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.
When J. S. Bach returned from a year-long concert tour to discover that his wife and child had died, he wrote in his diary, “Dear Lord, take not my joy from me.” Imagine that—even thinking of joy at such a time. But Bach was right—the joy of the Lord is ours whatever our circumstances hold.
What joy is: “a deep state of well being which transcends circumstances.” Romans 14:17: “The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Paul said he was “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (II Cor. 6:10).
What peace is not:
The absence of conflict. This is at best a temporary state. In all of recorded history, there have been only four years in which no battle was being fought somewhere on earth.
The result of human effort. We cannot create it, though we try. So far we have devised 35 million laws to enforce the Ten Commandments, and every year we write thousands more. Yet wars rage on; depression and suicide mount yearly; tranquilizers are our country’s most-prescribed drugs.
What peace is: “a deep sense of tranquility which transcends circumstances.” Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).
Biblical joy and peace transcend circumstances. So, no matter what’s happening in your life and your relationships, you can have them today.
How to live above your means—three facts:
They are the gift of God.
Jesus: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). Joy is the “fruit” or result of his Spirit in our lives.
Isaiah 26:3: “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” Peace is the “fruit” or result of God’s Spirit in our lives as well.
So, we must settle our vertical relationship with God. As Billy Graham says, there must be peace with God before there can be the peace of God. The same is true of joy. We will only find true, lasting joy and peace in Jesus Christ.
So, are you right with him? Are you walking with him today? Close to him? Close enough to receive from his hand the joy and peace he wants you to have?
My confession is this: I have found joy and peace in my heart and soul only when I have been close to Jesus personally. Those days and weeks when my spiritual life has been a job, a chore, not a personal, living relationship, have never resulted in joy and peace in my life. Rather, they have led to frustration, stress, and a shallow soul. No circumstantial success has ever given me joy or peace in my soul. Nor will it for you.
Do you have vertical business to do with God? If you want joy and peace in your life today, you must settle your relationship with God. And then we must settle our horizontal relationships in God. We must seek and obey his will in our relationships before God can bless them with his joy and peace.
Is Jesus happy with the way you are relating to your spouse right now? Your children? Your parents? Your friends or colleagues? Would you say that joy and peace characterize your relationships?
If not, you must settle your relationships in God. Joy and peace are the result of his Spirit’s work, never a goal we can achieve without him. Do you have horizontal business with the Father this morning?
Perhaps you know something you need to do to make your relationships better in God’s eyes. According to Jesus, if your brother has something against you, you must make it right before you can bring your gift to the Father (Matthew 5:23-24). You must do what you know to do.
Perhaps you don’t know what to do to fix that which is broken. Let us help. Homeworks is all about tools to strengthen your relationships. Our family life ministry wants to help—call the church, or my office, and we’ll connect you with people and resources you need.
Don’t settle for less than joy and peace in your relationship with God, and with others. These are God’s gifts to us—don’t return them unopened.
Once a famous artists’ association announced a contest. All pictures entered in the competition were to depict “peace.” Paintings of all sorts were submitted: serene pastoral scenes, placid lakes, an intimate cottage scene, cheerful and snug before a cozy fireplace; unmarked fields of freshly fallen snow, a tranquil and windless dawn.
But the painting which won was very different from all of these. It depicted the famous and fearsome Niagara Falls. Tons of water rushed over sharp rocks, spewing foam high in to the cloudy and stormy skies. the roar of the deadly waters as they crashed hundreds of feet was almost audible. Yet, off to one side the artist painted a small bird, calmly and peacefully sitting in a tiny nest built on a slender branch overhanging the falls below.
The artist captured the peace and joy you and I can have, no matter what is roaring around us.
What will you do to open these gifts from God, today?