White Elephants

Guest Author: Kristy Huntsman Have you ever wondered where the term “white elephant” came from? Legend tells of a king of Siam who would grace members of the court he did not particularly care for with one of these prized animals. This gift of a white elephant initially appeared to be a great honor; after all, who wouldn’t want the king himself to give you one of the rarest animals on the planet. However, as you can imagine, it was quite expensive to care for such a large animal. The upkeep of these creatures would inevitably bankrupt their owners. No matter the cost the recipients would not let go of these prized possessions and this would lead them to financial ruin. They held so much pride in the rare and beautiful gift that they couldn’t see their inescapable downfall. This “kindness” from the king transformed into devastation.

We are all guilty of letting white elephants into our lives. These are the things from which we derive honor and praise of men, but spiritually speaking, are leading us into ruin. For some it is the white elephant of financial security; for others it’s their education level or letters behind their name. Your white elephant may be called comfort, popularity or fashion. These can all be good things, but when we spend all of our time and energy feeding these white elephants at the cost of our relationship with God, they become destructive.

The problem develops when we are more concerned about honor from men than seeking to please the one true God. Unfortunately it seems that the more prosperous we are, the more white elephants we accumulate in our lives. Hosea warned the Israelites about this same issue.

Israel is a luxuriant vine; he produces fruit for himself. The more his fruit, the more altars he made; the more altars he made; the richer his land, the better he made the sacred pillars. Their heart is faithless; now they must bear their guilt. The Lord will break down their altars and destroy their sacred pillars. –Hosea 10:1-2

Israel was taking the physical blessings which God had given them and used them to build altars to other Gods. The more prosperous they became, the more elaborate the altars and sacred pillars became. While these things brought them momentary pleasure, the punishment would be severe. Because their hearts were faithless God would send the Assyrian army to conquer their nation.

We don’t have to worry about the Assyrians coming to attack us, but we do have to deal with much more severe consequences. These consequences will have eternal implications. Our very souls are in jeopardy. Jesus was very clear about how he felt about earthly treasures:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. –Matthew 6:19-21

And Jesus said to His disciples, "Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." –Matthew 19:23-24

Jesus recognized that the blessings of this earth are extremely difficult to let go of. We become so dependent on possessions that ultimately don’t matter at all that we miss the only thing that is truly important. God does not just want involvement in part of your life; He demands to BE your life. Everything we do should be run through the filter of whether or not it will be pleasing to Him. This isn’t to say that we cannot enjoy the earthly riches; Solomon makes it very clear in Ecclesiastes that we can and should delight the blessings that surround us. We must remember though, that these are not what we should build our lives around.

Right now, our white elephants are sitting right in our backyards, eating all of our grass, destroying our gardens and knocking down our fences. But we don’t notice. All we see are the neighbors that slow down as they pass our homes, admiring that beautiful animal that we have acquired. Meanwhile, we don’t even recognize the fact that each of these earthly blessings, if not kept in check, could cause our spiritual downfall. Everything in our lives has a cost associated with it, some good, and some bad. It is up to us to continually count those costs.

It may take extreme measures, but a Christian life is all about sacrifice. Remember Jesus said it would be better to cut off your hand if it would keep you from heaven (Matthew 5:30). So now it’s time for us to ask the difficult question. What is my white elephant? What is the true source of my pride? What would devastate me if it were gone forever? Now is the time, call the white elephant exterminator. Rid yourself of these beasts for good!

What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?... –Matthew 16:26a

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