When I was still a teenager, I remember buying books about getting rich and being successful. One of the books I read was called, Think Big and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. While this book had some good advice common to many motivational books about making big money, it did not make me rich like it was promising. No book can do that, even though there are thousands of them out there with “secrets” to financial success. Reading books about getting rich were one thing, and then joining companies to sell their cleaning or cosmetic products to get rich, was another. I joined many different retail companies, worked from home, organized home parties, went cold-calling door-to-door, attended the motivational sales meetings, tried to stay enthusiastic and recruit new salespeople. What I ended up with were boxes and boxes of and shelves of cleaning and cosmetic products, very little money, and lots of disappointment. Each time I would come away disillusioned and poorer in my pocket in spite of all my hard efforts.
In addition to writing, I have also been a salesperson all of my life and have worked for various companies, so I know a little about how selling works. I know something about investments and real estate, as well. I know that the secret to success in pyramid selling is to convince other people to sell under you so that you can start benefitting from their profits. Everyone who is trying to sell you something, knows that in order to get you to buy, they have to appeal to the most common hopes and dreams of the majority of people. Usually the spiel goes something like this:
Wouldn’t you like to have more TIME for your loved ones and friends, take that much-needed vacation to the tropics, work your own hours and write your own paycheque? Maybe you’d like to pay off your mortgage or pay off those annoying credit card bills. Wouldn’t you like to retire early and enjoy more leisure time? With working for just a couple of hours a day, all your dreams can come true.
If you’ll notice some of the spam that comes to your email, or junk mail that shows up in your mailbox, they will essentially say the same thing. Their concept or product will promise all your dreams will come true. Usually you will have to invest something to get started, and this is how THEY make their money, to regularly get you to buy their product, which you are going to try to sell to people to keep THEIR company going. It’s actually very clever, but rarely brings you the success you think it will.
Companies trying to get you to sell for them are one thing, but there is a much bigger picture that affects us all. It’s the world of consumerism and marketing. I began to understand something about it right out of high school when I went to college and studied Journalism. One of my courses was about advertising, where I learned to write copy and design ads as part of the writing field. It was my first real eye-opener in the scheme of consumerism and how it is behind the world of consumerism as we know it today. I learned that major companies were so intent on gaining the largest share of the market in their particular field that they would literally stop at nothing to get your attention and your loyalty to their product(s). I heard about “subliminal” advertising as the most clandestine and bizarre form of brainwash I had ever imagined. The thought had never crossed my mind that advertising played such a large role in people’s decisions to purchase things. I had an insiders look into how it worked psychologically on the consumer, and then I had to try and write ads that would appeal to the masses. Knowing what I did about what was behind it all, I struggled to write ads, feeling that it bordered on dishonesty and deceit. I had a small and bitter taste of the power of the pursuit of money and what people will do to get the largest share of the market. It’s all a money game.
Later on, I went even further and took a comprehensive course in marketing. I learned all about department store set-up and display. I became aware of the term “impulse” goods and “impulse” buying, and realized I was guilty of being an impulse buyer on several occasions. For example, the next time you’re waiting in line to pay for your purchases, notice the little shelves, bins or trays on one or either side of you. In a grocery store it will likely be chocolate bars, gum, cough drops, magazines, right? In a hardware store, it will be tape, small screw drivers, garbage bags, work gloves, batteries, etc. You may think they have set this up for your convenience, but more likely, they are hoping you buy things that were not on your list so that THEY make some extra money. That’s impulse buying, when you buy things you see that may be on sale, or at the checkouts that were not on your list. It’s a great way to empty your pockets while shopping in their store.
From these two very insightful courses, I had a glimpse behind the scenes and learned that companies that are successful invest a lot of thought, research, money and strategic planning in order to encourage us to buy their products and/or services. You have only to look at all the ads on almost any Internet page to see how true this is. The problem with advertising and consumerism, I found, is that it often leads to wishful thinking and discontentment when we can’t possibly make enough money to see our dreams come true. We end up striving after wind.
So, we might wonder what is wrong with wishful thinking? We must be careful what we think about because it will affect our heart, the place where the Holy Spirit dwells if we are born again by His Spirit. A passage of Scripture that has had a profound impact on me when it comes to thinking too much about money and the things of this world is the following:
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. Colossians 3:1-3
If money and the accumulation of wealth are what we are thinking about most of the time, then the Lord does not have rightful first place in our heart, does He? If we are focussed on money and material wealth, then how can we love Him and serve Him first and foremost and consider what He wants of us of utmost importance? We need to be reminded that when we belong to Jesus, we no longer belong to ourselves.
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NIV
Thinking about and trusting in money can come into the picture to either steal our hopes and dreams, or be rightfully used to help us grow in our faith and see our hopes and dreams to completion. Because I had so many different jobs when I was first starting out, and things did not work out for me financially in a way that my greater hopes and dreams (to travel and write) could come true, I began seriously searching the Bible for answers and to learn about money. This was the beginning of my understanding that as a Christian, God’s monetary system and ways of provision is so diametrically different from the world that it has been life-changing for me. In order to see money and the world monetary system for what it is, you have to step out of it and step back from it. Sometimes, the Lord will allow a dramatic experience to happen to us in order to help us realize just how far we have strayed from Him because money has got ahold of us and we have depended on our paycheque more than we have depended on Him. I’d like to share a personal story of how this happened to me.
Many years ago I was working in the government as an office worker. At the same time, I was taking night school classes and working towards receiving a Bachelor Degree in Arts. I was still single, making pretty good money, and able to pay my rent for a lovely spacious one-bedroom apartment. I had a car which I also made payments on. I even saved enough to take at least a one-week vacation to somewhere nice. Things were going along nicely, and I was looking forward to finishing my degree, when some unexpected events happened that rocked my world. My boss at work had made unwelcome gestures towards me and more than once. So one day, I could take no more, and I walked into the Human Resources Department and said I had to leave and that I had been sexually harassed for over a period of time. I left and went on sick pay, which gave me about two months of pay from the days I had accumulated at work. I was to discover over the next few months what it’s like to try and collect money when you are on sick leave and have run out of pay. I had to go on Social Assistance once my sick pay was used up, and then I would be collecting EI for about three months. Following these three months, I would be without a paycheck.
In addition to waiting for the cheques between organizations and loads of red tape (I was also applying for CPP), I was trying to deal with what had happened to me. Then I also had to make reports and see the union representative regarding the sexual harassment. Because the doctor had penned my condition as “post traumatic stress syndrome,” I had to see a counsellor and even a psychologist for help to get me through all this. Plus I had to keep in touch with my employer because they were trying to get me to come back to work as quickly as possible. At that time, my condition was fairly new to the medical profession, so no one quite understood my condition, not even the professional psychologist I had been sent to see. It was a new psychological and emotional condition that remarkably few professionals truly understood at that time.
Also within that long and difficult year where I wasn’t sleeping, eating and barely taking care of myself, a professor I knew at the university assaulted me. So I had to go through paperwork, reports and incredible emotional turmoil all over again. And if that wasn’t enough, shortly after, I was stocked by a decidedly strange man in the apartment complex where I lived. Once again, I had to fill out a police report and keep my doors locked, and make sure I never got home past dark in case he would be standing in my parking stall again, waiting for me.
Of all that had happened to me during this time, one thing stood out amongst everything else that happened. I came to the point when all the money ran out which was about nine months later from the time I first left my job. I had never been entirely out of money before, except the time when I was living with my sister and she was helping me out. But I was alone, responsible for myself and had been working for years, paying all my own bills. Now I had utterly no money and no way to pay my rent. And I wasn’t well enough to return to work quite yet. I wouldn’t be ready for at least another six months because I still wasn’t sleeping or showing any signs of improvement. I was living in a prison emotionally and had no idea how to deal with the extreme anxiety attacks I was suffering from. In fact, these would continue off and on for many years after.
So I reached an all-time low. I remember taking the bus downtown and going to a yuppie restaurant where I often went for lunch or after work with co-workers. I think I just bought a cup of coffee and sat there by myself. I couldn’t help but over-hear some of the conversations from tables nearby. They were discussing similar things like I used to when I worked; things they had bought, or places where they were going, and they did so in an excited sort of way. But I was in a different class now — unemployed, unwell, flat broke, and no place to go. I had never before realized until now how shallow I must have sounded when I was working and not a care in the world. It was then that I started to realize how shallow my heart had been, and now God was really dealing with me on a much deeper level.
I took the bus and headed towards home, but thought I’d stop along the way and go to a second-hand clothing store. While I was walking, something incredible happened. I was so desperate in my situation and wondering how I could pay my rent or even eat that I came face to face with my own heart before God. I prayed something like this, “Lord, I have no money. If this is Your will, I accept it. If you want me to lose the apartment, that’s okay. Whatever I am hanging on to, I give it to you. If I lose it all, I will still love you and serve you.” Following that prayer, I was filled with peace. For one thing, without any money, I actually had little to worry about other than wondering how I would survive in the days to come. But I realized also that thinking so much about money can be all-consuming and steal whatever chance of happiness and joy we could be experiencing instead.
Not long after that, God provided an incredible miracle. I got a phone call from Human Resources, and my assigned personnel officer asked how I was doing. I told her that I was flat broke, couldn’t pay the rent or possibly even buy groceries. She said that she was going to do something about that. By the following Monday, a full paycheque was in the mail, and they continued to pay me full time wages for an entire year. When I did go back to work (a new job in a different office with more pay), I only worked half-time for about six months and still got paid full time wages. Then I worked full time again right up until the time I got married.
God is faithful, and He does care for us more than we can begin to imagine. But I had to learn the hard way that God will not compete with anything in our lives, especially money and all it can buy. He won’t tolerate our idols. From the experience I just shared, my wishful thinking at that time went from taking for granted my job and its many benefits (and to one day be able to write and travel full time), to simply surviving from day to day. I learned to appreciate what I had, but more than this, I learned that our love for God must never become second place to our wishes and dreams.
Because what we love and it how it affects our heart and relationship to God is mentioned several times in the Bible, we’re going to devote the next chapter to it.