Recently, I found myself browsing in the outdoor and automotive sections at Target. (You fellas know that no date night is complete without a trip to Target.) I happen to love these sections of the store. New accessories for automobiles like extra USB ports for the iPhone, a variety of air fresheners, and cleverly-packaged jumper cables always seem to grab at me from the sales rack. “Buy me,” they plead. But the garden section is where the good stuff is. Polished bronze solar lights for the sidewalk in front of the house, multi-ply hoses that promise to never kink, bright green wheelbarrows with spongy tractor wheels that I might use once a year, and brand new grills begging me to garnish them with my thick, juicy steaks all vie for my attention. I feel like a judge on The Voice. And I want it all! So much so that I pitifully ask my wife which accessories we can purchase like kid asking his mother for a quarter to use for the gum ball machine.
Alas, with a wounded ego I walked away empty-handed. Mom - er - my wife wasn’t amenable to purchasing any of these toys. In my dejection, and out of nowhere, the passage of Scripture I had read just that morning ran across my mind. It’s Deuteronomy 17:14-20. Moses is giving his final instructions to the Israelites before they enter the Promised Land after having to wait for so many years. And it’s in this part that he makes a provision for Israel to appoint their own king if they so desire. But there were a few conditions. First, God chose the king. Second, the king must be a Hebrew. And third, this king must copy the entire law into his own book and read it every single day of his life.
Why? Because God was forming a godly people, so they must have a godly king. It starts at the top. This says a lot about the nature of real, sustained growth. The king was to meditate on the law of God, drinking it in deeply every day. He was to be immersed in God’s commands. He was to learn to think like God by giving himself to God’s word every day. This is the way the mind is renewed, new affections are created, and godly behaviors are formed. Back in Deuteronomy 6:7-9, God commanded every Israelite household to teach these commands to their children, to intentionally foster conversation around his commands throughout each day, and to bind his commands to their hands, their foreheads, and doorposts. Clearly, God knew the kind of radical devotion it would take to replace old Egyptian ways of thinking with new thoughts, new appetites, and new actions.
But immersion works both ways. It stands to reason that if immersion in God’s word leads to godly living, then immersion in the world leads to worldly living. When our lives are percolating in a culture that is controlled by consumeristic tendencies, we will become more and more discontented. No matter how much we claim to love Jesus, our lives won’t say, “Jesus is Lord,” but “Jesus isn’t enough.”
I began to think about my trip down the aisles of Target. I began to think about how I was trying to find a way to buy a bunch of stuff that I didn’t even need. Why do I need a new hose when I have three at home? I know why. Because they are new. I remember the subtle release of adrenaline that I felt when I laid eyes on that glimmering new grill, not to mention that shockingly low price tag that swung back and forth like a hypnotist’s watch. I remember the momentary glee that washed over me as I stood there in that trance. And I remember Becky graciously bursting my materialistic bubble and the resulting hangover of dejection for the next several minutes.
As I thought about all this, it hit me. I am becoming like the world. My affections for the inanimate are constantly being reinforced and stirred by our “consumerized” society - a society that is busy each day planting its values in my thinking. (This, of course, is mostly imperceivable, like a computer application that continues to run in the background, eating up memory and hindering performance, long after I thought I shut it down.) My affections are being formed by my society because I have unwittingly allowed it to nail its values on my doorposts, to bind them to my wrists and my forehead.
I’m being melodramatic, or am I? Consider how often you notice people’s newly acquired possessions. How did you know her shoes were brand new? It’s not like you’ve ever inventoried her closet. You know because you always notice what people have without even realizing it. Why? Because you’ve been taught by our society. How often do you surf Amazon’s site - or that of your favorite retailer? How often do you scan merchandise on eBay or Craig’s List? How many emails do you receive a day from retails stores marketing their products to you - mailing lists to which you subscribed? How robust is your Pinterest wish list? Do you shop when you’re depressed or let down? Does spending money immediately put you in a good mood - even if it means more indebtedness?
Now consider all the stealth consumeristic signals that pound your mind every second of every day. Consider how many of your favorite websites force you to watch 15-second commercials before you can navigate to another page. Have you noticed all the ads in the margins of Facebook or in your Twitter newsfeed - ads streamlined just for you?
I want to be clear. None of these things are inherently wrong. These are not the words of a legalistic preacher who’s picking a fight with fun. Nor am I waging a war against trendiness (though I am doing so with the motive that drives the need for it). I just want to challenge you to be aware of how your mind is unnoticeably being subverted every second of every day by these signals. And like it or not, it’s changing the way we think - not only about things, but about ourselves. New metrics of self-worth are being imparted to us by our very non-Christian culture every day. Things are what make up our identities. They steer our longings. They meet our needs. (And it’s getting just a bit out of hand, in my opinion, when an informal qualification to work in or plant a church is whether or not the applicant is “cool enough.” No, I am not making this up.)
I don't believe that we, as American followers of Jesus, can any longer tolerate compartmentalized discipleship in which we pop in and out of impersonal church gatherings, subscribe to five-minute-a-day online bible reading plans (plans in which we always seem to fall behind), yet still naively immerse ourselves in the spirit of this age.1 Our prayer lives can no longer be giving God an occasional high-five. Jesus told us to pick up our crosses and follow him for a reason.2 And that reason wasn’t to ruin our lives! He calls us to radical discipleship because cursory involvement in his movement would be pointless. Fruitless. But Jesus loves you and he wants to change you, not leave you “churched up” yet longing for grills, hoses, USB ports, and air fresheners. Or whatever it is that revs your engine.
Discontentment gives birth to more discontentment (often more depraved discontentment). But Jesus wants us to long for him the most because only he satisfies. And he satisfies us with himself. Not with stuff.
1 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2
2 Matthew 16:24