“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” –Matt. 25:23
I just had an epiphany: I am an obsessive collector. Furthermore, my tendency to collect things is irrational and completely over the top. Whenever I become particularly fond of certain artists, authors, musicians, etc., I want to assemble quintessential libraries of their works. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on collections of CDs, books and DVDs—not just on the items themselves but also on cases and all the accoutrements. It’s a whole industry.
Being a “collector” implies a systematic pursuit of whole sets of things. I wasn’t satisfied to have a good supply of my favorite movies and music albums. I had to have everything I had ever been exposed to and liked. When I like a music group, I want to have every album they ever released. The rare stuff is even more important. There is an esoteric prestige to owning albums that most people have never heard of.
I’m not saying that it’s necessarily materialistic to have a collection or two. But I realized that, after a certain point, substantial investments of time and money on my part should cause me to examine my priorities. At least that’s how I felt when I really thought about this today. I considered everything I’ve invested, much of it on things I no longer even have, and what eternal good I might have done with the money (and time). Then I thought about the broader application of time and money in general. What am I buying with my temporal and financial currency? When I’m 80 years old, how am I going to feel about what I spent my youth on?
I remember working with a waitress named Sandy. Her daughter, April, would visit the restaurant where we worked, often with her young son in tow. Brendan was a strong-minded, energetic toddler who was always on the move, exploring the space inside the dining room. And he was a collector. If you didn’t watch him for a while, you’d finally glance down and see him clutching half a dozen pens and various other trinkets he’d found during his travels. It was quite funny. His little hands would get so full of stuff that he could barely hold on to it all. Meanwhile, he would still be toddling about looking for more. When his mother would finally take his trinkets away from him, he would let out a lusty howl.
Brendan didn’t use his hands for much at his age, but his preoccupation was more than an amusing incongruity. If April hadn’t imposed parental control, his collecting might have eventually slowed the development of his manual dexterity. You can’t use hands that are full of things. Have you ever seen those world-record holders with three-foot-long fingernails? They paint them up and act as though they have attained some monumental achievement. I think those people are stark-raving mad. Why in the world would someone forfeit the use of her hands for some obscure title? I’ve always thought it would be funny to walk up to one of those people and snap a fingernail off just for a joke.
So where am I going with all this? Brendan’s hands are a simple metaphor for all our time, energy, talents and material resources. If we keep them occupied with trifles, we deny ourselves what is noble. Some readers may expect me to launch into an indictment of the Western world’s profligate ways. But I’m taking a proactive tack here. We possess so much more than we realize. The time and money we fritter away offhandedly is pure gold! I want to get into the habit of spending what I have in a more focused, intentional way. It’s not that I have to do something for God and humanity; it’s that I can. And they’re worth it.
I don’t know exactly what this is going to look like. It’s not as if I’m not already doing things for God and for others. I just want to do more. There are a thousand worthwhile charities and volunteer organizations. I belong to a church that has a zillion outreach programs that I have begun getting involved with. It’s mostly rewarding stuff, too.
Furthermore, there are almost unlimited ways to serve God and bless humanity. People who have artistic ability can do ministry without making huge sacrifices. A talented guitarist who is enjoying a deepening relationship with God steps back and decides he is going to play primarily worship music. He’s very good, and his music gives others great pleasure and helps them to get closer to God themselves. A writer decides that he wants to spend his gift glorifying God. He does it because God has opened his eyes to how wonderful He is, and how tragic it is that so many people don’t even know the One who made them. The writer’s passion shifts from the world to the Creator. Now he is writing about God and the beauty of the Creation and thoroughly enjoying himself. A person who is outgoing and funny agrees to come to church an hour early to greet people in the foyer of his church as they come in for the Sunday service. He discovers that he enjoys watching people respond positively to a burst of friendliness from a complete stranger. None of these ministries has to be an intense, full-time pursuit. Most of us probably aren’t cut out for full-bore ministry anyway.
I’ve decided to intentionally examine the things I pursue, being careful not to get on some kind of duty treadmill. I’ve seen that movie before, and I always leave in the middle of it. This time I want to stay and enjoy it. And now I have the task of making sure this resolution doesn’t evaporate, especially because writing an article about it could easily take the place of actually doing it. Have you ever noticed how so much of the language of Scripture emphasizes action rather than mere assent? Action requires a measure of discipline and focus. Commitment involves the loss of options. But I stand to gain, not lose. God is talking to me, and I’m grateful that I’m able to hear Him this time.
I’m on my way, Lord. Help me to stay focused…