Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Why does money disappear?

Today's Old Testament reading is as timely today as it was some 2500 years ago when the prophet Haggai proclaimed it:
Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways.You have planted much, but have harvested little. [...] You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.
from Haggai 1:5-6
Do you ever feel like that? I certainly do. We get to the end of the month and I wonder how we managed to spend everything. It's a good thing we have payroll deductions, or we probably wouldn't be saving or giving much.

So what is Haggai talking about? Is his advice -- or rather, the advice that the Lord spoke through Haggai -- relevant to us today? Judge for yourself.
You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?" declares the Lord Almighty. "Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house.
Haggai 1:9
Apparently, these people were neglecting the Lord's temple, and as a result he cut their agricultural productivity. So that's one reason that money seems to disappear -- when we neglect the things of God.

Of course that's not the whole story; even those who give generously sometimes feel like money seems to just disappear. One reason is suggested by something my friend Alex says (by the way I hesitate to say "financial difficulties" because of this). A pastor at his old church used to tell people:
You say you have financial troubles? Visit the Philippines; there you will see people trying to survive on what they find in the trash dump. After that I'm not sure you will still say you have financial problems.
Some of us (myself included) have very high expectations for material prosperity. Would it be too harsh to say that our perspective is a little out of kilter considering the crushing poverty that most of the world lives in?

One more thing occurs to me, and that's the power of false gods in our lives. If money just seems to disappear, and especially if I feel anxious about having enough, this could be a sign that money has too much power in my life -- that it's a false god, or an idol, in my life.

And if that's the case, I know of only one way to break its power: to repudiate it by acting in faith. Of course we have to pray, too, but the thing to do is to give some away. By giving money away (even if I also get a tax deduction), I declare that I have more than I need (which is certainly true). I exercise power over money and thereby show that money does not have power over me. I topple the idol and turn in faith to God, from whom all blessings actually flow.

This isn't a mystical "give to God and he will give back to you" -- it's more like "act with a right perspective on money, and some sanity will return to you." Which even an unbelieving psychologist will acknowledge is true.

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