By Mark A. Taylor
“You don’t own your possessions. Your possessions own you.”
Not true for you, you say? Well, try this experiment.
Think about your time: For one month keep a running diary of every minute you spend fueling your car, washing your car, or taking your car to the garage. Then add time spent cleaning the house, performing maintenance at the house, decorating, replacing broken appliances, or doing yard work
To this log, add any time you’ve spent purchasing, repairing, or maintaining other favorite possessions: electronics, computers, smartphones, and the like. And then add time spent shopping for clothes and keeping them clean.
After you’ve calculated time, think about money. Include your insurance payments for house and cars, service agreements, phone bills, and other costs to pay for the decorating, maintaining, and landscaping listed above. Then add in the mortgage or rent and the car payments as well as what you’ve spent for buying, laundering, or dry-cleaning your clothes.
What percentage of your waking hours is devoted to maintaining your stuff or buying more of it?
What percentage of your monthly income is spent paying for what you own or paying someone else to keep it in shape?
Most Americans will report a very large figure for both calculations.
I thought about this again last week as my wife and I spent several hours shopping, arranging for delivery, and going through the activation process for two new smartphones. Our current phones were already smarter than we are, but we wanted what’s new. So we committed a good deal of our time and money to having them.
In the same week, my Bible study group considered those challenging passages telling us that the first Christians “had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need” (Acts 2:44, 45). “No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had” (4:32).
Our group acknowledged this pattern may have been unique to the situation of the new Jewish converts huddled in Jerusalem. And we assured ourselves that nothing in the Bible forbids individual ownership. In fact, some see in the tenth Commandment a principle protecting our right to have and to hold (Exodus 20:17). But we left our session acknowledging that the example here is too compelling to ignore or explain away.
In fact, finding the right balance between accumulating for myself and giving to others has been a personal challenge in my mind for several decades. (A visit to India more than 30 years ago clobbered me with the reality that my middle-class American lifestyle must be labeled “affluent” compared with how most in the world live.)
In the most-listened-to episode of our monthly Beyond the Standard podcast, E. G. “Jay” Link cut through the confusion on this topic. “You can’t resolve the big issues of life simply by resolving to spend less,” he said. “The basic issue is: I own nothing. God owns everything. Christians acknowledge that, but we act as if we own what we own. We are simply couriers for the good that God wants to give. I am merely a steward, responsible to use what I have for his purposes.”
Such a mind-set does more than move me away from subservience to my possessions. It frees me to offer them all for God to use. And it compels me to think twice before deciding to spend any of God’s money on anything.
Do I own my possessions? Or do my possessions own me? The fact is that “yes” is the wrong answer to either question.