I was given a prayer journal several years ago that just turned up in the right timing to be a place for me to write down thoughts and prayers and Scriptures when the pages of the previous one were full. It had this message in the front of it, after speaking about the widowâ€™s miracle in 2 Kings 4: â€œIn the same way, God wants to abundanty supply your needs — physically, emotionally, financially and spiritually. Are you ready to receive the blessings He has in store for you?â€
As you might guess, based on what Iâ€™ve been reading in the Word and thinking about lately, the idea that God wants to abundantly supply my financial needs throws up all kinds of red flags. Why? Because Iâ€™m not sure thatâ€™s necessarily true. I do believe that God wants to supply my needs. But whether I should be expecting pressed down, shaken together, running over cashflow, Iâ€™m not sure.
Hereâ€™s why. Over the last few years, Hero Hubs and I have been consistently working on a tight budget. God has indeed met our needs and I have no complaints in that department. But the kind of â€œ financial abundanceâ€ and â€œprosperityâ€ that is being promised many people from many-a-pulpit today is not what we have witnessed in reality. Our bank accounts are not beautiful, but we are indeed blessed. And the biggest gift, I think, has been that God has simply met our needs, not with ridiculous extravagance, not with Mercedes Benzes and flashy clothes, but with what weâ€™ve needed when weâ€™ve needed it.
I am afraid a lot of people think they are doing something wrong because they are not seeing the kind of (perhaps extravagant) financial blessing they are hoping for, and they are misconstruing the truth in Godâ€™s Word.
There are two polarities that exist in my mind here. First, I see the way God has met our everyday needs as extravagant abundance. We live in a really beautiful place. Weâ€™re renting a furnished apartment that has been nicely decorated. We have a breathtaking view of the mountains of Gordonâ€™s Bay and when the weather is warm we enjoy coffee on our balcony, overlooking the boats in the harbour right below us. We have never missed a meal because we couldn’t afford to eat.
At the same time, we trust God for the finances to meet our needs, pay our bills, and so on. And by some standards we might be judged to be living very frugally because we donâ€™t go clothes shopping (unless someone else takes us! 🙂 ), we don’t have much in the way of disposable income and we very rarely eat out.
But then there are other standards, suddenly staring me in the face. These are the standards of children who donâ€™t have shoes. Who will not have a coat this winter. Who arenâ€™t sure where their next meal is coming from. And suddenly I realise I am the exception. This is the rule:
If you make more than $25,000/ year (about Â£17,000 or ZAR 190,000) you are in the wealthiest 10% of the worldâ€™s population. Yes, you are actually wealthier than 90% of the people in the world.
I am reminded of the story of the rich young ruler who visited Jesus. He desired righteousness, and perhaps Jesusâ€™ commendation because heâ€™d kept the commandments since his youth. And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and finally said, â€œIf you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.â€ (Check it out in Matthew 19 if you like.) For years now Iâ€™ve read this and thought, shame, that rich young ruler sure was attached to his wealth. He went away sorry because he had so much stuff. We donâ€™t know what he eventually decided to do, and I suppose we all kind of guess he gave up on righteousness because he loved his stuff.
I feel like I have, in some ways, been that rich young ruler without realising it. I am NOT saying everyone is called to sell everything they have and give it all to the poor. I am saying I think a lot of us might be missing a big part of what we are called to do or give, because we are using the wrong measuring stick and donâ€™t realise we are rich already.
I am suddenly seeing the real richness and abundance in my life in the realisation of all that I already have, especially because I have Jesus. I donâ€™t want to miss realising how rich I truly am because I am using the wrong measuring stick. Because I am staring at my neighbours driving porsches and Hummers (seriously) while we drive Mr. Potato Head. Because I would like to be able to eat out lots and often and I want new clothes every month. If you think you arenâ€™t rich because thatâ€™s what you lack, think again! If you have more than five shirts in your closet, you are better off than most.
The Sermon in a Nutshell: If youâ€™re sitting on your own computer, in your own place, taking the opportunity to read this today, I have a feeling the Lord may have already abundantly supplied your needs — I just hope you realise it!
(This is Where You Live Should Not Decide, Part II)
If you didnâ€™t read yesterdayâ€™s post, I sure would appreciate you doing so before diving into this one. It will make more sense. If you donâ€™t feel like it, well whatever, at least I warned you.
So while I was in the middle of writing yesterdayâ€™s post, last week halfway across SA, a friend of ours wanted to take me to the mall and wanted me to pick out something special for myself for Motherâ€™s Day. I was so freaked out I almost totally froze. Well not really, but seriously, it was the strangest blessing Iâ€™ve received in a long time.
You see, I realised that for as long as I can remember, I have carried around a mental shopping list in my head. Please tell me you have done this too and Iâ€™m not silly. I would take note of things I felt were lacking from my closet … perhaps a new jean skirt, a black belt (not karate-type, just regular type, of course), a scarf that will turn last seasonâ€™s sweater into this seasonâ€™s style, a replacement for a saggy old pocketbook… you get the idea. And whenever I had a chance to shop, I would already know what I was looking for — all the stuff I â€œneededâ€ on my list. Well suddenly, weâ€™re on the way to the mall and I. Have. No. List.
I cannot describe to you what this felt like because I canâ€™t even describe it to myself. It was just the strangest thing for my brain to go to the file where the continually-updated shopping list is supposed to be stored and suddenly find that the list is blank. I trolled around like a lost sheep for a moment before regaining the clarity to walk through a store and start looking for something I might like.
I finally settled on an adorable pink sweater (Thank you, friend, you know who you are!) and wore it at least three times over the next week and a half because, hey, we were travelling to a new place every couple days and who knew it was a repeat?
The reason Iâ€™m telling you all this? I suppose it felt like a victory to discover that I no longer had â€œthe list.â€ I feel like some of the materialism Iâ€™ve grown up with (mind you I am NOT blaming my parents for this — we live in a VERY materialistic society!) is finally breaking. Itâ€™s like Iâ€™m coming out of some translucent shell for the first time, seeing the possibility of living differently.
Now this youâ€™ve gotta hear. It gets better. While I was in the middle of writing this post, yesterday, Mark went to check the mail. We hadnâ€™t checked it since weâ€™d gotten back to Gordonâ€™s Bay. And in it were two slips of paper, notifying us that two packages were waiting for us at the Post Office.
Might you like to hazard a guess as to what was in said packages? If you guessed clothing, then youâ€™re right! Another dear and sweet friend of mine and her family put together two boxes of clothes for us — lots of ADORABLE stuff for the next sizes the Bear is growing into (pictures to follow) AND some adorable tops for me AND some handsome and manly shirts for Hero Hubby, one that will make his beautiful blue eyes even more blue! I love that.
As I pondered how all this had come together while I was in the middle of discussing this thing that is changing in me, I was reminded of a conversation Hero Hubs and I had several months ago. We were working out our budget for life here in South Africa. Once we were finally settled in, we could see what our expenses were actually going to be like, the health insurance, the rent, the groceries, etc. As we put all the numbers together, though things were tight, we decided to continue giving as before and even increase a little. This meant, however, that there was no room at the inn for a clothing budget. After setting aside funds to travel back to the States, working to pay off Mr. Potato Head as quickly as possible, and covering the costs of living around here, clothes just werenâ€™t in the numbers.
I can remember sitting beside Hero Hubs on the couch as he said, â€œWe are just going to have to trust the Lord for everything else.â€
So we did. And I’ve begun to realise we are really trusting Him for everything. All the funds that are coming our way are from Him. And seven months later, we have been repeatedly blessed with clothing for ourselves and for the Bear, without spending anything. (Except for those special shoes I told you about that my friend sent money at just the right time for us to buy!) And I am finding once again a God who is true to His word:
Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? […] But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6: 25 & 33)
I am not saying I havenâ€™t wanted more over the past several months. I am not saying there werenâ€™t times where I wished I could have some cash to just blow on stuff for myself. But I am suddenly finding that I am desiring stuff less, and I am beginning to take notice of the fact that God will meet my every need if I trust Him and wait on Him.
And though I donâ€™t have all the answers yet, I can see how if we in the West can break free from materialism, we can break others free from poverty. If we are willing to skip going to the movies twice a month, someone halfway around the world can eat that month. If we are willing to wear last yearâ€™s fashion this year, we might save enough to build a well for a village that needs clean water.
When I stand before the Lord at the end of my days, I sometimes donâ€™t want to think about the account I will have to give for what I did with what He gave me. I am a debtor to grace every day and so thankful Jesus covers my every shortcoming. But it is good to feel like Iâ€™m moving more and more in His direction, working to be fruitful with that which Iâ€™ve been called to steward, anxiously awaiting a glorious â€œWell done.â€
One more quote for thought to tie this up:
â€œDonâ€™t fail to do something just because you canâ€™t do everything.â€
–Dr. Bob Pierce
I think I shared before a while back that I’m a big fan of U2. Many of their songs point me in the direction of Jesus. It reminds me of the Elizabeth Barrett Browning quote I spoke about the other day: but only he who sees takes off his shoes… One of the songs on U2’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb album has a couple of simple lyrics in it that have been ringing in my ears since I first heard it years ago. They sing:
Where you live should not decide
whether you live or whether you die…
I suppose the reason it is ringing in my ears afresh today is that I’m seeing day after day the truth that right now, in our world, where you live does decide whether you live or whether you die. It’s estimated that some “15,000 Africans are dying each day of preventable, treatable diseases — AIDS, malaria, TB — for lack of drugs that we [in the West] take for granted.”*
Here’s where I want to get honest, friends. I don’t feel like I really know how to respond to this reality. I’ve been thinking lately about the fact that I haven’t bought a new article of clothing in like seven months. And the last thing I bought was just a pair of hiking shorts that were on sale. There’s a part of me that feels really good about this. There\s a part of me that feels like I’m breaking away from the materialism that has held me captive for a long time.
Growing up, if I saw something in the store that I wanted, my Mom would ask “Do you need it?” And I knew if she asked that, and if I said, “Well…I guess, yeah, 90% of the time she would buy it for me. I would scramble in my mind to justify why I needed that new pair of shoes, that fashionable new top…the jeans that were the right wash for that season. I’d go home pleased with the new stuff, until after a while, long before it was worn out, or even worn in, I’d need something new again.
Here I am a few years later. Perhaps the Lord had to draw me out of that situation for a while, and put us on a tight budget, in order for me to finally learn a lesson appropriate for a ten-year-old: The Difference Between Wants and Needs.
None of these words are meant to have even a shadow of complaining. Before I last left the States, both my Mom and Dad took me shopping and I had some great new clothes to sport for my arrival in South Africa. Indeed, I am learning that it would be egregious for me to have a single complaint about my life right now. (PLEASE don’t think this is some way of secretly hinting that I want everyone to send me a parcel of new stuff! Tickets to a U2 Concert however… ;))
The Hubs and I have a healthy son, live in a beautiful place, and have never once missed a meal because we could not afford to eat. Why is that? I believe part of it is that the Lord has blessed us. We are committed to serving and following Him. We submit our finances to His leading and are constantly working to live with greater submission to Him in every area of our lives, including all that we spend His money on.
But this is where it gets challenging. If I simply conclude that I have all that I have because I am blessed and do not acknowledge the fact that it also has something to do with where HH and I were born, the families we were born into, the education and opportunities we received, and the people we know, I feel it would be false. Our son survived the excessive bleeding that followed his circumcision because we lived in Edinburgh, Scotland, and had access to health care. I have a university education because my parents were able to pay for it. I spent some time repenting recently for not recognising the opportunities I’ve been blessed with in this life as gifts from the Lord, and having wrong attitudes toward people who have not had the same opportunities. Eish, that’s a subject for another post.
If we are only doing well because God loves us and we are blessed, then what shall we say of those who do not appear to be blessed? What shall we say of the 100,000 people who live in a township just a few miles away from us, crowded into a few square miles, with shacks and shared electricity and indecent sanitation? For God so loved some of the world? For God so loved people in some parts of the world? For God so loved the Western world?
While one part of me wants a pat on the back for my spending restraint over the past couple of years, another part of me finds a congratulations for practicing financial restraint almost revolting.
I suppose this has sort of become a Stream of Consciousness post — an attempt to explain to you what I am trying to piece together in my own mind. To this mess, I would like to add that I have been reading an amazing book (thanks, Annie Beth!) called The Hole in Our Gospel, by Richard Stearns. I would like to go so far as to say if you’re a Christian in the West, this should be required reading. If I had the money to buy extra copies, I would probably do lots of giveaways in hopes of getting it into your hands and then your hearts. I hope to get together a mini-book review for you soon.
The greater story of what’s happening in my understanding of the Gospel and the changes taking place in my heart doesn’t end here, and neither does this little, very specific story about the clothing restraint. Please come back tomorrow for me to keep sharing! But let me leave you with one more quote in the meantime, please:
“Sometimes I would like to ask God why He allows poverty, suffering, and injustice when He could do something about it.”
“Well, why don’t you ask Him?”
“Because I’m afraid He would ask me the same question.”
P.S. Don’t feel like you just have to sit back while I walk this out. I would love your feedback.
*Bono, in Sachs, The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for our Times, foreword.