My fascination with property began at the age of nine when my family and I moved to Kenya. It had been a huge decision to leave England behind, but with an economic downturn battering the UK, the opportunity of a better financial future in Nairobi seemed too good to miss.
I can vividly recall arriving in Nairobi; the sights, the sounds, the food, the beautiful weather, the extreme poverty – and the large, luxury homes! Having been brought up in a small terrace in Watford, my head couldn’t get round the sheer size of the houses that the super-rich lived in. With their security gates, twisting driveways and landscaped gardens, they seemed to belong to another world. A close school friend once recounted how he had expressed a desire to have a lake in his garden and that before he knew it plans were underway to build a man-made lake just for him!
It was no surprise when some years later, arriving back to the UK and becoming a teacher, my thoughts turned to property and the dream of having my own luxurious home. I hadn’t thought it would happen so quickly but the rising property market of the 1990s carried me along and not only did I manage to get on the property ladder but I soon found myself investing in buy-to-lets. Before I knew it, my life revolved around acquiring as much as I could as quickly as I could, always hoping that the next multi-million-pound acquisition would somehow bring me the contentment I desperately craved.
But it never came. No peace. No joy. On the surface I had it all, but inside I was an utter mess – and I knew it. Yet then, just as the credit crunch set in and began to wreak havoc on the UK property market, God interrupted my life and I found myself becoming a Christian. My company suffered the full force of the mortgage market collapse and most of my wealth was lost – but God was with me throughout.
Tough times can mean big lessons, and since becoming a Christian they have both come thick and fast. Developing a healthy relationship with money; understanding everything belongs to God and how to yield all of it to Him; discovering how to be content in both good times and bad – all are precious lessons that have been hard won. But if I were to drill down to the fundamental thing I have learnt, then it would be this: That in our world of wild excess and greed, everything is just temporal – it will all pass away. When I see Jesus face to face, I will have left all the bricks and mortar behind. It will just be me in front of God giving an account for my life. And if this is the case, then it begs the question, ‘What am I to do with the things I have?’
The answer will be different for each person according to what God has placed on their heart. But, whatever the answer is, it will ultimately be about using all we have – our lives, our giftings, and, yes, our possessions – to bring the message of the gospel to the world, that the lost might believe He is the one who died for them and that believing they might be saved! For us, this has meant exploring how our family home speaks to people of God’s saving grace. We seek to do this through the pictures on the wall, the books in the guest room, the hospitality we show, the Bibles dotted around the house and indeed the presence of God, which can do immeasurably more than all the rest.
The last eight years have indeed been humbling for me. The combination of the credit crunch and finding faith in Jesus has brought a much needed reality check. I might have a lot less than I once had in the world’s eyes but that doesn’t need to stop me from using all I have left for His glory. For me, the journey is about how property can advance the gospel – once it was about showing my wealth to the world, but now it is about pointing others to His saving grace.
What is God asking you to do?