Beyond a Budget
Our family lives on a budget. My conscientious husband has crafted a category for everything and assigned it a portion of our paychecks. Every year we talk about it and tweak it, allocating a little more to groceries and a little less to eating out, or a little less to travel and a little more to church giving. We’ve bickered and compromised, but mostly agreed in this goal of living within our means.
Because of the budget, I never thought of myself as materialistic, or as one who struggles with any sin related to possessions and excess. If anything, I tend toward minimalism. Thanks to frequent military moves, I am quick to give away, sell, or throw out anything we don’t need. We drive used cars and buy furniture from Craigslist. My phone is several generations old and we don’t take extravagant vacations.
But the book of James instructs that “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (1:14–15). These strong words remind me that temptation and sin happen at the deeper heart level of desire. Materialism is often more about what I desire than what I actually own. I am easily “lured and enticed” by material things. I am so often convinced when I peer into my closet that its contents are woefully insufficient and I “need” more. I struggle to rejoice with the friend who takes frequent vacations or drives a new car off the lot. Instead of enjoying the good gift of a home, I easily focus on the perceived lack of an extra bedroom or updated décor.
My pastor pressed on this a few weeks ago when he spoke about stewardship. He said a simple way to gauge what’s capturing your affections and attention is to check your browser history. I immediately thought of all the sales I’ve browsed, all the shoes and jeans I’ve bookmarked while mentally calculating how I can manipulate the next few months of clothing money to accommodate these “needs,” and how I dismiss my mindless browsing as harmless because I technically stay within the bounds of the budget.
I don’t click “buy,” but my heart’s affections are being stirred and shaped by these material desires and the time I focus on them. Scoping out sales and making a wish list—even buying nice things—are not inherently sinful, but over time they conceived desires in my heart and birthed the idol of materialism.
I was especially susceptible in times of exhaustion, transition, or loneliness—searching for comfort and fulfillment in “stuff” instead of my Savior.
As God revealed the sin of materialism in my heart, He also kindly revealed the close companions that often accompany it:
- Greed (Matthew 23:25; Ephesians 4:17–24): materialism’s intense and selfish partner. It’s not just the sin of the miser counting coins—it can easily worm its way into my desires, generate self-focus, and wreak havoc in my life.
- Gluttony (James 5:5): when indulging greed becomes a habit.
- Discontent (Philippians 4:11–13; 1 Timothy 6:6): revealing misplaced hope. I can say, “The LORD is my Shepherd, I lack nothing” (Psalm 23:1 NIV) but do I believe it? Do I believe that if I don’t have something, it’s because the Sovereign One has decided I do not need it? Am I believing the oldest lie, that God is withholding good things from me (Genesis 3:1–7)? Instead, I should be content with what I have, because I have all I need in the riches of Christ Jesus (Phlippians 4:19).
- Envy and Covetousness (Proverbs 14:30; 1 Corinthians 13:4): desiring what is not mine. Instead of lifting my eyes to the Giver of all good things, I look around in sinful comparison and let the enemy convince me to measure my life against someone else’s. Jesus specifically instructed: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).
- Entitlement (Romans 3:23, 6:23; Luke 22:26): a disordered sense of what I deserve. When I find myself rationalizing a purchase because I feel I deserve it—even something as simple as an iced coffee on my way to the grocery store—I should pause and examine what I really mean. Often, it betrays a heart that is tallying “points” to determine what I’ve earned through hard work or sacrifice. But apart from Christ, all I deserve is death as a just penalty for my sin. And all I have in Christ is mine only because of His grace and mercy, not because I deserve it.
If materialism and its “companions” are vying for your attention and affections, name those sins and take them to Jesus. Confess, both to God and to a spouse or friend who can hold you accountable and help you place practical guardrails around your browsing, shopping, and spending. Repent to the God who has paid for your sin with the perfect blood of His Son, and who satisfies every desire, and walk in His forgiveness. Ask Him to redeem your time, money, and desires for His glory alone. Preach truth to your heart, that Jesus is better than a full closet, a fulfilled wishlist, an unlimited budget, or a Pinterest-perfect home. The material things we accumulate will fade and disappear one day, and only what’s done for Christ will last.
“Only one life, ‘twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.” –C.T. Studd
Contributors to the "Behind Closed Doors" series are sharing personal stories about sin, and the redemptive hope found in Christ within Christian community. Our mission at Well-Watered Women is to equip women with a deeper understanding and love for God's Word, and we also encourage women who are struggling to seek the help of biblical counselors and/or medical professionals. You are not alone!