Forgetting How Wealthy We Are

Like most (or perhaps all) of you, I have been effectively home-bound for several days this week after the 20” or more of snow that was dumped on Columbia, Mo.; in fact, since I don’t work outside of my home, I’ve not gone any farther than the end of my driveway for the last four days.

With this forced slow-down in my life, I’ve had plenty of time this week to reflect on the fact that, despite having lived through some pretty severe weather, we didn’t suffer at all:

  • We didn’t lose electricity, and so our home stayed warm. Even if we had lost power, we have a gas fireplace, dozens of blankets and a well-insulated home in which to hunker down.

  • We had plenty of food; in fact, we could probably survive until April with all the food in this house, even with all the mouths we have to feed.

  • We didn’t suffer financially. When my husband received news that the University had closed and he didn’t need to show up to work – indeed, couldn’t if he tried – it was understood that the time off would be paid, without so much as a vacation day docked him for not having worked for three days.

  • We didn’t suffer relationally. Far from being alone, there were six of us to keep each other company, and in fact the extra time our family had together as a result of the blizzard was a gift – far from our usual frenetic pace, we had time to play cards and board games, bake cookies, and sleep in (well, everyone but me).

While I’ve spent a lot of time this week recognizing and thanking God for all of these good gifts, the other thought that keeps returning to me is that, despite my gratitude, I still have no real concept of just how rich I am.

Recently, I read a book that’s been recommended on ESI before, When Helping Hurts, by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett. As North Americans, the authors point out, we enjoy a standard of living that has been “unimaginable for most of human history” and that in recent years, the disparity between the “wealthy” and the “poor” is growing at a rapid pace.

By wealthy, I mean me. And in all likelihood, I also mean you.

For most of my life, I’ve not applied the word “wealthy” to myself, and I struggle to do it even now. But last summer, a week in the interior of Jamaica meeting people who are thrilled to upgrade their homes to a 12×16’ concrete room (no plumbing, no electricity, just a roof and four walls) made it clear in a very real way that I am, indeed, wealthy. Just yesterday, I watched the trailer for tonight’s Talking Pictures movie, We Are Together, which features African children who are also living in severe poverty. Just the visuals of what their life in Africa is like (which is not even the driving point of the film) was enough to give me pause and once again think about the monstrous chasm between their lives day in and day out…and mine.

Even after having spent a week around the poverty of the Jamaicans, I cannot seem to hold on to the fact that I am wealthy beyond measure…and that the blessings of this kind of wealth come with a great responsibility. At least, that’s what Fikkert and Corbett say, too:

“If you are a North American Christian, the reality of our society’s vast wealth presents you with an enormous responsibility, for throughout the Scriptures God’s people are commanded to show compassion to the poor. In fact, doing so is simply part of our job description as followers of Jesus Christ.”

Why is it that we can know something, even experience it in a real way, and yet live out our daily lives “forgetting” what we know?

I think at least one of the answers lies within the ability of our own hearts to deceive ourselves (Jeremiah 17:9); our fallen nature’s tendency is to see all of life in a distorted way. I think this might be what James is warning us to pay attention to when he says, in James 1:22-24, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.” (Emphasis mine.)

This is my experience, right there. I can look full in the face of reality and understand how blessed I am, and yet “go away” and before long, find myself forgetting not only how blessed I am, but what I’m supposed to be doing with those blessings.

Our sinful nature is such that if we don’t have constant reminders as to how sinful we are, we maybe begin to believe we’re pretty good people. If we don’t have constant reminders that everything we have is from God, we may begin believing that all we have is from our own strength and wit. And if we don’t have constant reminders that we have a responsibility to use all we have been given by God for the good of God’s kingdom, we may begin believing that we can use our time, talent and treasure to build our own kingdom.

I can live an entire week in another culture, a poverty-stricken culture, return to my own warm, well-furnished home in mid-America, and within months find myself having more thoughts about how I’m going to further my own life of comfort with the good gifts I’ve been given…instead of remembering the great responsibility God has given me to care for those around me. Surely I’m not alone?

You don’t have to leave the country for God to use you in the lives of others. There are many organizations here in Columbia who also believe that Christians have a real mandate to care for others. Love INC is one such organization whose entire goal is to reach out to those who are most in need. While Love INC’s primary goal is to coordinate the efforts of many churches in the area to best serve the poor in the community, it can only coordinate what it’s been given to use. In other words, it and organizations like it need our help. Self-described as a volunteer- and donation-driven organization, Love INC can only provide the assistance it has already been offered by wealthy Christians. Like me. Like you.

Do you have a practical skill? Are you able to do electrical work, carpentry or plumbing? Are you a good cook, have a counseling background or accounting experience? Do you have a talent for writing, the gift of encouragement, or enjoy reading? Are you a stay-at-home mom with extra time on your hands, or a college student with a flexible schedule? It’s not just money that organizations like Love INC needs. It also needs people, who recognize how wealthy they are in terms of opportunity, education, time and yes, money too; people who are willing to share what they have with others, whatever that might be. Within our own church community, the Care Ministry has abundant opportunities to volunteer whatever you have to bring God’s kingdom into the life of someone else.

Everything we have is a gift from God (Ecclesiastes 5:19), and can be used in the lives of others, and in fact, should be. Christ himself tells us that whatever we do for those around us – even the small things – we do for Him, and bring Him glory (Matthew 25:31-46). For myself, the best way to remember who I am – a child of God who has received abundant mercy from Him – is to get involved in the lives of others and share the good gifts God has given me.

Perhaps a real story about a real person, helped in real ways, might help you think through ways you might use God’s blessings in your life for the benefit of others.

I’ve had the privilege recently to spend some time with Latashia, a single mother whose life has quite dramatically been turned around by Love INC, a local church and the love and effort of several people who embraced her and her children, and shared their lives – their “wealth” – with her. Next time I post to ESI, I will share with you Latashia’s story. It’s still unfolding. Like all of us, she’s a work in progress. But by God’s grace, she’s progressing because people cared enough to pour back into her from the abundance God has given them.

1 John 3: 17-18
If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

James 1:22-25, 27
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

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