If you are a typical, suburban American, you ride a wooden horse on the "consumer carousel." And on this economic joy-ride, there is a place where we grip the pole with our left hand and reach out with our right to grasp a brass ring. Then, as our painted horse proceeds in a lazy circle to the accompaniment of festive music, we get another chance to grab another ring. And on this particular ride, the rings get bigger and better with each pass.
On our first circuit we sign a lease on a modest apartment. The carousel slowly turns and with great excitement we return to the ring post and hook a starter home. On the next pass, we hope to grasp a bigger house in a better location.
On round one we dine at McDonalds and Dairy Queen. But as the carousel completes another revolution, we upgrade to Red Lobster and Olive Garden. On the next round we reach for a yet bigger and better brass ring, hoping to dine at exclusive restaurants with story-book names, opulent décor and white-capped chefs.
On our first pass we secure a used car. On the next round we get something "more reliable." Another pass or two and we are reaching for that car or truck (or tank) of our dreams.
Life on the consumer carousel is all about upgrading. Each circuitous pass provides fresh opportunity to secure a bigger and/or better replacement of what we already have. Bigger and better shelter, higher quality food, more expensive clothes, better transportation, entertainment, appliances, furnishings, vacations, and on and on it goes.
Economic conditions among suburbanites in this country vary considerably. But we all have a horse on this ride. Admit it, there is something right now that you are hoping to replace with something more costly in the near future.
The true danger
It is no crime to occupy a seat on this ride, but it is dangerous. The acute peril lies in the ease with which we are mesmerized by the ride. The festive music and bright lights, the dancing reflections off the mirrored ceiling and side panels, the thrill of the recurring opportunity to grab another ring, all combine to make the consumer carousel bigger than life. This revolving joy-ride has a powerful capacity to blind us to the realities beyond the merry-go-round.
Like the piercing blast of a warning siren, Jesus of Nazareth raises his voice and alerts us to life beyond the carousel. "Be on your guard against all covetousness," he warns, "for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15). In other words, do not fixate on ring-grasping because material possessions have nothing to do with real life. Possessions do not secure healthy relationships with God or people. They cannot put peace in your heart or secure eternal satisfaction. Material wealth does not deliver life.
To the contrary, a materialistic orientation can distract one from the pursuit of true life, creating anxiety and distorting reality. So Jesus warns: "Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing" (Luke 12:22-23). In other words, if you are anxious even about material necessities--food, clothing, rent, mortgage--you are not seeing life for what it really is. It is small to be anxious about such things; in fact, it is idolatrous. "No servant can serve two masters," Jesus warns, "for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money" (Luke 16:13).
The antidote for fixation on the consumer carousel is not necessarily to sell your possessions and join a commune. The antidote is to love God supremely. By fixating our affections on the one who can truly satisfy our souls with abundant life (John 10:10b), we are liberated from the anxieties that accompany material orientation and set free to seek God. "And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek God's kingdom and these things will be added to you" (Luke 12:31). Focus your attention on the pursuit of God and you can trust that he will not leave you materially hopeless in the process.
What then is the kingdom-seeker to do with material wealth? For starters, money is to be enjoyed as a gift from God (1 Timothy 6:17). But the joy comes not merely in consuming wealth, but far more by investing it in eternity. By giving money away in Jesus' name, we may secure a "treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys" (Luke 12:33).
So we can worship money or we can see it as a temporary stewardship that proves our fittedness for eternal responsibility in the kingdom we are seeking (Luke 16:9-12). Those who genuinely honor Jesus by being "generous and ready to share" their wealth are "storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life" (1 Timothy 6:19).
Is life found in material possessions or is it found in God? How you ride the consumer carousel indicates what you really believe. "For," as Jesus put it, "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Luke 12:34).