Traveling and learning about major spiritual battles around the world can give you new awareness of your own. One of the major battles facing people in my country is the hold of materialism. I’ve known this was true in my head, but have been able to observe it much more closely since becoming a cog in the materialistic wheel, whether cashiering and hearing one person after another saying, “Well, I just came in to get a couple of things, but…,” or sitting in the break room and hearing of coworkers taking on a second job to buy their truck. Many people have let materialism occupy a central role in their lives; their life goals are wrapped around stuff, and studies show that people consistently think having just “a little more” money would make them happier.
Because I work nearly all the time these days, my life doesn’t have much of a rhythm, but there is one weekly event that sets apart one day from the others—Sunday morning ad. There is a weekly phenomenon in stores I never noticed until it was my job. You know those little signs all over the place that tell you if you buy two of this, you’ll save thirty cents on both, or if you buy three it’s only ten dollars (and if you buy one, it’s exactly 1/3 of ten dollars, by the way)—those signs don’t get there by themselves, and they change every single week. This transformation takes place on Sunday mornings, requiring many workers to forsake the Sunday morning worship of God and replace it with a materialistic religious ceremony. I often shake my head as I put up yet another sign for something that is only a few cents off, considering how much money and paper we would save if we dispensed with these silly signs and simply let people buy what they needed when they needed it instead of persuading them to get more because it’s “on sale.” (Don’t get me wrong, I am a consistent sale shopper who waits to buy until things are marked down. It’s a great way to save some money. I’m just against the way sales master people, rather than people mastering sales.)
It’s ironic that we get set up for another week of worshiping the god of materialism on Sunday mornings, but I think it is no accident. Have you ever watched “The Story of Stuff?” It has some pretty strong things to say about our consumeristic culture. One piece of information it divulges is that after World War II when Eisenhower was president (1953-1961), the government decided that the the american economy had to produce more stuff and Americans had to be convinced to buy more stuff. In a sense, our salvation as a country would be in materialism. This idea has infiltrated our culture to an amazing extent—we don’t even realize the ways we are duped into buying more and more things we don’t really need. Terms like obsolescence and perceived obsolescence are foreign to us but impact our lives every day. We bought into the shop-more strategy to such an extent that stores had to extend their hours to keep up with demand. By the 70’s states were repealing laws that kept stores closed on Sundays, and today if there’s something in the weekly ad that you don’t want to miss you show up on Sunday before it’s sold out. Christmas has become a materialistic nightmare (I have yet to meet someone who works for my store who enjoys Christmas; they can’t wait for it to be over so they can get their lives back). If anything should clue us in to this being a spiritual issue, the fact that these days once sacred to gathering and celebrating God’s provision for us have become a battleground for our time and attention ought to do the trick. And just like archaic idols of the past, with materialism we find that something claiming to serve us has made us its slave.
Jesus spoke on the deadliness of materialism in many instances and many parables, and encouraged His followers to store up treasures that last, not to live for wealth which is “here today and gone tomorrow” (And according to the Story of Stuff, 99% of the things we buy have been trashed within 6 months of purchase). Jesus gives us the stern warning that we “cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24). We have to choose. One of the best descriptions of spiritual warfare I’ve ever heard placed it squarely in the area of choices. We live every day in the midst of a spiritual battle and every choice you make is stating your allegiance, either your allegiance to God and His kingdom or to something else. Working in a store, I have to constantly be on my guard. Will I let the voice of materialism, with all its false promises of happiness, dictate my choices? Or will I stand against the pull of culture and put my hope in God? What about you? In this very real battle, whose side are you on? Are you choosing God as your treasure? Or have you betrayed Him with a kiss—and thirty pieces of silver in your pocket?