Sunday, March 1, 2015

More Material Wealth leads to Less Reliance on Religion

"Faith Versus Finance: Does affluence affect spirituality?" by Julian Archer (2015-03-01, AdventistWorld.org)

Seesaws, or teeter-totters, are common in playgrounds around the world. The name “seesaw” is a direct Anglicization of the French word ci-├ža, meaning literally, “this-that.” The seesaw is an “either/or,” a“this or that,” mechanical device. You can have only one side at the top at any given time; never both.Is that how it is with faith and finance? Can we have only faith or finance, never both? Or is it only great faith and great finance that tend to seesaw?

What I’ve Learned in the Playground “Down Under” -
According to the latest reports, my home country of Australia is one of the most affluent nations on earth.The 2013 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report shows that Australian adults have the second-highest wealth level of any country on the planet (second only to Switzerland), and that our median wealth level per adult is the highest on the planet, more than double Switzerland’s. This means that we’re not only extremely wealthy (even though we may not always feel it), but our wealth is also more evenly distributed than in many other nations. As a Christian who spent many years trying to maintain a strong relationship with God while my income was high enough for me to live self-sufficiently. I must ask the question”What impact does affluence have on spirituality, including my own?” Does it lead us nearer to God, to a greater faith? Or does it turn our eyes from Him? Or perhaps finances are completely unrelated to faith?

Searching for the Answer -
In 2009 a Gallup poll reported on their surveys conducted in 114 countries. One of the questions the Gallup organization asked was “Is religion an important part of your daily life?” Gallup also researched the per-capita income levels for each country and then made correlations between the two. The data made it clear that the see-saw effect is in full swing. The higher the per-capita income of a nation, the lower the role of religion in daily life,and vice versa. Let’s zoom in on some of the nations at the top and bottom of the“faith versus finance” seesaw. The accompanying table is based on data from both the Gallup poll and the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report. The data clearly show a great divide—in both the importance of religion and levels of wealth—between the world’s richest (less religious) and poorest (more religious) nations. It could be argued that the reason for the high wealth ranking of these`“Top 10” wealthiest nations shown in the table is that they originally based their societies and business practices on Christian principles, and God blessed them. Times are changing, however. The seesaw has tilted, and affluence is toppling both religion and spirituality. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The fact is, the moment that financial stability is assured, spiritual bankruptcy is also assured.” Gandhi seems to be reflecting Jesus’ words: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25). I know from my personal experience that when a person is financially blessed they’re in the most spiritually dangerous stage of their life. The higher my income went, the less I felt my need for God. My income taxed my spirituality.

Living the Dream?
As I run Faith Versus Finance seminars, I see that most affluent Christians, in their deepest hearts, really do want a vibrant, life-changing relationship with God. But they’re frustrated. They feel as if they’re being forced to live a life focused on earthly priorities when they know that true satisfaction and fulfillment come only from eternal things. I can hear their cries because I spent years “living the dream” but aching for a deeper relationship with God. I finally realized that God’s mate-rial blessings had become a curse in my spiritual life. It’s not that God’s blessings are curses, but we often use them in such a way that they become curses. When we allow God’s material blessings to fill our hearts, we can’t open our heart’s door to Jesus. And that’s a curse—an eternal curse. The Bible is full of examples in which the mistreatment of God’s blessings led to curses. In Deuteronomy 6, Moses tells the children of Israel that they’re about to enter a“land flowing with milk and honey”(verse 3). But then he adds the clincher: “When you have eaten and are full—then beware, lest you forget the Lord” (verses 11, 12). It’s a powerful reminder that a full stomach can make us very sleepy

Seesaw Snapshot -
So what does this seesaw look like in the day-to-day life of a comfortable Christian? Let’s look at three areas:Construction: When I “build bigger barns” and store up my treasures hereon earth, it distracts me from eternal riches. I start to worry about them, and I invest increasing amounts of time and energy into protecting and multiplying the blessings instead of trusting completely in Him. My finances rise, but my faith falls; and I often don’t even realize it (see Rev. 3:17).
Time: The first indicator of spiritual apathy is the crippling and cropping of my time with God. This usually occurs during periods of increased time pressures because of financial, personal, entertainment, or other priorities. The problem could last just a few mornings, or perhaps even many years. When I neglect to spend quality time praying and studying the Scriptures, my relationship with Christ weakens.
Heart: Whenever I fill my heart with the gifts instead of the Giver, my faith falls. When Christ knocks on the door of my material-blessings-filled heart (verse 20), the sound of His knocking is muffled. And even when I do hear it, I struggle to climb over all my material blessings to reach out and open the door.
Ellen White referred to this crowded-heart syndrome when she wrote, “The heavenly Guest is standing at your door, while you are piling up obstructions to bar His entrance. Jesus is knocking through the prosperity He gives you. He loads you with blessings to test your fidelity, that they may flow out from you to others. Will you permit your selfishness to triumph? Will you squander God’s talents, and lose your soul through idolatrous love of the blessings He has given?” (Ellen G. White, in Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Nov. 2, 1886). This is very challenging territory,but it begs the question Does our faith always need to decrease as our affluence rises? Is the faith-versus-finance seesaw an unchangeable, universal principle?

Breaking the Seesaw -
God offers a cure for every person who realizes that their affluent life-style is damaging their spiritual life. It’s a heart attack! Not a cardiac arrest,but a total spiritual heart transplant.In Ezekiel 36:26 God tells us that He wants to give us a new heart, a loving heart of flesh, to replace our materialistic heart of stone. We must be converted again. We can be active church members and financial supporters of God’s work but still contract spiritual heart disease. We need a total heart transplant. Instead of faith versus finance, it can and should be faith and finance. Or even better, faith regardless of finance.May we be true to God in all things, including our material blessings.

Country: Mean Adult Wealth (US$,000) / % Answered “NO” to “Is religion an important part of your daily life?
Switzerland: 513 / 57%
Australia: 403 / 67%
Norway: 380 / 78%
Luxembourg: 315 / 64%
USA: 301 / 36%
Sweden: 299 / 88%
France: 296 / 74%
Singapore: 282 / 53%
Belgium: 256 / 68%
Denmark: 255 / 83%
THE GREAT DIVIDE
Thailand: 8 / 2%
India: 5 / 9%
Haiti: 4 / 8%
Pakistan: 4 / 4%
Kenya: 3 / 3%
Cambodia: 3 / 3%
Nepal: 2 / 5%

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