Why our possessions shouldn’t determine our enjoyment in life

Certain questions tend to arise after returning from a short-term mission trip to an impoverished area or after hearing a missionary serving in such a locale talk about the destitute conditions in which local Christians live: “Do I need to downgrade my lifestyle and live with less? Is it wrong for me to enjoy so much when they enjoy so little?” A Christian can become paralyzed with indecision or guilt when encountering other brothers and sisters in Christ with significantly less of this world’s goods.

At times, a gut check like this may reveal the sin of consumerism, and therefore, action should be taken. (For guidance determining the extent of consumerism in your life, please see John Piper’s “Ask Pastor John.”) On the other hand, the guilt trip may be self-imposed and along with the uncertainty, a larger issue may be revealed—an incorrect perspective on what you own. The manner in which one views possessions significantly shapes his or her concept of enjoyment and how it is attained. In other words, numerous Christians in the West wrongly equate the depth of enjoyment with certain means of enjoyment—what I own or am doing determines how much satisfaction I have.

Many Christians think what they are doing, what they have, and where they live determine their capacity to be satisfied. But we all have the same intrinsic capacity to experience an equal depth of enjoyment as God intended regardless of income level, geography, activity, or possessions. Our focus for enjoyment should be informed by our common design and set on God and his creation. These means of enjoyment are accessible to all and lead to deep enjoyment in this life.

One designer, one type of soul

The foundation of biblical anthropology is God created us “in His image” (Genesis 1:27). Our design is based upon a higher design. Enjoyment is defined by what he enjoys—what he calls “good.” Seeing all have been made in his image, all have inherited the same abilities of the soul and the same capacity to utilize those abilities. Among our souls’ “faculties” are ones that give us the tools to take in our experiences, analyze them (actively or passively), and emote accordingly, says Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland. The Fall crippled this process. The Cross redeems it, progressively.

The soul is the place where the body’s interactions with the physical world (including people) are given a qualitative assessment of enjoyment (pleasurable worth). The soul determines the degree to which an activity, event, or conversation enriches one’s life.

And when one’s soul is enlarged (Psa. 119:32) or expanded, as J.I. Packer put it, there is “a renewed sense of the momentousness of being alive, the sheer bigness and awesomeness of being a human being alive in God’s world with light, with grace, with wisdom, with responsibility, with biblical truth.”

Created in God’s image communicates an equity of momentous joy. It is found in the enjoyment of the Divine and his handiwork based on not who we are or where we reside or what we possess, but it is based on the status of the soul in each man and woman with him.

Universal means to enjoyment

Seeing we should not define enjoyment based upon activities, possessions, money, or types of people, we must identify realities that are universal to all. The first reality may be somewhat surprising: work. There is a depth of enjoyment connected to work (Eccl. 5:18). The connection between enjoyment and work is bound up in the design of our beings. We were created to work (Gen. 1:28). Our efforts to please God by “subdu[ing] the earth”—to take raw materials or data or information and create a process, a work, a structure, an object, or provide food—is an enjoyable endeavor. Our souls were created to delight in the accomplishment of such tasks.

Another reality accessible to all for meaningful enjoyment is nature. Nature continually declares God’s glory (Psa. 19:1-6), his “eternal power and divine nature” (Rom. 1:20). Observing God’s nature can be considerably enjoyable. For some, there is endless delight in watching two kittens play. For others, the eyes can never seem to take in the complete awe of celestial wonders like the Crab Nebula. While many people are overwhelmed with the beauty of the Grand Canyon. Or the meadow, the secluded creek, or the waterfall provide an entrée into the serene for a number of people. Various aspects of enjoyment are experienced by being in nature.

The greatest earthly enjoyment is connecting with people in relationships. Family is the first social circle we encounter on this earth and the profound enjoyment of being in a healthy, functioning family is undeniable. We were also created to unite with other people in ways that surpass even familial bonds (Prov. 18:24). With certain friends, it is possible to enjoy an unconditional love present in every season of life (Prov. 17:17). David and Jonathan exemplified this type of soul-satisfying friendship (I Sam. 18:1-4). Of course, the greatest depths of enjoyment experienced in a friendship or relationship are those enjoyed by a husband and wife (Gen. 2:24). The two sexes are built to complement each other in the richest, most significant way possible of any earthly relationship.

But the enjoyment experienced in a healthy, biblical marriage is a shadow of the deepest enjoyment of any form known to mankind. The relationship bringing the richest joy to the human soul is the one between God and his children. Nothing can compare with the enjoyment one’s soul is flooded with when in the presence of the triune God communing with him in humble adoration.

I would lovingly contend we express hollow pity when we learn of or see fellow Christians in dire economic situations and presume their enjoyments in life are less than ours. I would also challenge our thinking when we believe we must sell a majority of our possessions due to self-imposed guilt—guilt brought on by comparison and equating enjoyment with incorrect means or geography. In God’s economy, the “haves” and “have nots” are on equal ground. Both can be recipients of the good gifts that “com[e] down from the Father of lights.”