I was speaking with a younger adult recently who was facing some career choices. On one hand is the track that the person had been on for approximately one year with an employer that offered job stability, opportunities to advance, and full benefits including an opportunity to retire with significant pension benefits before they turned 50. However, the job is dangerous, brings no joy, and has already impacted negatively this person’s mental health. On the other hand is an opportunity that pays roughly the same right now in a safe environment that fits nicely with this person’s passions. However, it is a small employer with less stability and the benefits, if any, will certainly pale in comparison to the current employer. It was striking to me that such a major decision would have the choices so clearly defined – material comfort or personal joy.
For many different reasons, people will often make decisions based upon the perceived benefit of material comfort. Frequently, we do that because we have formed a direct link between having material comfort and our personal joy. What is seldom clear until later on is that we failed to understand the relationship between the two. More often than not, when we make material comfort the primary factor for picking our path, we find that it requires more hours working, in more stressful environments, and ultimately less opportunity for personal joy. We may wind up with a larger house in a nicer neighborhood with nicer toys like new boats and cars and big screen tv’s, and we may have more money to take exotic vacations, but we are held captive by a career choice that can be all-consuming. We may have things, but ultimately even the most important personal relationships can suffer, because a choice to pursue material comfort places material things higher than personal relationships.
In three of the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – the story of Jesus and the rich young ruler is captured. The young man, claiming that he has kept God’s commandments, asks Jesus what more he must do to inherit the kingdom of heaven. Jesus replies that he needs to sell all that he has, give it to the poor, and then come and follow Him. Once again, the choice is between material comfort and personal joy. The encounter ends with the rich young ruler going away sad, because he was unwilling to let go of the material things.
Given the choice between wealthy and miserable or poor and joyful, I’ll take poverty. But the tragedy of the mindset of believing that happiness lies in pursuing material gain, is that the decision to pursue personal joy does not automatically condemn a person to a life of material poverty. Freed from the “golden handcuffs” of life, we may actually be more productive as we do the things that we enjoy. We will also likely find that there is nothing on Earth that can compare to joy of storing up treasures in heaven. Or, as Jesus put it, “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all of these things will be added to you.”
Peace and blessings – Pastor Aaron