There’s a new disease in town.
Like many illnesses that have mutated from their original nasty strains, this sickness puts a 21st century spin on a centuries-old malady. Some victims contract it and are cured. Others struggle with it all their lives. Only the hyper-vigilant manage to completely avoid its destructive effects.
The disease is called Affluenza. Merriam Webster loosely defines it as “the unhealthy and unwelcome psychological and social effects of affluence.” Although the online dictionary doesn’t address the spiritual component of affluenza, it’s very real. And regardless of our bank accounts, all Christians are at risk.
The first documented case of spiritual affluenza occurred in Israel, even before the Israelites had inherited the Promised Land. On the eve of their entrance into the land “flowing with milk and honey” (an Old Testament description of wealth and prosperity), God, through Moses, warned his people:
“Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Deut. 8:11-14).
God knew the Israelites’ vulnerability to affluenza. Sadly, 21st century Christians are no different.
When money is tight or our marriage is struggling, we pray often and fervently. When we’re seeking insight into how to help our wayward children or addicted family member, we make church attendance a priority. When we’re lonely or sick, we welcome the support of God and his family.
Affluence, however, can derail healthy Christians faster than a stomach virus in a daycare. When money is plentiful and our jobs are secure, we don’t often ask God for our daily bread. When family relationships are strong and our kids are making wise life decisions, we don’t spend as much time in prayer. When we’re surrounded by friends and enjoying good health, we spend more Sundays traveling and sleeping in than going to church. Like the Israelites, we often sideline God when he blesses us.
How lame is that? God fills our lives with good things, and like spoiled, ungrateful brats, we grab the gifts and gallop off with nary a backward glance.
God saw it coming and tried to warn his people: Don’t forget me. And certainly, “don’t say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me’” (Deut. 8:16).
If you recognize some of the symptoms of spiritual affluenza, you’ve taken the first step toward healing—admitting you’re sick.
The second step is to avail yourself of the cure.
God, the Great Physician, wrote a three-part prescription on the pages of Scripture. Thankfully, there’s no expiration date on this tonic, and the refills are unlimited.
“Remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth” (Deut. 8:17).
Every day we should acknowledge that it is God who provides the opportunity, ability, and means to live the life he’s placed before us. He gives us the breath in our lungs, the strength in our bodies, and the creativity and perseverance to make a living for ourselves. Without God’s sustaining touch, every heartbeat could be our last.
“When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you” (Deu. 8:10).
We should also glorify God whenever and wherever we can for his provision. As we enjoy the blessings of food, fellowship, friends, and family, we should be quick to acknowledge the bountiful hand that provided them.
“ . . . give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the LORD?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God” (Pro. 30:8-9).
The psalmist recognized the danger that exists on both ends of the wealth spectrum. Jesus said it would be difficult for the rich (and we are all rich compared to much of the world) to admit their need for a Savior. He also acknowledged that while extreme poverty can prompt people to cry out to God as their only hope, it can also push them to commit desperate and godless crimes. The psalmist eloquently prays for a healthy balance between the two extremes. Asking God to provide our needs without giving us more than we can physically, emotionally, or spiritually handle is wise and biblical.
I don’t know if you’re struggling with spiritual affluenza. I know I sometimes do. I don’t want to be a greedy recipient of God’s goodness. Instead, I want to be a grateful one who never forgets that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (Jas. 1:17).
Now it’s your turn. Has affluence drawn you closer to or farther from the Lord? What do you do to combat it? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
Father, I don’t want to be an ungrateful recipient of your goodness. Help me recognize how everything good in my life comes from you. Let gratitude bubble up in my heart and express itself in praise and thanksgiving. Help me pursue a healthy balance between poverty and wealth and honor you in everything I do. In the strong name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.