*This is not a political rant! Stay with me. I have a spiritual point, I promise!*
I am proud to be a citizen of the United States of America. I count myself tremendously blessed to live in a country where a poor, self-educated kid from Kentucky can rise to be the President of our great nation. Most of the poorest among us fare better than those in other countries. Every one of us is rich in opportunity, if we will just summon the courage and strength of will to rise. The sky is the limit, every person the master of his or her own destiny. It is an unprecedented accomplishment of our great nation that nobility is a matter of character rather than blood. Each generation strives to more fully ensure and protect the rights of every person, those being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Friends, we are blessed. The American dream is available to anyone with the strength of will to make the climb. But, dear ones, at the same time, we are cursed.
*Stay with me. A spiritual point is coming. You’re almost there!*
The language of our culture is filled with words like proud, rise, rich, right, great, independence, liberty, wealth, and the like. It is the lexicon of entitlement and greed. We are capitalists. Make, earn, pursue, grasp as much as you can because you can. There is no monarch to limit or stifle you. You are the captain of your ship. You are your own king. And, it’s effective. I’ll out myself here and tell you that I think capitalism works as an economic system. I stand with Ayn Rand on this point. However, I believe that we Americans have let it seep into our souls. It hardens us to the truth of God’s Word as it feeds our fallen desire to be our own god and master. Where else in the world could the prosperity gospel flourish as it does in our country? We are rich in ways that we fail to recognize, and poor in ways we refuse to accept.
Over the past five years, God has led my husband and me on a journey that broke our strangle hold on the American dream. He leveled us financially. He broke my will and pried out of my cold, spiritually dead hands my own will for my life. My Good Shepherd led me to a place of desperate need. He showed me that I was not as much a master of my own destiny as I thought. He broke me to rebuild me. He interrupted my climb up the Babel Tower that is life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. He showed me that as I surrender to His will, there are endless pastures fed by living water, fertilized with the peace of God’s provision, where I can expend my energy in the pursuit of lasting joy. I’ve found that the less I have, the more I experience love, joy, and peace. After nearly twenty years of striving, I found that these spiritual fruits were growing within the branches of my need. The riches of God’s grace were there to be grasped if I would just come to terms with how spiritually poor I am.
Matthew 19:24 says,
Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never identified myself with the rich man in this story. I always saw myself as a “poor” person (which is so untrue), so I just read these words as a warning to not get too rich, to not climb too high. Really, though, I’ve always thought that it hardly applied to me at all. Life was good. We were paying the bills, piling up debt, and climbing the ladder. I’m so thankful that God intervened because I didn’t realize how miserable I was. He led us back into full time ministry. We enrolled in Financial Peace University. We recently moved to Mississippi, following God’s call to ministry here. There have been many changes that have led to a drastically reduced income over the last few years, and this new season has been no different. We have all that we need, but also so much less than the American dream we chased for so long, and I’ve never been happier. I’ve never been more at peace. And, I’ve never been closer to my God. Here’s the part that floors me the most: that verse about the camel has taken on a whole new meaning for me. I started to identify with this rich man who was too worried about his stuff to be worried about his soul.
First of all, let me just say that we are all rich. We are rich with opportunity, rich with things, rich with food, rich with access to healthcare, rich with potential, and drunk with the power of it all. When my husband lost his job, I continued working a full time job and stayed up nights painting door hangers to sell so that we could make ends meet. At one point, as we were trying to recover, Terrel was working as a teacher, a minister, and delivering pizza while I was teaching and painting. And we were getting NOWHERE! All of our work was in vain! My heart was filled with pride as I kept us afloat, and I resented my husband because I had to. This modern day Rosie the Riveter had no time for God because I was too busy saving our family from destruction. I could do it. Besides, God had allowed all of this to happen and He was free to solve our problems any time He wanted. I was done with asking and begging and praying. I had work to do. It’s all so ugly, but it’s real. Meanwhile, we had all that we needed. I was too bitter to appreciate it, but we did. We never went hungry, never slept without a roof over our heads, and we always had access to anything we needed in terms of healthcare. God took care of our temporal needs, but His real concern was for our spiritual needs. God had to knock us down a peg or two to get our attention. I say us, but it was really me. I didn’t want to return to full time ministry. I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want to relinquish control. Me, me, me. I, I, I.
Do you remember what happened in the story just before Jesus spoke the words in verse 24? Let’s look at it.
16Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
17“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
18“Which ones?” he inquired.
Jesus replied, “ ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19honor your father and mother,’c and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’d ”
20“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
21Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Jesus told He rich man to sell all that he owned and to follow Him. But why? I’ve always thought that it was a practical matter: get rid of what ties you down and give your self to something greater. Not a bad take away, but that was then and this is now. What does God want ME to learn from this story? As I’ve pondered these words and marveled at the journey of the last five years, I see a pattern emerge. My level of contentment, my peace, is a direct function of how much less I have. You’ve heard it said, “more money, more problems.” We’ll, I’m saying just the opposite. More need, more peace. Seriously. I think Jesus knew that this rich man had no idea of his own need for a savior. He’d lived according to the commandments and apparently thought he was doing pretty well. In fact, Jesus’s answer seems a little cheeky from this side of the cross. He says, “sell all of your stuff and give it to the poor. Then you’ll be perfect.” Jesus knows this guy isn’t one step away from perfect. Far from it. It’s when we’re all puffed up and basking in our own wonderfulness that we’re probably at our spiritual worst. What Jesus says is profound. In essence I believe Jesus is challenging the rich man to discover his own need. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I was the rich man! God had to take away my pride and my stuff to help me see that I am helpless, hopeless, and broken. He did it all to show me my own inadequacy. Now, I rejoice in the knowledge that I am in desperate need of my amazing, awesome, loving Savior! I’m saddened that we lumps of clay must first find that we are in temporal need (money, health, persecution) before we can discover that we have deeper spiritual need. Even so, God knows our broken hearts so well, and He is willing to meet us where we are and draw us to Him!
Friends, we have such immeasurable need! We need a savior! We need forgiveness. We need to be cleansed of sin. We need deliverance from impending judgement. We need faith in Jesus to shield us from Gods holiness and wrath. We need protection from the workings of the devil as he stalks us like a lion. We need temporal and spiritual provision. We need real power, the kind that comes from the Holy Spirit living inside of us. We need resurrection from our spiritual death. We need hope for today and for eternity. We are in NEED. Unfortunately, we humans fail to recognize its true depths. If we’re fortunate, our loving God will lead us to greater understanding of our need with each new season.
God doesn’t call us to be comfortable, He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through. -Francis Chan
This quote is taped into my Bible next to the story of Gideon and his 300 men (Judges 7). It challenged me to be open to God’s will as He lead us back into full time ministry in a city that was ten hours away from my family. It marks the beginning of my journey into a life of obedience, a life that is filled with a blessed need. My temporal needs are met through God’s provision, and all the while the hunger I feel for more of God grows and grows. I no longer chase the American dream. Instead I desire God’s will. Not perfectly, but as best I can in this fallen flesh. So, I ask you to consider what it is you’re chasing, and whether or not it is a healthy pursuit. Is it masking a truer, deeper need that you have yet to acknowledge? As you consider this and pray, I hope you’ll listen to the words of the songs below. My prayer is that we will be brave enough to be broken.
“God knows the only time I’m winning is when I’m chasing Him.”
“Sing a song to the one who’s all I need.”
“I know you hear me. I know you see me, Lord.”
“Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander.”
Be blessed, friends.