“Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the splendor and the majesty, for everything in the heavens and on earth belongs to you. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom, and you are exalted as head over all. Riches and honor come from you, and you are the ruler of everything. Power and might are in your hand, and it is in your hand to make great and to give strength to all. Now therefore, our God, we give you thanks and praise your glorious name. But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? For everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your own hand.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
We all want control. We’re willing to fight pretty hard over it too. So many of the cultural fights and political fights we have in this country (and around the world, for that matter), come down to a matter of control. We want to feel like we are the master of our lives. We want to be the master of as many people around us as we can too. What we see here, though, is a reminder that there is another perspective on control that we would be wise to let inform our thinking a whole lot more than we often do. Let’s talk about what it is and how it can help us be rich.
For all of David’s faults – and there were many of them – when he was on with God, he was really on. Toward the end of his life, David was actively looking for ways he could bring more honor and glory to God. Having achieved everything he could have ever imagined wanting, he wanted to find a way to give God something. Thinking firmly in terms that made sense in his cultural context, David decided that the best way to do this would be to build God a house.
After pitching the idea to his court prophet, Nathan, the prophet told him to go and do whatever his heart desired. God, however, had other ideas. For starters, it was not at all clear that God Himself even wanted a house (that is, a temple). When you really stop and take in the whole story, the temple was all David’s idea, not God’s. He ultimately gave permission for its being built, but this was more of a concession than something He really desired or even thought would be particularly good for the people.
The other problem was that David had a lot of blood on his hands. He had been a warrior king all of his reign. And although much of his warfare was considered righteous from the perspective of the guys who chronicled his story, God was looking for someone more in the scholar/diplomat mold to be the one to entrust with the building of what the people would come to think of as His house. This would be David’s son, Solomon. But while David couldn’t do the actual building, he could at least start gathering the resources for it to leave his son a nice, big nest egg.
What we see here is part of David’s prayer of praise after kicking off what proved to be an extraordinarily successful capital campaign. What David does here is what he did so well throughout his life: give God glory and recognize Him as the source of everything. This is a bigger deal than you might imagine. The standard mode of thinking for someone in David’s position in that day – or, frankly, in any day since – was to imagine himself to be on the top of the pile. Yes, a ruler then might have given some lip service of devotion to a god who the people imagined to be higher than him in the universal chain of authority, but given that the king only had his position because the gods gave it to him, he could fairly comfortably speak for the gods and the people couldn’t really argue because he had all the power and they didn’t. He was the king and they weren’t, therefore, his argument was sound.
Another thing kings often did was to lay claim to everything in their land. Theirs was the kingdom and all that was in it belonged to them. The people had what they did by virtue of the king’s generosity. He granted them the privilege of making use of what rightly belonged only to him. If he decided he wanted it back, he could take it. If he decided he needed it for some royal purpose, however frivolous that happened to seem to them, they were compelled to give it to him to use for his ends. If they simply did something really good with it that he desired to have for himself, he could exercise his claim on it. This applied both to the stuff the people made use of and the people themselves. If the king saw a particularly beautiful woman in his kingdom and desired to have her for himself, he could take her as his wife. And if her husband didn’t like that, he could take up his argument with the sharp end of the king’s spear. David had actually walked that particular path earlier on in his reign and it did not go well for him. It is a credit to him that he appears to have learned his lesson.
To put a point on all of this, kings and rulers in David’s day, just like kings and rulers in our day, tended to walk around with the same assumption of consumption we carry in our own lives, but on a much grander scale. For David, then, to say what he says here is pretty remarkable. People in his position simply didn’t think like this. And look again at what he says here. He basically acknowledges that everything is God’s. Everything. All of it. If there is a thing, that thing is God’s. Even the intangible ones are His. What we have comes from Him. When we give to Him, we are never doing anything more than merely giving back Him what was His to begin with.
If this idea was true for David, it’s still true for us. Because God is the Creator of all we see and don’t, He is the owner of all we see and don’t. Everything single thing that exists in this world, whether tangible or intangible, has substance and definition to it because He has allowed it to be. The moment we begin to imagine that something is ours in some way that it is not first His and simply on loan to us for a season, we have run off the rails of reality and are blazing our way into a fantasy world that will eventually crash into the walls of reality. And, just like the snapback of a rubber band is stronger and more painful the further it is stretched, the further into this fantasy world we run, the stronger and more painful this eventual crash will be.
To come back to the idea we started with a few moments ago, this means that any amount of control we feel like we have over anything in this world, from the stuff we own down to our very lives, is never anything more than an illusion. It would perhaps be even better to call it a delusion. Rich people who imagine that they are in control of the resources within their possession are all delusional. Eventually their break from reality will be revealed for what it is. When exactly that happens varies. Sometimes it comes in this life; sometimes the tragic revelation doesn’t come until they are standing before the throne of God in the next. Yet it will come.
Furthermore, the more we imagine ourselves to be in control of the things to which we have affixed the label “ours,” the less we are likely to use them in a ways that honor the purposes and intentions of the God to whom they truly belong. If I entrust my money into the hands of a money manager who uses it to pursue his own ends rather than the ones I have deemed right and proper, eventually I am going to take those resources from him and give them to someone who is willing to operate according to my desires and directions. The same thing goes with God.
The trick is: the more we have, the stronger the temptation into this delusion of control becomes. Thus, if you want to be good at being rich, if you want to become the kind of person into whose possession God is willing to entrust more of His stuff, learning to turn away from this delusion of control now is a really important thing to do.
How can you do this? Perhaps a good place to start is to internalize David’s prayer here. Spend a few days just meditating on these words, taking in each of the phrases in their fullness. Think about the sheer number of things that are really God’s and not ours. Ponder through the implications of His being the true and rightful owner of all these things and what that means for your usage of them. Take stock of where you are most tempted to claim the rights of ownership for yourself and reflect on what it would look like for you to turn those rights back over to the God’s whose claim on them is far stronger than yours. Work on living more openly-handedly and with a posture of gratitude as your default position on everything.
This may not mean God instantly starts entrusting you with more of His stuff, but it will make you better at managing what He has given you. And that’s a good place to be regardless of whether or not He ever gives you more. You’ll enjoy what you have a whole lot more this way. It will most decidedly be worth your time.