Recently my wife and I had an interesting conversation over lunch at a local deli. We find ourselves wading through what some would call a “midlife” crisis. From the outside looking in my life appears to be at its pinnacle. Yet from time to time I find myself struggling with the blues. As we discussed the origin of our blues it occurred to me that the roots of our blues could be traced back to our success in life. Today we find ourselves living in a nice four bed-room house in a quiet neighborhood in a small town. We have four healthy daughters who are growing and thriving right before our eyes. We both have good jobs that bring satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment to our day to day lives. We have food on the table, gas in the car, wireless internet, cell-phones, and cable T.V. We have money in the bank, and rarely have to consider our checking account balance when making a purchase. In essence we are living the American dream yet struggle with the blues.
It appears that prosperity comes at a higher price that one might realize. Too often the things we own too often own us, and because our physical needs are met it opens our eyes to issues of the heart that too often we neglect. In 1943 psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote an article about his research and revealed his “hierarchy of needs.” Maslow determined from his research that as our basic needs are met, we move to higher needs. His “hierarchy of needs” were as follows: physiological needs (food and water), safety needs (job, house, security, property, and family), love and belonging needs (family, friends, intimacy), esteem needs (self-esteem, achievement, respect of others, respect by others, and confidence, and finally self-actualization (morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, and acceptance of facts). It appears at first glace Maslow was on to something. Too often when we have all we need physically we long for what we do not have. We search for love, esteem and a sense of self-actualization, but we tend to look for it in all the wrong places.
Philip Yancey in his book The Bible Jesus Read has an interesting chapter on the book of Ecclesiastes. One section in this chapter has the fitting title “The Curse of Getting What You Want”. In this chapter Yancey writes:
“It had always seemed odd to me that the modern existentialist philosophy of despair originated in one of the loveliest cities on earth, Paris, during a time of expanding wealth and opportunity. Curiously, I learned existential despair, whether in the Teacher or in Camus, tends to sprout from the soil of excess. Why?
Could it be that “excess” unmasks the soul, and reveals the emptiness of the human heart apart from a vital personal relationship with God? Jesus warned his followers of the dangers of money and excess. He pointed out with the accuracy of a lazar beam the struggle for the heart between God and money. One will master you. You chose your master.
So how does one face down the “prosperity blues?” Where do we turn to find the joy and fulfillment we long for once our stomachs are full, and our checking account balances?
In the Sermon on the Mount, I believe Jesus diagnosed our struggle pretty well when he said:
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matt 6:19-21 (NIV)
Our hearts reveal the true treasures of our lives. When we store up and seek treasures on earth we rob ourselves of the joys of heaven. Our affluence too often steals away the true meaning and purposes of our lives. Life does not consist of what we have or do, but rather life finds its meaning and purpose in our relationship with God.
The “blues” fade in the presence of thanksgiving, sacrifice, and service. Sincere worship in spirit and truth sings the “blues” away. I need to confront my “prosperity blues” by laying my crowns at the foot of the cross in the presence of the One who wore a crown of thorns for me. I must come to grips with the fact that I am “spoiled” because my life has become too much about me, and not enough about His Kingdom.
In conclusion, I need to hear afresh the words of Jesus to those who choose to be fully devoted to Him and His Kingdom:
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? Matt 16:24-26 (NIV)
Let’s face reality Jesus knows without a doubt what He is talking about and we would be wise to follow Him.