If you have done any kind of missions work outside of the Unites States or if you love to read about the world, you know that living in America is a little like living in a sheltered castle. Sure, we venture out once in awhile to give gifts and minister to the peasants, but most of our lives are spent living comfortably and luxuriously in the castle. Castle dwellers face their own sets of problems, of course…facing things like enemy attacks, betrayals, and illnesses. But they are not worried about the very basest of needs, things such as food, shelter, and clothing.
How do we live an effective Christian life in the castle? And can we truly experience dependence on God while we reside in luxury and comfort? Even the poorest American is incredibly wealthy, when compared to many countries, simply because they have their basic needs met. They do not have wild animals stealing their children in the night nor do they fear that enemies will burn down their home, torturing, raping, and murdering their loved ones, as they do so. Most American children are never kidnapped and enslaved.
I struggle almost daily with the question: Why am I here? Why was I born in America? What does God want me to do with what I have?
You see, the easiest, most natural thing to do when our lives are safely tucked within the country-sized castle is to be focused on our own families, jobs, churches, and problems. Unless we take time to read, watch, or go many of us don’t even give the impoverished people outside the castle walls a thought.
As all of this rolls around in my brain, many thoughts come to mind. Here are a few:
1. As believers, we are required to serve others. It is not an option. So many of us serve only when we feel like it. Or when it makes us feel better about ourselves without costing too much. Or when it fits our schedule. I am including myself here. I am ashamed of how often my first thoughts when asked to serve are often centered on how will it inconvenience or cost me?
2. We are to take care of widows and orphans (James 1:27); We are to minister to the Saints (fellow believers) (Hebrews 6:10); But, most importantly, most of the Bible verses about serving have to do with self-denial. We are to deny ourselves and serve Jesus, oftentimes by serving others. This is no easy task and we should start right within our own families. It is no good to be traveling abroad if we aren’t even serving with love at home.
3. There is no need to travel to third world countries in order to minister. Many are the needs here. But I will venture to say that ministering here is a bit like the princess helping the scullery maid of the castle. There are certainly needs but the castle staff is still somewhat protected and sheltered because they live in the castle. It isn’t until you leave the protection of the castle that you see true poverty, in my opinion.
4. Serving often means stepping outside of our comfort zone. This is a big one and takes a giant leap of faith. I say this, because I have experienced it. Fear can’t rule you if you are going to serve whole-heartedly. I continue to work through this even now, as I prepare for my next trip out of the country.
5. Ministering to physical needs is worthless, unless we are addressing their eternal destiny, as well, through sharing the good news of the Gospel. I have long made it a rule to not even give to agencies that aren’t sharing the gospel, even if what they are doing is in the name of Christ. What good is it to feed a body for a lifetime if their soul will be in hell for eternity?
6. We need to be so careful with our priorities. If we aren’t careful, we start living our lives centered around a home mortgage or a car payment. We base important life decisions on selfish things like reputation and comfort. I heard someone say yesterday that if it isn’t eternal, it isn’t important. That certainly does put it in perspective, doesn’t it?
7. And, maybe most importantly, we should be expressing our gratitude every day to our Heavenly Father for not only meeting our physical needs, but for giving us far more than we could ever dream. And yet, many times, we not only take this for granted, but behave as if we deserve it. We demand comfort and conveniences and tend to complain when things aren’t just right. This happens easily in this culture, doesn’t it? Where everyday we are inundated with commercials and billboards telling us we deserve the best. Actually, we don’t deserve the best. We are just so blessed.
As we ponder what the Lord wants from us, one thing is certain. Each and every one of us has a multitude of ways we can serve others each day. But we can only do that when we step outside of a world based on “me” and reach out.