Serving God or serving Mammon?

Dear Diary,

Let us first read this wonderful passage by Melinda Selmys:

“Without the existence of a rich set of criteria for evaluating the application of time, money quickly becomes the lowest common denominator that defines whether or not time is being spent in a worthwhile manner. Instead of leisure time, people have “down time” or “time off,” just enough that they can rest and get back to work. Even then, leisure pursuits are required to justify themselves in monetary terms: education becomes a means of securing a better job, socialization becomes networking, the arts become a vehicle for advertising. Time at work is measured in the same terms, and people end up valuing their work not in terms of its products or its purposes, but merely in terms of the hourly wage. This causes people to willingly forgo opportunities to do things which they love and which provide them with a sense of deep satisfaction, because they would rather have a better paying position. The fact that things are beautiful, meaningful, and interesting in and of themselves ceases to be a sufficient reason for pursuing them.

It is a mistake to think of this primarily as a consequence of individual avarice. People have a deep, ingrained impulse to work to serve the common good, and they will naturally seek validation for their work through practices of cultural valuation. It is very difficult to feel justified in pursuing ends which society does not explicitly value. In a culture where the value of time and the value of life are measured primarily in economic terms, people feel morally compelled to spend their time in the most efficient possible way in order to produce economic rewards. Time that does not serve the improvement of one’s “quality of life” or “standard of living” as measured in monetary terms is seen as a “waste of time,” a frivolous and probably slothful luxury. As a result, men and women in all good conscience become enslaved to boredom and tedium, their lives slowly ground up in Mammon’s golden jaw.”

– extracted from the chapter titled, Low Interest, pages 78 and 79, from the book, Slave of Two Masters

This is particularly pertinent in prosperous Singapore where even young kids in elementary school know that the reason for their education is “to be able to get a good job”. I must say that this book is one refreshing read because it points out the fact that we can only ultimately trust in God to provide and should not trust in money. For the average Christian steeped in consumerism, it is a difficult truth to swallow.

I decided to blog about this to remind myself of how I unknowingly let myself serve Mammon instead of trusting in God for my provision.

Earlier this year, after quitting my previous job at the end of last year, I was sleeping 12 hours a day and suffering from low-grade anxiety all through Christmas and New Year. The reason for that? I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough to live on. I was so nervous and depressed that I missed my period and that has not happened in years.

I am thankful that God has proven Himself faithful and has all these while provided me with sufficient income to support a comfortable life. Looking back, I am reminded of how God tells us not to worry and look to at the birds of the air and how He takes care of them. Here’s the exact passage:

25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?

28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

– Matthew 6:25-34 (New King James Version)

But I had been blinded by the people around me and their negativity that I let the world rather than the word of God frame my mind.

I find that it seems inevitable for us Singaporeans to measure everything in terms of money because that was what made the nation prosperous in the first place – a hard-nosed, no nonsense approach to nation building focused on job creation and foreign investment. That’s great really, but it seems to have bred in us a healthy love for money.

When I read Mother Teresa’s biography, I was struck by how one of the vows that the nuns under her charge had to take was a vow of poverty. And look at how influential her ministry was. God truly provided for her.

Now of course parents need to provide for their children, and adults for their elderly parents. That is only what is right. But generally, do we spend too much on things we do not need? On vacations that might only bring us temporary joy? I don’t know and I certainly do not have the answers to that. All I can do is to evaluate the choices I make in my day-to-day life and live the best I know how. I want to live a life not dictated by money but one that is meaningful and whole.

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