But I Live in The Real World

You have nothing to show for all the money you’ve earned over the past twenty years except a heavily mortgaged house; a car that you owe twenty-seven more payments on, even though it’s already showing symptoms of Fatal Transmission Disease; numerous malfunctioning appliances; huge mounds of books you never read; records you never listen to; clothes you never wear; and membership cards to health clubs you never go to; and – somewhere in the depths of your refrigerator – a year-old carton half-filled with a substance that may once have been mu-shu pork.

— Dave Barry," Dave Barry Turns 40"

To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life – that is indeed a gift from God. People who do this rarely look with sorrow on the past, for God has given them reasons for joy.

— Ecclesiastes 5:19–20 (NLT)

Books like this one often do a great disservice to readers. We authors tell you to radically alter your lifestyle. Stop depending on material possessions for your security! we shout. Trust in God instead. Then we tell you to stop hoarding and instead adopt a lifestyle of generosity. And be content, we add. Accept God’s just enough as enough, for contentment is the key to really enjoying life. Above all, we tell you to move your focus off of the world of time and place it squarely on eternity.

However, if I stop here, I haven’t done you any favors. Something is still missing from the equation. Talking about focusing on the eternal is great and wonderful and all of that, but, you and I still live in the world of time. We need to know what all of this will look like in the real world. How do our lives need to change to put this into practice?

If I don’t answer that question, this book will most likely lead to greater frustration and guilt rather than genuine freedom. Yet, by exploring the answer I also risk steering you onto a path that isn’t any better than the lifestyle of consumption most of us are already trapped in. When discussions of simplifying our lifestyles, especially our financial lifestyles, turn to practical lists of “do this” and “don’t do that,” we risk turning this entire enterprise into mechanical legalism. You can do everything I mention here – and the list is far from all-inclusive – and still miss the point of this book.

The Bible says everything that does not come from faith is sin (Rom. 14:23). That means you can live a good life and be the nicest guy the world has ever known, but if you don’t live by faith in the God of the universe, your good deeds don’t mean a thing. The same is especially true here. You can get your financial house in order, but if everything you do doesn’t begin with a faith relationship with God and a lifestyle of trusting in Him at every moment of every day, your efforts are for naught.

The goal of bringing order to the life you live in the material world goes back to what we really want out of life. Your life and mine can be used by God to touch and change generations. Our lives can matter when they are spent on that which lasts. That is why we need to bring order to our checkbooks and the growing pile of stuff filling our pantries, closets, attics, and garages. We still have to live in this world of time, which means we will still have to pay water bills and electric bills and all those other bills we would rather live without. But by making some basic changes in our daily lives, we can keep the demands of the physical world from blocking what we really want to do in this life.

With this in mind, we now proceed cautiously. Again, none of what follows are meant to be taken as rules carved in stone. Nor should these insights be seen as a standard of spirituality, as though by clearing out closets for the poor, you are somehow more spiritual than the person who doesn’t.