13 January 2008

Put your trust where your wealth is

We all want peace of mind. I happen to think that most of the things we want are desired for the peace of mind, the inner tranquility they will provide. I can have peace because of the contents of my portfolio. I can have peace of mind because my skills and education are such that I need never worry about my future employment prospects. I can have peace because the free market is still allowed to operate -- for the most part. I can have peace of mind because my talents (or the ability to act like I have it) have brought me both wealth and fame; I'm a star. I can have peace of mind because the government is going to provide me whatever things I cannot provide myself. I can have peace of mind because I'm a billionaire.

Thomas à Kempis, a monk who had nothing -- or what we would call nothing -- has some wisdom for us.
Vain is the man who puts his trust in men or in created things.

Do not be ashamed to serve others for the love of Jesus Christ and to seem poor in this world. Do not be self-sufficient but place your trust in God. Do what lies in your power and God will aid your good will. Put no trust in your own learning nor in the cunning of any man, but rather in the grace of God Who helps the humble and humbles the proud.

If you have wealth, do not glory in it, nor in friends because they are powerful, but in God Who gives all things and Who desires above all to give Himself. Do not boast of personal stature or of physical beauty, qualities which are marred and destroyed by a little sickness. Do not take pride in your talent or ability, lest you displease God to Whom belongs all the natural gifts that you have.

Do not think yourself better than others lest, perhaps, you be accounted worse before God Who knows what is in man. Do not take pride in your good deeds, for God’s judgments differ from those of men and what pleases them often displeases Him. If there is good in you, see more good in others, so that you may remain humble. It does no harm to esteem yourself less than anyone else, but it is very harmful to think yourself better than even one. The humble live in continuous peace, while in the hearts of the proud are envy and frequent anger. -- Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Ch. 7.
The list of people and things we rely upon -- truly rely upon -- to get on in life (i.e., to have success, or inner peace -- 'shalom') is probably a long one.

In Psalm 20, David writes that "some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will remember the name of the LORD our God" (20.7). If he were writing that psalm today, he might write that "some trust in markets and some in promise-making politicians" or something like that. Brother Thomas attempts to remind us that peace (in the fullest sense of 'shalom') cannot be found in these things, even when we do make use of them, because in order to maintain the sort of peace they provide we must always be scurrying about continuing to use these things in order to maintain the sort of peace they provide. Rather trust in God above all, doing what we can, when we can, and where we can, with whatever means we have -- and even then, not for ourselves, but for others first. But trust in God above all, not in order to get what these creaturely means can provide, but because that sort of trust is consistent with taking the name of God for our own in the first place.

And that Name is the only source of the only peace that's truly possible to have -- that peace which surpasses all understanding (see Philippians 4.7).

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James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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