Have you ever bought a new iPhone and find yourself buying the latest Apple Watch and Airpods Pro? Have you noticed a bag that your neighbor has and start feeling like yours is not good enough? We seem to succumb to that urge to have more and better things, and the good news is, not all of it is necessarily bad.
A study reported that money can buy happiness when what we spend on matches our personality1. For instance, an introvert may feel happy when buying a book – and reading becomes an experience that brings joy. So why all the bad press with acquiring things?
It is when we start to be consumed with always wanting more and discontentment, instead of gratitude and joy (like feeling that we are not complete without Apple Watch series 6!, that’s me after coming across a promotion for the watch, now my fitbit looks bleh 🤨). And when coveting what someone has changes our relationship with that person (perhaps, all of a sudden we start noticing what else our neighbor has rather than how our neighbor is).
Not coveting is the tenth commandment, and one that dealt purely with the heart. Coveting is more than wishing you had something, but letting that desire govern your thoughts and guide your actions2.
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”Exodus 20:17 (KJV)
The other desire similar to covetousness is holding back our giving. And we may think no one can fault us – after all, who knows we had intended to give? But God truly knows the human heart.
I know that God knew because I had put off a giving project last Christmas to this year’s Lunar New Year. The lunar new year is coming and this time I wasn’t delayed due to the lack of supplies, but instead was hesitating to give. I am on extended unpaid leave this season, should I still be coming up with giving projects to bless the neighborhood? (update: We did Christmas coasters to give away a few years ago, and this year, we gave mask holder with 3 disposable masks & a Chinese New Year blessing card included ❤)
And on the day that the hesitation was real and I wanted to cancel this giving project, this verse ‘popped out’ in my daily bible reading.
Do not hold back offerings from your granaries or your vatsExodus 22:29 (NIV)
More Joy, Less Wanting
- Guarding against wanting
It is hard to be in this world and not want, but we can shield ourselves to some extent. Like running away from temptations 😎
- Replace activities that feed that covetousness with others that bring real joy – I sometimes scroll property listing, think of what I am lacking and try to find the cheapest deals in town. No wonder I haven’t learnt drawing & hand-lettering.
- Avoid places (physical or online malls) that scream we need more stuff
- Make a decision on who you are – We can decide on what we value and come up with some principles to guide our purchasing decisions. For instance, mine is to save enough for retirement and kiddo’s education, but not to accumulate wealth. I don’t feel (so) bad about myself when I see my peers having more, because that’s not my value.
When we obsess over something, we will not be able to give our full attention to other matters. In the same way, the bible warns us that desires and greed are like a form of idolatry.
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.Colossians 3:5 (NIV)
When we keep desiring things we don’t have, we cannot keep focused on God. Similarly, we may miss appreciating all the things we have, which if we give some thought to, could be all that we need! ❤
Guarding the Heart
Exodus 20, 22 Journaling Prompt
Are there (more than fleeting) moments of wanting more that you feel have made you unhappy?
What is one way that you can give?
God, some days I feel this inadequacy, like I need more and better stuff to be happy or worthy. I know that this is not healthy for me because my less generous/ petty self tends to show up when I think this way. Guard & guide my heart.
Books on Contentment
When it feels like we don’t know how to be contented, we may need to learn from a book 😊
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1 Sandra C. Matz, Joe J. Gladstone, and David Stillwell (2016). Money Buys Happiness When Spending
Fits Our Personality. Psychological Science DOI: 10.1177/0956797616635200
2 Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling. “Best of Daily Reflections: The Tenth Commandment: Don’t Covet” Theology of Work. https://www.theologyofwork.org/the-high-calling/daily-reflection/tenth-commandment-dont-covet. Accessed 27 Jan 2021