Trading Greed for Glory
WORDS BY JILL ATOGWE // IMAGE BY CHAR CO
I grew up watching my mother get dressed for galas and events in organza and sequins, dreaming of the day I’d get dangly earrings and shoulder pads of my own. While my friends were still asking for dolls on birthdays, I was asking for skirts and sweaters I’d torn out and saved from catalogs. I'd go on to received a Bachelors's degree in Fashion Merchandising. My first real job title was “Personal Stylist.” If you were to trace my life back to the beginning, you'd find a passion for clothing and beautiful things has been there since the start. It wasn't until I was able to spend my own money however I wanted these things I had always innocently enjoyed became a lure to sin.
When my husband and I were first married, he was in his seventh year of playing in the NFL and had spent his entire career mastering the art of stewardship - carefully balancing saving and giving. He has a true gift of generosity, and though there are many cautionary tales about professional athletes and their dangerous overspending, he spent next to nothing on his wants or needs. We had heard from books, conferences, and wise council that finances can be a roadblock for newlyweds, so we came up with a plan - whatever personal spending we desired to do needed to fit into a designated monthly budget. We came up with this number together, and, being the man that he is, my budget was nearly double his. This amount allocated per month totaled more than I’d ever spent on personal items in a year. I was overwhelmed and completely sure I was incapable of spending the funds in a four week period.
In those first few months of marriage, we moved across the country to play for a new team in a new city. I realized quickly I didn’t own anything in the new team’s colors and began gathering every burgundy colored item I could get my hands on. I also realized my inexpensive coats wouldn’t do the trick on the East Coast, and my college impulse buys wouldn't make the cut either. Before I knew it, the month wasn’t even halfway over, and I’d spent the entire amount. I didn't bat an eyelash.
I justified the holes in my wardrobe and shrugged the overindulgence off to necessity.
My failure to evaluate my spending that month led to many more just like it. Before I knew it, within the first week of every month, I had spent the entire budget on clothes and shoes. The bigger my budget became, the more I felt I “needed.” By the end of the month, I already had full carts of clothing at various online stores, just waiting for the calendar to flip to the 1st again. It was an unhealthy and all-consuming habit that hid under the radar because it wasn’t quite as shiny and didn’t seem as pressing as other areas of struggle. Greed was growing in the shadows.
To be clear, clothes are not inherently a bad thing. They are a necessity and, throughout the Bible, the descriptions of clothing are as in-depth as some of my fabric textbooks in college. Numbers describes at length the blue strings and fringed edges, the embroidering, dyeing, and weaving of textiles for the Tabernacle and King Soloman’s wardrobe rivaled the extravagance of couture fashion houses today. Dressing well is not, in itself, sinful. The Bible does, however, warn against and condemn excess, greed, poor stewardship, loving the things of this world, and love of money.
Each of us is given passions as a gift from the Lord. They are a good thing- His beautiful design (James 1:7). When we fail to surrender these passions as gifts to glorify God, they quickly become idols that glorify a created thing instead.
What started as a natural bend toward fashion became an insatiable desire for excess.
Though I had more than enough, the lurking temptation for "more" became irresistible. The antidote for greed is not merely stronger willpower but, instead, repentance and setting our desires on the Creator instead of the created. Until we're most satisfied with the things above, we will always settle for the things of this world and continue reaching for lower, lesser fruit.
In Genesis chapter 2, we see Adam and Eve created in the majestic Garden of Eden. They're surrounded by rushing rivers and lush greenery as far as the eyes can see. I imagine leopards sitting at their sides and peacocks prancing in their midst, and every animal tames under their rule. They had everything they could have dreamed of, and most importantly, they had full communion with the Lord. They were made in His image and walked in His presence. Everything was theirs aside from a single tree they were warned not to eat from. Who could be unsatisfied with such splendor as this?
Just one chapter later, Eve encounters satan in the garden and reveals a dangerous truth; she is not fully satisfied in the Lord. She tries to resist, but her weakness was no match for the crafty serpent. "So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes and the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked." (Gen. 3:6-7)
When presented with the choice between the fullness of God's presence and life in communion with Him and the mystery of "more," Eve chose more. The crafty serpent is even craftier, still presenting us with the same proposal he gave Eve: that God can't be trusted, God doesn't need to be taken seriously and that he is withholding true pleasure from us. And just like Eve, we too often follow the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and the pride of life which are not from God, but from a world which is passing away (1 John 2:16).
When sin entered the world that day in the garden, all descendants of Eve inherited her longing to fill the emptiness with a thing instead of the Creator of all things. We are born sinners. We can give Eve a shaking fist of disapproval, but we are not unlike her. We look to things to fill a void. We believe the lie that "more" and "that thing" will get us what we really want. Maybe we don't actually purchase the items but spend our energy, affections, thoughts, and days consumed in the pursuit of more. Whether it be scrolling, pinning, or adding to cart, we are missing an opportunity to fall to our knees and ask for help to love Him more. The truth is, we will never find satisfaction apart from Him, and attempting to do so will only leave us emptier still.
There is hope. When our passions become a means for us to live contrary to His Word, it’s time to repent and reexamine. Through regeneration bought for us by the blood of Christ and grace of the Lord, we are freed from the burden of sin through the indwelling Holy Spirit. We confess our temptation to store up treasures here on earth and make a mighty name for ourselves through the desperate striving for "more." We acknowledge our greed and poor stewardship and surrender them, praising the Lord for being made new. We look to the Word and find what it says about our finances and our hearts, aligning ourselves with its teaching. We are to put off our old self, which is corrupt and put on our new self created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:22-24).
No passion, interest, or natural bend should be held so tightly we fail to surrender it to the Lord.
We lay them down with the prayer in Psalm 139:23-24,
"Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!"
And as we lay down our lives, we can face the day-to-day temptations to fill our closets and carts with more and turn instead to the better thing - more of our Lord Jesus. For He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul He fills with good things (Ps. 107:9).