“The demon of avarice…is extraordinarily complex and is baffling in his deceits. He pretends to be a steward and a lover of the poor…he makes us mentally visit prisons in the city and ransom those on sale as slaves. After deceiving the soul…he engulfs it in avaricious thoughts and then hands it over to the demon of self-esteem. That latter calls up in our imagination crowds of admirers who praise the Lord for the works of mercy we have performed…but let us call down destruction upon all such thoughts and thankfully live in poverty.” – Evagrios the Solitary, Texts on Discrimination in respect of Passions and Thoughts (Pg 51, 21st text)
I was praying during church and a thought entered my mind, “Buy a lottery ticket.” I immediately began to think of all the ways I could use the money I was “called” to win. People would immediately get out of personal debt. School loans would be paid for and others would get a chance to go to college. Growing up as a pastor/missionary’s kid, I saw and heard about the hundreds of thousands of dollars donated to “dress up” churches or seminaries even when the church or seminary needed help just operating as an organization. Well, I knew how foolish that use of money was so I began to think of all the church mortgages I could pay off. I thought about money that could be set aside for churches so they could do mission work within the inner cities. I knew I was called to this because I take Jesus very seriously when he says not to let my right hand know what my left hand is doing. I would give it all away and all my works would be done anonymously; this way the general public would have no way of knowing how generous I was being. However, I’m not naïve. I know the word would get out to those who know me somehow. Those I gave to would be extremely gracious that I thought of giving to them. Friends and relatives would come out of the woodwork. They would show up expecting money. I thought, “Well, where were they when I needed them the most? They weren’t there for me, why should I be there for them?” But then I would rebuke myself. I would say, “Peter, you forgave them. Show them you aren’t as petty as they are. Give them a couple thousand dollars.” I continued to give credence to these thoughts and became very satisfied with what could be done with the money. This has been a recurring thought for three years. I never did buy the lottery ticket, but I could never shake the feeling that I was disobeying God. After reading these words from Evagrios I became relieved for not acting on my thoughts.
As I contemplated my thoughts further I began to see that the root of these thoughts were, “God is not doing his job, he needs my help.” If our Father was doing his job, a pastor in the ghettos of Philadelphia would not have to become part time and get a job elsewhere to support his family. If our Father was doing his job, those who are trying to serve the poor and oppressed wouldn’t be under the thumb of debt. What a wicked, self-centered child I am! Do I really think I know how to care for those better than the one who created our inmost beings?
In moving forward let us remember the widow’s offering. Let us remember that we worship a God who thinks that a five dollar offering from one who is in the grips of poverty and on the edge of homelessness is worth more than the giving away of hundreds of millions of dollars from one who can give away from his or her wealth. We worship a God who is not concerned with grand acts of charity. Even if I had won the lottery and given it all away, what would I have lost but my humility? Where’s the dependence on the Father in that? Let us call down destruction upon all such “well intentioned” thoughts and thankfully live on our daily bread.