Living Above Your Means
Dr. Jim Denison
A businessman left the snowy streets of Chicago for a long-needed vacation in Florida. His wife was unable to leave with him, but would join him the next day. When he arrived at their hotel he sent her a quick e-mail. However, he mistyped her address, so that his e-mail was sent instead to a grieving pastor’s wife whose husband had died just the day before.
She read his e-mail, let out a cry and fainted. Her family rushed in and found this message on her screen: “My dearest wife: have just checked in. Everything ready for your arrival tomorrow. P.S. Sure is hot down here.”
Everybody runs into surprises and worse in their relationships and family. That’s why this series on relationships is relevant for us all.
Today I want to speak to those whose relationships lack joy and peace, who are caught up in tough circumstances and are really struggling today.
And I want to talk to those whose circumstances are really positive, so that your joy and peace come from them. But if your circumstances changed, you’d be where the first group is. Both are perilous places to be.
Let’s see how to live above our means—how to find joy and peace no matter what happens around us. Who would not want these for their relationships today?
The temptation of our means
First, let’s admit how tempting it is to base our relationships and our well-being on our circumstances. The fact is, you and I are living in a time of prosperity unparalleled in human history.
According to the Census Bureau, average income, adjusted for inflation, has grown 58% since 1947, and real per capita income has grown nearly 77% in the last thirty years.
Household net worth increased another 10% in 1998; and retail sales in the first quarter grew at an annual rate of 16% this year. These are prosperous days. And technology makes it easier to own even more.
How Bill Gates says I’ll buy a suit in the near future: I’ll turn on my television, find the channel selling the suit I want, select the style, fabric, and color. Then I’ll stand in front of the television and a device will scan my body, digitize my measurements, and e-mail them to the factory. My suit will be made that night, shipped to my house the next day, and my bank account will automatically be debited.
The web site for Land’s End currently lets women select clothing and electronically model it on a three-dimensional mannequin similar to the buyer’s own body.
The Home Shopping Network receives 160,000 calls every day, with an annual sales of $1 billion.
What group would you least expect to have a web site—perhaps the Amish? Well, Amish Acres in Indiana has its own web site. Their #1 seller is shoofly pie, with orders from California to Italy.
Technology has made us more prosperous than any generation in human history. Yet, with all this material success, our families and relationships do not appear to be prospering along with our bank accounts.
The number of divorces has more than quadrupled since 1970.
For every two babies born, another baby is aborted. The number of abortions each year has nearly doubled since 1973.
Eighty percent of teenagers say they have had sex by the age of 19. Over 50% of high school seniors say they have used alcohol in the last 30 days; over 25% say they have used drugs. The number of unmarried people living together has risen 800% in the last ten years.
Clearly, our relationships need help. We must learn to live above our means—to find a way to relate to each other which transcends our circumstances, no matter what they are. God wants to help us.
Are you living above your means?
Let’s begin with a self-test. See how circumstantial your life, your family, your relationships are today.
How do you relate to things?
_____ Do I struggle to stay within my income?
_____ Would I consider a job change solely for more money?
_____ Am I a compulsive buyer?
_____ Do I try to impress people with my possessions or appearance?
_____ Do I often buy more than I can afford?
_____ Do I spend a considerable amount of my time thinking about my current and future possessions?
How do you relate to people?
_____ Can I allow an unfavorable comment about myself to stand, or do I need to straighten out the matter?
_____ Does my self-esteem depend upon my popularity?
_____ In recounting events, do I shift the story to make myself appear in a more favorable light?
_____ Do I often make excuses for my behavior?
_____ Do I measure my success at work primarily by the opinions of others?
_____ Can I accept compliments freely or do I need to shrug them off in self-conscious modesty?
How do you relate to yourself?
_____ Do I find my self-identity primarily in my work?
_____ Is my emotional happiness primarily dependent upon my circumstances?
_____ When I fail at something, do I consider myself a failure?
_____ Do I seldom feel a sense of completion and accomplishment?
_____ If my life were over today, would I feel that I have not accomplished my purpose so far on earth?
Do you rate rather high on the circumstance index? Then your relationships need the joy and peace which transcends them. Let’s find ways to experience life-transcending joy and serenity today.
You can live above your means
What is “joy”? First, let’s look at what it’s not:
A feeling. Nowhere does the Bible describe what it feels like to have God’s joy.
A circumstance. Joy is not “happiness,” which depends on “happenings.” You can have joy even in hard times.
A temporary experience. Joy transcends the moment, the feelings, the circumstances of this day. You can have joy no matter what the past has been or the future holds.