By Scott Bessenecker

Who's in Your Wallet?: Resisting Materialism

When I look at a screen these days, a bunch of ads are tapping me on the shoulder trying to get my attention. I can’t even play a game on my phone, watch a show on my laptop, or send an email without a barrage of ads whispering, “Psst, buddy. Have I got a deal for you!”

And they’re sneaky. Like they know what I’ve been talking about. The ads align with something I’ve said that week. I’ll randomly mention somebody’s smart watch dying, and soon there are ads for smart watches on everything I look at.

I mostly ignore them. I don’t remember the ad I saw an hour ago on my Yahtzee with Buddies game. But those things seep into my soul, I’m positive. What goes into my brain affects what comes out in terms of my desires. Input = output.

My desire for things I don’t have is constant. Wanting things is the background radiation of the American dream. After all, this is the land of freedom. You should be able to have anything you desire; that person, that job, that possession.

Wanting stuff you don’t need is one of the top 10 spiritual “no-no’s” (see: “You shall not covet; commandment #10”). Covet here is sometimes translated “lust after” or “desire.” The full commandment says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s” (Ex 20:17). Of course, your neighbor’s donkey is the equivalent to your roommate’s car or new outfit. Coveting is the very thing that fuels a capitalist economy. Nothing could be more economically devastating to our economy than an outbreak of widespread contentment.

You see, the economic force of this world draws money into fewer and fewer hands, while the economic force of God’s kingdom pushes money out to the margins. This world pushes people to the margins, while God's kingdom pulls marginalized people into the center. The polarities of our world and God's kingdom are reversed. When we refuse to give in to the desire for money and possessions, we short circuit the systems of this world.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t desire sufficiency. I like the proverb that says, “give me neither poverty nor riches, but only my daily bread” (Prov 30:8). But Jesus said, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Lk12:15). 

I measured once the number of times Jesus spoke out against material sin (i.e. greed) versus sexual sin. He warns against material sin five times more than sexual sin. He’s more concerned with the misuse of our coins than our loins. I’m not suggesting that we’re free to indulge in any sexual desire. I’m just saying our souls may be just as affected by the desire for money and things as they are by the desire for sex outside healthy boundaries. Both money and sex bring some sort of soul attachment into our lives. And it all starts with that subtle voice whispering, “Hey, you want this, don’t you?”

We cannot get away from advertisements enticing our souls to want things. We can fast from social media all we want (I do recommend occasional media fasts), but it will not eliminate our covetousness.

What we can do, however, is train our souls to be impervious to the ongoing tug of advertisements. We could cultivate satisfaction with sufficiency. It begins with an honest evaluation of the material things we desire: Tech toys, that new bike, clothes that project just the right image, etc. Confess to God our tendency to covet things we don’t need, then grow a spirit of gratitude for the things we do have and a willingness to loan those things out to others.

Confession, gratitude, and generosity are antidotes to materialism.


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