How much does a man need?

How much money does a man need?

 Today we learn that the BBC are due to cut back on pay for their top executives and lose some posts.

 Director General, Mark Thompson was paid £834,000 last year while Caroline Thomson, the chief operating officer, received £413,000. Other top earners include the deputy director general, Mark Byford, who received £485,000; and Jana Bennett, the head of BBC Vision, who received £515,000.

 But, I wonder, how much money does a person really need?  According to Oil Baron and philanthropist John D Rockefeller, who became the world’s richest man and yet always gave a tithe of his income to his church, when asked how much a man needs, his candid response was “Just a little more”

The Christian novelist Leo Tolstoy, writing at a time of growing lust for wealth in Russia, was very perceptive in his analysis of the seductive nature of seeking fame and fortune.  His short story How much land does a man need? tells the story of a peasant who, to make a short story even shorter, takes the opportunity to stake his claim on as much land as he can get before sundown.  As he exhausts himself staking out as much land as he can, he gets more and more weary and more and more anxious about the approaching setting sun, and, eventually, just as the sun begins to dip, he expires.  Tolstoy concludes his short story as follows:

“What shall I do,” he thought again, “I have grasped too much, and ruined the whole affair. I can’t get there before the sun sets.”

And this fear made him still more breathless. Pahom went on running, his soaking shirt and trousers stuck to him, and his mouth was parched. His breast was working like a blacksmith’s bellows, his heart was beating like a hammer, and his legs were giving way as if they did not belong to him. Pahom was seized with terror lest he should die of the strain.

Though afraid of death, he could not stop. “After having run all that way they will call me a fool if I stop now,” thought he. And he ran on and on, and drew near and heard the Bashkirs yelling and shouting to him, and their cries inflamed his heart still more. He gathered his last strength and ran on.

The sun was close to the rim, and cloaked in mist looked large, and red as blood. Now, yes now, it was about to set! The sun was quite low, but he was also quite near his aim. Pahom could already see the people on the hillock waving their arms to hurry him up. He could see the fox-fur cap on the ground, and the money on it, and the Chief sitting on the ground holding his sides. And Pahom remembered his dream.

“There is plenty of land,” thought he, “but will God let me live on it? I have lost my life, I have lost my life! I shall never reach that spot!”

Pahom looked at the sun, which had reached the earth: one side of it had already disappeared. With all his remaining strength he rushed on, bending his body forward so that his legs could hardly follow fast enough to keep him from falling. Just as he reached the hillock it suddenly grew dark. He looked up—the sun had already set. He gave a cry: “All my labor has been in vain,” thought he, and was about to stop, but he heard the Bashkirs still shouting, and remembered that though to him, from below, the sun seemed to have set, they on the hillock could still see it. He took a long breath and ran up the hillock. It was still light there. He reached the top and saw the cap. Before it sat the Chief laughing and holding his sides. Again Pahom remembered his dream, and he uttered a cry: his legs gave way beneath him, he fell forward and reached the cap with his hands.

“Ah, what a fine fellow!” exclaimed the Chief. “He has gained much land!”

Pahom’s servant came running up and tried to raise him, but he saw that blood was flowing from his mouth. Pahom was dead!

The Bashkirs clicked their tongues to show their pity.

His servant picked up the spade and dug a grave long enough for Pahom to lie in, and buried him in it. Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed.

These were very perceptive words which are just as relevant today.

 My training incumbent wisely used to respond to the question asked about the recently deceased: “how much did he leave” Answer: “everything”.

 Prov 28:11 – A rich man may be wise in his own eyes, but a poor man who has discernment sees through him.

 Jesus of course said, the well known words in Mark 8:36-37:

What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?  Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?

 He went on to say that people’s relationship with him is determined by whether they will turn their back on this world, shunning the lust and seduction of the glitter of wealth in order to follow him fully and wholeheartedly. 

 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels. (v38)

 As Bonheoffer said: “when Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die” – the life of the cross is a life of self-denial and Christ-focus.

 The more positive corollary of this theme is found in Jesus’ parable of the merchant who discovered a pearl of great price and sold everything in order to gain this one prize.  I wonder, will BBC executives, ever gain such riches?  But the message is not just for them, but for me too: I can so easily live by the motto: just a little more.  But I need to remember that riches in heaven are worth far more than the transient wealth of this world!


5 thoughts on “How much does a man need?

  1. David October 29, 2009 / 8:01 pm

    Amen. Going the other way begs the question: How little is too little though. Meaning, at what point does denial of self become unhealthy asceticism. Is there such a thing as unhealthy asceticism?

    I firmly believe we should have faith that God will provide, but when do I allow God to be the sole provider (a la George Mueller) and when do I allow myself to earn? Is it simply a matter of calling, or should we all be relying solely on God to give us that which we need. (I know it seems a little radical, but what about faith of a mustard seed?)


    • Terence Low December 19, 2009 / 6:45 pm

      I must admit that this is a topic I ponder on – I also believe that we should aspire for greatness in all that we do as we fulfil His purpose for our lives here on earth. I am sure you’ve worked this out – as for me, I choose to be the best wherever God has placed me knowing that He will take care of my needs [unworthy as I am!]


  2. Dawn December 8, 2009 / 9:47 pm

    Silly me – didn’t read the title of the piece. No wonder I didn’t understand.


  3. Terence Low December 19, 2009 / 6:34 pm

    The reading of this article has been timely for me as God is in the process of teaching me [amidst my success] to be content in Him that has given me all that I have, and can take it away – and He does not need a reason for taking away. He can do it because He is God. Therefore, I am grateful that he has chosen to sustain me. What a great illustration from Leo Tolstoy.


  4. click here May 30, 2012 / 6:44 pm

    This website has got a lot of really useful information on it! Thanks for sharing it with me!


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