By Dr. Barry Thornton
New homes grew from an average of 1,660 square feet in 1974 to 2,400 square feet in 2004, according to Grant McCracken. Houses have gotten bigger while the average family size has gotten smaller. And yet, in spite of these facts, our hunger for more stuff has grown out of control. Finding a sense of security in things has become a national pastime. One person has said that we as Americans suffer from “affluenza” and “credititis”!
To accommodate our insatiable hunger for more stuff, personal storage facilities are flourishing. As one of the fastest growing businesses in the United States, 40,000 facilities now provide 1.875 billion square feet of personal storage space. With 1 in 11 households owning self-storage space, this is an increase of 75 percent since 1995. And the irony underlying this whole picture is the fact that storage lockers are overflowing with things that no one is using anymore with the faint hope that some day they will be dragged out of the locker and reused or repurposed.
Guilty as charged! With our most recent move, my wife and I found things we hadn’t used for 20 years. My garage, sadly, would make any picker proud. But the question surfaces from the inner recesses of my heart: “What has a collection of stuff done to enhance my witness for Christ?” Absolutely nothing. And it begs the question: “Does my penchant toward collecting things illustrate myself as a Christ follower?” Maybe, just maybe, it does not reveal the character of Christ but a character flaw. Did I not, at one point in my life, decide to follow one who didn’t even have a place to lay his head?
You’ve heard people say, “I can’t see the forest for the trees.” Is it possible that we can’t see Jesus because of all the things we have or desire? Simply put, maybe our security and sense of pride revolves around the materialistic idols we have acquired. When this happens, our focus on the temporary dwarfs our ability to accentuate the eternal. And it’s quite possible that our credibility is compromised when witnessing to others because what we are is often incongruent to what we say and who God is.
Clearing the clutter materially and spiritually is a formula for improved stewardship in our lives. It may also enhance our witness as we reflect more of the simplicity we see in Christ and biblical teaching. Ultimately, clearing the clutter is a three-step process which will yield a residual benefit for kingdom life and practice:
An honest inventory of our motives is the first step to clearing the clutter. Jesus warned in Matthew 6:19-21: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (English Standard Version).
If we’re not careful, we may find that our hearts have been neatly stored away with our treasures following obediently behind. This definitive statement by Jesus leaves us little room to justify our selfish tendencies. The rich young ruler ultimately “went away sad” because he couldn’t yield his possessions for the sake of others. In his assessment of the cost of following Christ, he just couldn’t yield control of his possessions and surrender, by faith, his trust in the ultimate provider who would provide his needs along life’s journey.
Yielding control is tough for most people. Surrendering control is one element of the assessment process on our way to clearing the clutter.
The second step to clearing the clutter is divesting the notion that things can ultimately make us happy or secure. There comes a time in our lives when we have to give up everything for the sake of the kingdom, in the process knowing that we possess something far greater.
In Matthew 13:44-46 Jesus showed us that when we find something of overwhelming value, it trumps anything else we may possess; we find ourselves willing to clear the clutter for the possession of something of utmost value. The man who bought the field assessed the field’s value and was willing to divest everything to buy it so that he could have the hidden treasure. The merchant, too, found himself willing to divest everything he had for the sake of possession of the fine pearl. These men were willing to divest everything to possess something of far greater value.
On the other hand, Jesus told the sad story of a man who was unwilling to divest his wealth for the sake of others. Jesus assigned him the name fool. His contemplation of building bigger storage barns was a part of a mirage that fools a lot of people: the false security of wealth. Embracing the clutter of things is no guarantee of long-lasting security because there is something worth far more if we are willing to divest our power, rights, or possessions. This kind of faith attracts others to our Savior too. Embracing false security repels those seeking someone to believe in.
After we assess and divest, we suddenly find the joy of understanding that things are already God’s and we are simply given a stewardship role with them. We are then ready to invest.
In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus told the parable of the talents and illustrated that hoarding must be shunned for the sake of kingdom investment. Hoarding over time creates clutter, and clutter out of control hurts our witness. God blesses us with a tangible measure of value to invest over a period of time until he returns to take account of our stewardship. Investment of what God blesses us with is compulsory, not optional. The one individual in the parable who buried his talent and then gave it back without any interest applied was rebuked over those who invested their talents. They all knew that they didn’t own the talents but were commissioned to take what they were given and invest it before the master returned.
The biggest way to clear the clutter is to ask ourselves, “Have I made wise decisions with all this stuff that will ultimately be a blessing to others? Or, when I inventory everything, am I more like the man with the one talent? Have I hidden away what I’ve been given in various forms of storage lockers?”
Most storage facilities are predictably constructed and shaped. It’s pretty easy to identify them from far away because of the way they look. In recent years, though, more and more storage facilities are being constructed within the confines of existing buildings. One such building will capture your attention very fast: a church building that has been renovated into storage lockers. Some church buildings across our nation are being repurposed to store peoples’ things they don’t use anymore.
It’s ironic that most of these buildings were purchased from churches that closed their doors for the last time as places where individuals discovered, developed, and demonstrated their faith, only to end up storing stuff that has been discarded as unused and purposeless. Cluttered lives needing a fresh new perspective on life are living now possibly disenfranchised from their lifeline of purpose in a place set aside for the gospel. Now these are places of storage where clutter can be compartmentalized and kept as a testimony to our mistaken belief that somehow the things we hold on to will bring us security and identity.
Can’t see Jesus because of the things? Maybe it’s time to take an honest look at ourselves by a truthful assessment of the importance of things in our lives, the divesting of power, rights, and possessions, and the real investment of what we have, what we are, and what we hope to be in light of biblical stewardship. I’m convinced that if we do, along the way we’ll be motivated to not only clear out our garages and storage units, but we just might find ourselves clearing out the clutter that keeps us from being all we can be in him, for him, and for others.
Dr. Barry Thornton is the Evangelist/Executive Director for the Salt River Christian Men’s Fellowship, a cooperative that plants and sustains churches in Kentucky.