March 8, 2022

How Do I Know When Less Is More?

A man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses.  Luke 12:15, HJS

How much is enough?  Have you ever pondered the question in relationship to your own lifestyle?  When John D. Rockefeller was asked how much money it would take to be satisfied, he replied, “Just a little bit more!”

“It is not the rich man only who is under the dominion of things,” wrote George MacDonald, the man who greatly influenced C. S. Lewis. “They too,” he contended, “are slaves who having no money are unhappy from it.”

But back to my original question, “How much do you really need to be satisfied?”  Has the media convinced us in brilliant color that we must have far more than we actually need to be satisfied?  And, of course, we could never be really happy unless our insatiable appetite for things is fully satisfied!

One of the most challenging books I have ever read is Richard Foster’s Freedom of Simplicity.  In this thought-provoking confrontation with materialism Foster begins the first chapter by saying, “Contemporary culture is plagued by the passion to possess.  The unreasoned boast abounds that the good life is found in accumulation–that ‘more is better.’  Indeed, we often accept this notion without question, with the result that the lust for affluence in contemporary society has become psychotic:  it has completely lost touch with reality.”

In the last two decades a great deal of my time has been spent in third world cultures, where people have so little compared with the affluent life in the West; and I have become convinced that many people today are possessed by “things” as perhaps no other generation in history.  The more complex life becomes the more convinced we are that we actually need more to be happy; and having obtained what we think we need, we are soon unhappy because a new model, with more bells and a whistle, has come out, making ours obsolete.  We have forgotten the simple admonition of Jesus Christ, “A man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses” (Luke 12:15).  Another translation puts it: “Watch out!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

I know one thing from my limited experience.  It takes far less than we think to discover happiness when our happiness comes from within, and we break the stranglehold that things have on our life today.  After Admiral Richard Byrd lived in the Arctic all by himself for months, he wrote these words in his journal: “I am learning…that a man can live profoundly without masses of things.”

Alexander Solzhenitsyn discovered the same thing.  In one of his books he tells about being thrown into a Soviet prison and, systematically, everything he held dear to his heart was taken from him–his books, his home, his friends, and his freedom–almost everything but his very life.  Then Solzhenitsyn said that a man is never stronger than when he has nothing but the treasures which are within his heart.

Both Mark and Luke tell about a young man who one day struggled with this issue of how much is enough, when he came to Jesus Christ and asked, “Good master, what must I do to inherit the kingdom of God?”  Jesus immediately stripped away any misconceptions about adding “faith” as an ornament to his already opulent life as He said, “Go, sell what you have, give to the poor, and come be My follower.”  Tough advice!  It is still true!


Resource reading: Luke 12:15-34.