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Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Esau Syndrome

Last night, we bought a cow. Really. More on that later but now that I have your attention...

You probably know the story from Genesis 25:28-34. Basically, Esau comes in hungry from hunting, smells some pea soup and makes the impulsive decision to trade his entire inheritance for a worthless bowl of stew. Sound crazy (and not in a good way)? Shelly and I realized that we make similar impulsive and foolish decisions all the time when it comes to our money. Before we purchase "stuff", do we really take the time to ask ourselves if it's something we really need? Or better yet, do we take the time to ask the Lord if it's something He would have us spend our (actually His) money on? Usually no. But I wonder why not... The Word tells us in Matthew 6:25 that we should not worry about "things". The Lord knows what we need and He will provide it.

I have referenced this article previously, but there are some guidelines that John Wesley proposed when preparing to spend money that I think bears repeating as it is very convicting for me (i.e. I don't ever do this). Here is the relevant excerpt:
  1. In spending this money, am I acting like I owned it, or am I acting like the Lord’s trustee?
  2. What Scripture requires me to spend this money in this way?
  3. Can I offer up this purchase as a sacrifice to the Lord?
  4. Will God reward me for this expenditure at the resurrection of the just?
Finally, for the believer who is still perplexed, John Wesley suggested this prayer before a purchase:

“Lord, thou seest I am going to expend this sumer on that food, apparel, furniture. And thou knowest I act therein with a single eye, as a steward of thy goods, expending this portion of them thus, in pursuance of the design thou hadst in entrusting me with them. Thou knowest I do this in obedience to thy word, as thou commandest, and because thou commandest it. let this, I beseech thee, be a holy sacrifice, acceptable through Jesus Christ! And give me a witness in myself, that for this labor of love I shall have a recompence when thou rewardest every man according to his words.”
Here are two recent examples when we actually took God at His word, rejected an impulsive desire to buy stuff and trusted the Lord to provide:
  1. Baby/kid clothes -- Shelly recently felt convicted that our children did not wear enough matching outfits. I personally have not ever felt this conviction, at least not this strongly, so I can't speak to it from experience, but evidently it is accompanied by strong urges to get in the car and head to the mall. In the end, she managed to contain herself and did not go to the store and also put down the Hanna Andersson catalog. Literally within a day or two, a package arrived in the mail with a new outfit for baby, with gift receipt, and a gift card to Gymboree, from our dentist of all people. Our matching outfit dream came true.
  2. Stationary -- You may have seen folks who put cute little stick figures on the back window of their minivan to represent the various members of their family - A tall male figure with a cowboy hat is the daddy, there's a baby stick figure, a pet, etc. Well, you may not know that if you do the same thing on a blank notepad, you can inflate the price of said notepad by about 2000%. We had one of these notepads at one time, but found it misrepresented our family after baby #3. How could we live with our inadequately stick-figured notepad? So we hurriedly wasted the remainder of the previous pad in anticipation of the new one. Until we realized it was rather frivolous. The next day, what should arrive in the mail, but a brand spanking new note pad from a local realtor/neighbor. Sure, it doesn't have a cutesy stick figure of me in a superman cape with my sitck-figured brood, but a free notepad with a realtor in a Steamboat Captain's uniform (I too am lost on the meaning) is about $34 dollars cheaper.
Yes, these are little things -- but the Lord knows that He who is faithful with a little will be faithful with a lot, so it may be a small amount of money (to us) but this is a big deal to God. And lest you think the little things don't add up, last night we bought a cow (Yes, a cow. We named her Honey) and some other necessities for a family in Africa with money we've saved up over the last few weeks from not buying little things. I know a cow sounds like a weird purchase but World Vision calls a regular ol' dairy cow a "goldmine of health" for parents and children alike. They can produce 200,000 glasses of protein and calcium rich milk in their lifetime. And extra milk can be sold at the local market for extra income. If you ask me, that's a pretty good trade for a bunch of stuff.

Another way to save money is to just stay home. Also, tell the various retailers that you no longer wish to receive their lovely catalogs. It will not only reduce the urge to spend, it is a huge waste of paper. Window shopping is rarely just shopping and can lead to the often unintended consequence of buying something that you arguably don't need.

I don't know about you, but speaking for myself, I have never read the story of Jacob and Esau and seen myself in Esau's shoes. I have always seen myself as the more clever Jacob for some reason. Perhaps because I am able to cook a mean crock of chili, or maybe it was just the lesser of the two and not seeing myself as one easily duped. It wasn't until we read it in the context of making hasty, impulsive decisions for short-lived comfort in exchange for eternal reward that I saw myself in Esau.