Neo-asceticism: Why we cringe at being blessed

We tend to react or repeat things rather than respond to things. Many level headed Christians have grave concerns with the “prosperity Gospel.” This teaches that being in Jesus gets you massive Earthly blessings. Living it up is seen as being godly. This is wrong. In the last decade a “poverty gospel” developed that sees being godly as neglecting Earthly goods as a sign of contentment and holiness. This is also wrong. We need to learn how to live in contentment. This means when we have much or we have little.

What is asceticism
Asceticism is a movement throughout Christian history where people under go significant discipline or give up on the pleasurable things in life in view of trying to be godly. Some have even taken to actually beating themselves. (The cutting movement seems to have ancient ancestors.) Asceticism is taking on new forms today (hence neo-asceticism), but it is not a new movement. Here is why asceticism is problematic:

Problem #1: Things don’t control us
It is easier to blame an object than take ownership for our own responsibility. This comes up all the time in the area of technology. An object has no power over us. It is the choices we make that is at issue. I often take breaks from technology to keep me from choosing technology over more important things.

Problem #2: Collecting things is a form of worship
Solomon repeatedly said “Eat, drink, and enjoy the fruit of your labor, for this too is a gift from God.” Having things that we enjoy is truly 1) A blessing from God and 2) Enjoying Him. When Paul discusses contentment, it includes when he had much as much as when he had little. BOTH require the power of Christ, and hence the “all things” that we can do through Jesus. Giving up things can be as unholy and unspiritual as hoarding things selfishly. Saying God blessed me when we gained a good job or things are going well or we received game tickets to our favorite sports team. Life is a gift that God intends for us to enjoy.

Problem #3: Godliness trumps working out
Yes, we are to take care of ourselves. But, we are also at times called to sacrifice ourselves. We can worship the temple instead of the God of our temple. We can worship the Bible instead of the God of our Bible. We can worship worship, instead of the God of our worship. Paul warns us that we can go to far in the health craze. Being healthy and working out has value, but it’s not the most important thing. You can have a great health and body, and not be holy.

Problem #4: Works is a false gospel
The point of Jesus is we cannot earn our way to heaven and we can’t good enough. Deep down the problem with asceticism is we think that God doesn’t REALY love us. We blame other things for our lack of holiness, or worse we take the asceticism route to look better than what we are. (Ironic that giving up things or being extremely disciplined can actually be really selfish.) The point of Jesus is that he free’s us to be our best. Fear, anger, etc. is antithetical to being a Christian. Jesus us gave us his best up front. There’s nothing we can do to earn more of his love. He gave it all! So what’s the cure for neo-asceticism?

Cure #1: Learn to make wise choices
We are often the choices we make. God does give us free will. Use it. Freedom does not have be anarchy. So take responsibility for your own actions.

Cure #2: Enjoy the Earthly blessings
I love fountain pens. I collect them. Such were gifts from friends and family. I use them for work and take great pleasure in using them. This is a gift from God. I had a friend recently buy his dream car. Life is going well, he’s blessing others, generous to his church family, and he enjoyed the fruit of his labor. Enjoying life is part of worship. (When he had little he gave up what he loved because that was the wise choice.) Like a dad taking delight in giving his kids something they love, God delights in us when we enjoy the blessings he gives us. A big part of this cure: Learn to be happy for others when they’re blessed and you’re struggling.

Cure #3: Be healthy, and eat that piece of cake
The purpose of being healthy is to splurge. Sometimes it’s about sacrifice, sometimes its to party. God instructed Israel to collect money for the poor. God also instructed them to save up to party. Same God. Sacrifice and splurging are both aspects to worship and godly living. With work also comes rest. God worked. God rested.

Cure #4: Cease striving
Know that God is God, and that he deeply loves you. Stop operating out of fear and learn how deep the father’s love for us is. Jesus did the asceticism thing so we wouldn’t have to. While there are times of frugality and suffering, God also gives times of plenty and wealth. Whichever you’re in, focus on who God is and how you can bless others. If you’re trying to be a good Christian, you’re really missing the point.

The bottom line:
We too often struggle with the idea that God loves us, deeply, and significantly. We often choose to live less than comforting lives in order to be more noble or holy. We can easily blame things or other such things for lack of whatever, and family to recognize our own choices. Let’s stop operating our of fear and guilt and enjoy the life God gives. As Solomon said: Eat, drink, and enjoy the fruit of your labor, for this too is a gift from God. Cheers!

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