.
If you travel across the world, away from cameras and agencies, and spend months feeding starving people in a refugee camp, you would be a good imitator of Christ, but my friend would be dissatisfied.
I don’t want to paint my friend to be some lecher, but I do want to point out that only beginner spirituality is concerned with tangible benefits. It takes Christian maturity to be concerned with intangibles. This is undoubtedly what Jesus is referring to when he spoke of treasures in Heaven. I used to think that “treasures in Heaven” was a fancy way of guilt-tripping people into doing things they didn’t want to do. Now I realize that there is always some kind of payoff for our actions: we either ignore our accumulations here, or we ignore our accumulations there. Treasure here is tangible now, but lost later on. Treasure there lasts forever but begins to last now in our stories, our spiritual memories, and our relationship with God, who looks down on our good deeds and smiles.
In the introduction I spoke of my dissatisfaction with much Lenten teaching. I mentioned that it seemed like it was written in order for us to take joy in our suffering as an end unto itself. I still maintain that’s a silly attitude. But to that silliness I would add that there can, indeed, be joy in suffering. When we suffer for the sake of others, for the sake of the gospel message, or for the promise of a future reward, then our suffering does in fact produce perseverance, which in turn manufactures character, and character hope.
And hope does not disappoint us.
So let’s not be economically obedient. Let’s not get caught up in obeying God only when we fully understand how it benefits us. Rather, let’s be marked by obedience, and in those times where the payoff seems intangible, let’s celebrate in the knowledge that we’ll get what’s coming to us later on, and that will be more than enough.
This post is from Seasons of Christian Spirituality.