By John Ballinger

November 9, 2015

A few months ago I read an article on the vagabond life. It explained how people are freeing their lives of excess “stuff” and enjoying a life of traveling, seeing and doing the things they always dreamed of. One man told of selling everything he had except what would fit in a backpack and he hiked across the country. When he was about to make a second, even longer journey, he decided that he needed to get rid of a few more items to travel even lighter. I was intrigued by this approach to life and thought maybe I could get rid of a few things.


Here is my confession: I am somewhat of a packrat. Being a packrat can be fine when you have the room and are able to keep track of things but when you come to that day like we just did when you are about to move your stuff to another location, there is a price to pay. There is an emotion versus logic price. As I sit surrounded by boxes of stuff, I start to wonder just how much is needed. A quick look reveals I have too many books (a guilty pleasure I find echoed by every pastor I talk to), too many office supplies (why do I have four boxes of paperclips, something I rarely use?), and many, many memory trinkets from my life of 58 years.


What is too much? What is not enough? How much stuff does one person actually need to live a life of happiness? These big questions are answered by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being” (Matthew 6:19-21, MSG).


As I look around the room, I see plenty of stuff that could be eaten by moths or rusted or be stolen and I think about how much is necessary. Is it really necessary that I keep yellowed newspaper articles of past 4-H successes? Souvenirs from long-ago vacations? Pictures of classmates I barely knew and haven’t spoken to since graduation?


The big question Jesus was posing to his people that day and to us still today is how much stuff can we have in our lives before it begins to get in the way of living for Him? What is getting in your way of living for Jesus? Are the memories you are hanging onto from the stuff that surrounds you preventing you from living for today? Are there things in your life that are getting in the way of seeing your already present “treasures in heaven”?


As a pastor, I have been with dozens of families over the years as we prepare a funeral service. It is rare anyone ever mentions how many things a person accumulated over the years. Oh, occasionally you’ll hear that they were avid collectors of toy tractors or trinkets from vacation but not the daily stuff that we so often stuff in a closet for a someday that never arrives. These conversations always involve the treasures of heaven, the important things in life, when a family talks about a person’s influence on them, how the person tackled the big issues of life, and how the person made those around them better people because of how they were treated.


I often ponder Matthew 6 and came up with my own list of how we should define the “treasures in heaven.” What counts? First and foremost should be our relationship with God. This should be number one on our list of treasures. Next on our list should be the relationships we have with those around us. Like it or not, these are the people whom God put in our lives to share our joys and heartaches. Sometimes it is a stretch to see them as treasures but they are here for some reason in our lives. After those two, the list of treasures gets pretty slim.


What do we need in our lives other than God and others? Are a certain number of clothes necessary? Do we really need that trophy we won in high school? How much stuff does it take to bring us happiness—if in fact, it ever can? Knowing in a short time I will be unpacking all the stuff I just packed up my guess is more stuff will be tossed—but for now, I think I’ll go sort another box and try to remember what is really important.

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