Christian Minimalism

Lord, Won’t You Buy Me…

A few years ago, I discovered a song by Janis Joplin called “Mercedes Benz.” The lyrics go something like this (and you can listen along here):

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends
So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV?
“Dialing for Dollars” is trying to find me
I wait for delivery each day until three
So oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV?

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town?
I’m counting on you, Lord, please don’t let me down
Prove that you love me and buy the next round
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town?
Everybody!


Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends
So oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

Obviously a tongue-in-cheek song, I always kind of giggled at it. It seemed absurd, Joplin asking God to buy things for her.

I recently came across the song again– only this time, I was listening as a Christian minimalist. And even though it’s still a funny song and an obvious parody, it points out some really harrowing assumptions we have around consumerism and God.

Here are four false assumptions Joplin points out about God and consumerism:

False Assumption #1: It’s God’s job to provide us riches and material wealth.

All throughout the song, Joplin comically prays that God would provide her some expensive things that are status symbols: a Mercedes Benz car, a color TV (it was 1970), and a fancy night on the town with her friends.

Luxury cars, expensive technology, and decadent nights out are still indications in American culture that someone has truly “made it.” And if we believe in God, often the assumption is that if we are “good,” God will provide us all of these things.

This assumption imagines God as a genie in a lamp, ready to provide our every material wish. The problem is that God never promises us wealth– in fact, Jesus tells us the opposite.

In the Gospel of Matthew, we meet a Rich Young Man (Matthew 19:16-22). This man comes to Jesus, asking how to obtain eternal life. Jesus tells him to keep the commandments, specifically not to murder, commit adultery, steal, or bear false witness, as well as honoring his parents and loving his neighbor as himself.

The man says that he has followed all of these commandments, so what else should he do? Jesus responds:

If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.

Matthew 19:21

Amazing! Jesus is asking this rich young man to sell everything he owns, give all of the proceeds to those in need, and then come follow Jesus– knowing that his treasure is in heaven and not on earth.

This rich young man does not take Jesus up on his offer. “When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions” (Matthew 19:22). The man would rather keep the wealth and possessions for himself rather than helping others and following Jesus.

So the assumption that God will provide us wealth and material possessions is the opposite of what Jesus tells us. Jesus instead challenges us to be generous and follow him, unencumbered by society’s consumer values.

False Assumption #2: We are supposed to try to keep up with our neighbor’s possessions and/or have fancier things than our neighbors.

We are all aware of this assumption– in everyday language, we often call it “Keeping up with the Joneses.” The official phrase for this false assumption is “conspicuous consumption,” basically saying that we buy expensive things as socio-economic status symbols.

Joplin points out this assumption when she sings, “My friends all drive Porsches.” Because her friends drive luxury cars, she satirically believes that she should, too. So she jokingly asks God to buy her a Mercedes Benz.

The thing is, trying to keep up with our friends’ material possessions is unsustainable and doesn’t help us in the long run. In Luke 12, Jesus tells us the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21). He decides he’s going to build larger barns and stockpile as much as he can so that he can “relax, eat, drink, and be merry” (12:19). But then God says to him:

You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?

Luke 12:20

We have been convinced that we must accumulate more and more material possessions to keep up with our friends– but in reality, the stuff we accumulate will just get thrown out or donated when we die. What a waste of time, energy, and money.

As Ecclesiastes so concisely tells us:

Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from one person’s envy of another. This also is vanity and a chasing after wind.

Ecclesiastes 4:4

False Assumption #3: Our main goal in life is to have lots of money and possessions because we deserve it.

In her song, Joplin asks for what many of us want– material possessions and fancy evenings out that we see celebrities enjoying regularly. She even tries to convince God to give her these things. Joplin sings: “worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends.”

In other words, she (satirically) believes she deserves these things from God because she’s always worked hard and never received monetary help from her friends. She is entitled to what she’s owed.

The thing is, we are not owed wealth or expensive things from God. God says that we will be provided with what we need, not everything we want.

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Matthew 6:31-33

God provides for us– not because we deserve it based on the work we do, but because of God’s unconditional love for us. God does not owe us fancy things or wealth but provides us what we actually need because God loves us.

False Assumption #4: Money and material goods are proof that God loves us.

In a satirically strong line, Joplin sings to God, “prove that you love me and buy the next round.” This line comes in the 3rd verse after she’s already asked God to buy her a Mercedez Benz and a color TV, and now she wants a night on the town. Perhaps because she isn’t receiving her requests, she now wants proof that God loves her. And that proof, for her, lies in money and outward displays of that money.

If this sounds like an absurd belief that no one would actually hold, I assure you that many people indeed believe this completely. Many churches and pastors profess that if you have “God’s favor” or are “blessed by God,” material possessions and wealth are the proof. So it follows that if you aren’t wealthy or don’t have a lot of stuff, it means that God doesn’t favor you, God hasn’t blessed you, and God doesn’t love you.

But as we saw in the false assumptions above, God never promises us that we will be wealthy and own a bunch of stuff. In fact, Jesus invites us to live more simply and generously, spending our time, energy, and resources on the things that truly matter.

God does promise, however, to love us no matter what. Wealth and material possessions are NOT an indication of how much God loves us. God loves us unconditionally.

[Jesus said:] As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.

John 15:9

We are surrounded by Jesus’ love. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are less favored, blessed, or loved by God because you aren’t rich. That is anti-Biblical and goes completely against Jesus’ teachings. You are loved by God.

No More False Assumptions

All of the false assumptions above creep into our thinking because of our dominant consumer culture and false beliefs about God. We can regularly remind ourselves that, unlike consumer society’s values, our worth is based on God’s love for us and not in riches and material possessions.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2

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About 
Becca Ehrlich, AKA The Christian Minimalist, is striving to be a Christian minimalist in a consumer society. She currently lives in Philadelphia, PA with her husband Will. You can read more about her story and how her blog came to exist by clicking the website link above.

2 Comments

  1. Christina

    September 30, 2020 - 9:08 am
    Reply

    Beautifully written and consumed in TRUTH. Thank you!

  2. amber

    October 13, 2020 - 12:50 pm
    Reply

    wow! Such true words. It took us over 15 years to figure this out! We lived that life.
    I love this! Crazy thing is, My son is Senior this year. He loves working and earning money. That’s a good thing and he tithes and gives to the Lord, Helps with his dog… but I was telling my husband last night. We need to talk to him. i see that’s his only focus. Working and making money. There has to be more to his life then stacking up money. Thats the worlds way. He seen what we went through I just pray we’ve taught him well enough to keep his focus on Jesus and live for him first and foremost.. seek the Kingdom of God above all and all other things things will be added.

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