Are you driven by God’s presence or His presents?

The pandemic may have provided a good opportunity for Christians to deeply examine their relationship with material wealth

The changes taking place in the world should lead us to ask, “What do I want more than anything else? While the Covid-19 pandemic has disorganised the world as we knew it, it may also be providing Christians with an opportunity to examine whether they are motivated by God’s presence or His presents.

In one of His teachings, Jesus warned that no one can serve two masters. “… for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon,” He said in Matthew 6:24.

The apostle Peter’s response to Simon the sorcerer’s offer of money in exchange for the ability to use the Holy Spirit (Acts 8) made me realise there is something about the love of money and the things it makes available that runs counter to the principles of the kingdom of God. “Peter answered: Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you” (Acts 8:20-22).

The thinking that God can be used as a tool for trade in whatever form should be a cause for caution. The problem is not money, but rather the attitude towards money, which actually reveals one’s attitude towards God. “Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptised…” (Acts 8:13). Simon was likely among those who had the apostles Peter and John lay hands on him to receive the Holy Spirit, yet he was still captive to sin. It is dangerous to be a Christian and still be thinking like everybody else. We need to pray that “the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints…” (Ephesians 1:18). There is need for Christians to inculcate an eternal perspective.

To be a Christian is to accept that there is a God in heaven who created human beings in His image and likeness to subdue the earth (Genesis 1:26-28), and that the relationship that was intended to enable the realisation of that mission was severed because of failing to obey the instructions as given. Jesus Christ came to restore that relationship.

There are many examples of people who failed to understand God’s position in relation to money/wealth. The book of Joshua records the story of Achan who, having seen the miraculous hand of God leading the people of Israel through the wilderness to cross the swollen Jordan River and capture the fortified city of Jericho, still thought about acting in a way that could insure the future he had in mind for himself.

But this was a time of war, not of seeking self-security. Achan must not have trusted God to be able to provide such valuables as he saw in Jericho. That led to his losing not just what he had gained illegally but also his own life, his family and all his possessions. Might the thinking of those taking advantage of the pandemic be similar to Achan’s?

In 2 Kings there is a story about Gehazi, a prophet in training who had no doubt about God’s power. But greed led him to desire what belonged to someone else. That hunger led to his lying to Elisha, his mentor, who told him in no uncertain terms that God’s gift of healing was not for trade. Gehazi ended up paying a high price for his greed. To be a Christian and get involved in dubious money deals can attract that very thing one wanted to avoid.

King Ahab’s greed led to covetousness. He used his political power to eliminate Naboth so he could take ownership of the latter’s plot of land (1 Kings 21:1-29). That action led not only to his death but that of his sons – all 70 of them (2 Kings 10:1-17). Think again when trying to buy your neighbour out of his inheritance just because you are financially able to do so.

Ananias and his wife Sapphira were part of the early church. But they did not know or appreciate the power of the Holy Spirit when they choose to lie about the amount of money they had collected from the sale of their property. They learnt the hard way – through instant death – that the test of whether God can be trusted means He is either in charge or He is not (Acts 5:3-4). You cannot name Christ as Lord and continue to be Lord of your own life.

In living out the mission God has assigned each one of us, the issue of money and material wealth must be clearly thought through. First, set your priorities. Jesus Christ taught that to get life priorities right one must determine to pursue the kingdom of God and His righteousness first (Matthew 6:33). That is not an easy matter because normal human beings tend to pursue what they can see, touch, taste and possess. It is not natural to pursue One who is invisible but that is what Christians are called to do.

Secondly, avoid keeping company with greedy people. It is easy to use the cover of generally accepted norms in a community. The desire to ascend to positions of power so as to make some adjustments for self-gain may seem innocent. The reason to avoid such company is that the greedy person has a different destination from that of the Christian. Ephesians 5:5 says: “For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”

It should be a matter of concern when one who knows what the grace of God is becomes fixated on the same things that interest those who do not know God’s grace.

Lastly, understand the relationship between your treasure and your heart. Jesus Christ made it clear that the heart follows the treasure. When considering what your treasure is, A.W. Tozer said it is important to ask yourself some questions: What do you value most? What would you most hate to lose? What do your thoughts turn to most frequently when you are free to think of whatever you will? What affords you the greatest pleasure?

Jesus’ teaching that you cannot serve both God and money should be taken seriously. When the love of money, fame and wealth takes hold of one’s life, that person’s desire for money will eventually take precedence over their love for God. When a Christian starts to become fixated by what money can buy, he becomes increasingly devoted to it, which leads to an increasing contempt for God.

While the shackles of poverty are horrible, the desire to be free outside of a relationship with God can be far worse. When wealth is given by God, it becomes a source of joy and greater increase. The Creator of the universe cannot fail to know how to take care of you and that is why our attitude towards money should be aligned to our knowledge of God – God is honoured when we surrender our faith and fears to Him and allow Him to act. So, does your attitude towards money reveal your desire for God’s presents or God’s presence?

Rebecca Ng’ang’a (PhD) is a lecturer at Daystar University.