First world problems.
Have you ever stopped to notice the things that you worry about? If you were to make a list of the last three things you worried about, what would be on it? I ask this question because most of us live fairly insulated lives. We have a place to live. We have enough food to eat. We are not in danger of starvation or homelessness or dying from a simple infection because we can’t afford antibiotics. We are insulated from the dangers of extreme poverty that afflict about 689 million people worldwide.
The problems most of us complain about are a little less life-threatening. In fact, our problems are so minimal in comparison to the rest of the world that they have earned a strange nickname: First World problems. First World problems are inconveniences, not threats. They come from having too much of everything and not enough gratitude for anything. All of us are familiar with Third World problems: poverty, hunger, lack of adequate health care, etc. But what about First World problems?
A blog writer nicknamed Cheeky Kid collected a list of “100 Funny First World Problems.” I’m only going to read a few of these. I won’t ask you to raise your hand if you’ve ever worried or complained about any of these. But I think most of us will recognize ourselves somewhere in this list. Have you ever made any of these complaints?
- My house is such a mess! There’s stuff everywhere.
- My walk-in closet is not big enough.
- Polishing the marble in my bathroom is such a thankless job.
- There’s too much ice in my iced coffee from Starbucks.
- The portion sizes in this restaurant are too big.
- My house is so big that the wi-fi signal is weak in some of the rooms.
- There’s nothing good on TV right now.
- I can’t believe I bought a toaster with no bagel setting.
Believe me, those are only problems in the First World!
A man in the crowd of people Jesus was talking to shouts out, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me!” Interpret that. My brother is a cheat and unfair. Make him play fair. This man has a legitimate complaint, right? Families do fight over inheritances. Splitting the inheritance fairly is expected.
Rather than take sides, Jesus uses this as a teaching moment and warns the crowd about mental attitudes and life focus. The punch line: “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15)
Do we own our possessions? Or do our possessions own us? How much is enough? What does it take to make us happy and content? Just a little more.
A grandmother was serving ice cream to her young granddaughter and asked, how much do you want? The little girl thought for a second or two. Then replied, “give me too much!”
What does it take to make us happy? Just a little more.
That is why Jesus told this story about a rich man, his abundance, and his short sightedness. This is the only place that God calls anyone a fool. That is unusual, and it probably is important to pay attention. The word used here for fool means “without inner perspective.” This man failed to consider God. All he saw was himself and his abundance. There was no gratitude. There was no prayer or conversation with God. There was no thought of the poor. This story should grip us. Do we want to reach the end of our lives and discover we have been so singular and isolated in our thoughts that we left God out? And God call us a fool? This man was a First World person. He was independent and narcissistic. He was happy, content and narrow minded. He was a fool.
The fool saw his wealth as a storage problem; God saw his wealth as a mindset problem. Only in the First World do folks have to rent warehouses to store the overflow of stuff. If you have a storage problem, you might also have a mindset problem. Simplicity. Cutting down on what we have, and what we think we need. Colossians tells us to focus on “things above” not on the lesser things of materialism. That is not as easy as we might think. It takes vigilance and effort—“putting to death whatever is earthly…”. Put on Christ. Be clothed with your new self that is being renewed daily.
The second thing that made this man a fool was that he talked to himself about his money situation rather than talking to God about it. Let’s read verses 17-19 of our Bible story again: “(The rich man) thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ His focus was way too narrow. His whole purpose and passion in life was all on him.
And that brings me to the final thing that made this man a fool: he saw his wealth only as an opportunity for pleasure; God saw his wealth as an opportunity for giving. Let’s look at verses 18-21 again: “Then (the fool) said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
I cannot stress this enough: every blessing we receive from God is an opportunity for greater giving. We have an opportunity to partner with God in meeting the needs and healing the hurts of others. We have the opportunity to be the presence of Jesus in real life. And we do that by sharing with others. But we also do that by giving ourselves away.
If God gave you strength and health, use it to help those who are sick or impaired. If God gave you love, use it to help the lonely or rejected. If God gave you influence, use it to help the powerless or the oppressed. There is always some way to give to the work of the Lord.
Our readings for today take us past the shortsightedness of life on this side of heaven, and helps us see heaven—God’s kingdom—as a part of everyday life.
Lord, we are grateful to You for Your abundant blessings to us. Help us to see You, and to seek those things that please You. Thank You for this story about a man and his barn, and how he failed to see what was really important. Help us to see! Help us give past ourselves and care for others the way You do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.