Money isn’t Real

One of my common refrains goes something like this: “Money isn’t real! It’s all made up and imaginary!”

In point of fact, this is true to an extent. The United States and most other nations abandoned the gold standard over the course of the 20th century, severing money from any sort of physical or material value. With the advent of the computer age, even coins and paper money are becoming obsolete. Money, for all intents and purposes, is a fantasy that floats around inside of electronic brains.

Practically, however, I recognize that money holds very real power. Humans everywhere spend their lives in pursuit of making enough money just to survive. Some few manage to hold onto enough to “thrive.” A very select few are so enormously wealthy, and control so many other forms of power, that money quite literally becomes value-less to them. Whereas I might do any number of things if offered a million dollars, someone like Warren Buffett is actively working to give billions away.

Money isn’t real. Joseph’s brothers had no money for food, and yet they were fed. No amount of money could have elevated Joseph from a slave’s jail cell to the highest position in the land, second only to Pharaoh, and yet it happened. Only God could have orchestrated and carried out such a crazy scheme, dependent on dreams and seemingly chance encounters.

Money isn’t real. The Psalmist reminds us that the wicked will wither like grass, and those who pursue ill-gotten gains will be cut off. Even better, the Psalmist reminds us that prosperity and abundance actually belong to the Lord.

Money isn’t real. Paul, in the letter to the Corinthians, asks us to examine the seeds we are planting. Flesh and blood and things that die (yes, even computers and financial records that can be destroyed) will only ever yield crops that are destined to die as well. When we put our faith and trust in the powers and authorities of this world and plant their seeds, then we will only ever grow crops that look and act like the powers and authorities of this world. Paul reminds us that we bear the image of the eternal, imperishable heavenly person, Jesus.

Money isn’t real. In the Gospel text, Jesus implores us to treat one another with kindness, even to give away money for free, to lend it without expecting any return. Jesus, to whom prosperity and abundance belong, implores us to give away our power. The omnipotent God and creator of the universe asks us to stop putting our faith in lesser things, and promises that we will enjoy abundance if we do.

I have a fun little investment app called “Acorns” on my phone. The idea is that if I plant little financial acorns now, they will over time grow up into big financial oak trees. The math works. The brilliant economists and business people who run this app will most likely deliver. If I plant my dollars right, and continue to care for them over the next thirty, forty, or fifty years, I will likely be a millionaire. Friends, as someone who hustles to make rent each month, that sounds so very lovely. All of the storm and stress surrounding my finances would be gone, and I would be free to spend my time and energy doing the things I love, planting the seeds I want to plant.

A few months ago, I convinced a dear friend and housemate to quit her job and to trust that our little community could support her and her teenage son as she spends time making beautiful things. The math doesn’t make sense. Our community, on paper, is incapable of sustaining this for even a short term. We prayed together and did tons of minimal discernment, and then she quit her job.

Money isn’t real. The power money holds over us is fleeting and fickle. The money in my Acorns account may one day be a tall tree, but the truth is that most acorns just get eaten by squirrels, and most oaks get chopped down by enterprising lumberjacks or annoyed home owners.

It makes no sense, but our community’s income has only grown over the last few months. On paper, the math still doesn’t work out, and yet somehow all of the bills continue to get paid. I have less stress around my finances today than I did three months ago. If we continue with this strategy, we will likely never be millionaires, but I have faith that we will reap a crop of beauty, one that does not get eaten or chopped down.

What seeds are you planting? Are they real?

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