Last year, my wife and I decided to up the ante on our two sons’ allowance as well as the responsibilities required of them for these additional funds. When we explained the new plan, their eyes went wide and grins erupted as visions of video games, bags of Sour Patch Kids candy, and visits to their favorite bookstore danced in their heads. However, when we listed their chores and the numerous line items that were now their obligation, their faces fell. We provide food and shelter, clothes, and essential school supplies. Beyond that, it’s on them. If they want candy at the movie, the latest Nikes, or a birthday gift for a friend, they have to lay down the cash.
With this adjustment, our boys now think more holistically and strategically about what they want and what they value. I’m thankful because this new structure gives me a window into each boy’s heart. I catch glimpses of their wrestling over what they truly desire and how they see the world; I also observe their creativity and resourcefulness. And watching them has confirmed what I already believed—that money (and all our various kinds of resources) provides each of us with trustworthy insight into ourselves. The way we use what’s available to us indicates at least something about our true passions, persistent hopes, entrenched beliefs, and view of God.
At the onset of His ministry, Jesus announced the seismic moment inaugurated by His arrival: “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Immediately, the Lord went in search of friends who would follow Him on this new venture. Walking the shores of the Sea of Galilee, He found Simon, Andrew, James, and John busy pulling fish from the sea. Their business was likely a family enterprise, stretching back generations. As fishermen, they cared for their relatives, fed their neighbors, fueled the economy, and gathered the resources (through both bartering and selling) necessary to live and save and build a life. Their respectable vocation and the way they conducted themselves gave them their identity. However, at this juncture, Jesus had something else for them to do. He said, “Follow Me” (Mark 1:17).
The way we use what’s available to us indicates at least something about our true passions, persistent hopes, entrenched beliefs, and view of God.
So they did. Immediately, the men dropped their nets (their business, financial leverage, income and security, and social identity) in order to follow Jesus. To be clear: These fishermen abandoned their life and followed Him without coercion or manipulation, and this courageous act solidified their joyful response to His good news. Jesus preached about a new order wherein a different King ruled over the earth. As such, the only thing that made sense was to reassess life—to reevaluate the world and one’s place in it from a radical new perspective. The fundamental question for James, John, Simon, and Andrew was not how they would provide for themselves, or whether the family business would fall apart in their absence, but whether they believed God owned the world and everything in it.
Their fishing nets, then, provided a concrete expression of where the four disciples’ trust was placed. Those nets were not simply paraphernalia used on weekends but essential tools for their livelihood. Often our true loyalties, values, and vision of the world are clarified when we pay attention to how we use (or cling to, or lust after) financial resources. Greedy people use money in selfish ways. Generous people use it in openhanded ways.
This is why Jesus had so much to say about wealth. Roughly half of His parables deal, in one way or another, with our possessions. Jesus warned repeatedly of the “deceitfulness of riches,” reiterating “how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God” (Mark 4:19; Mark 10:24 KJV). Indeed, Paul pushes even further and cautions how “the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10).
Given this, perhaps we do not warn one another nearly enough about how dangerous money can be. As long as we curb greed and give a modest sum to church and charities, many of us uncritically assume it is always a virtue to make greater sums of money in as many ways as possible. When we listen to Scripture, however, a healthy wariness enters the picture. To be sure, financial resources can be used to fuel much that is good, holy, and healing in our world. However, if we are not vigilant, money can steal our heart. Rarely are we content to simply use it well. This is why Jesus insisted we cannot “serve two masters … [we] cannot serve God and wealth” (Luke 16:13).
Whether we’re treating ourselves, giving to churches and charities, or shoving cash in a mattress, every transaction allows us to evaluate our relationship with money. Very often, we’ll find ourselves worshipping at the feet of the latest financial projections or groveling in fear over what the Almighty Economy will provide for our future. And yet the economy, thankfully, is not God. There is only one, and He alone rules over all the world. Our God still invites us to lay down our nets—our bank accounts and 401ks and fears over our financial futures—and follow Him.
Illustration by Jeff Östberg