Have you ever thought something that you would NEVER say out loud because you thought it would sound like a dumb thing to say? I most certainly have, and on more than one topic! Here is one of my thoughts that I kept to myself for a long time: “Third world poor people suffer in many ways we in the West cannot relate to, but I wonder if these people have joys we cannot relate to? And I wonder if we in the West suffer certain forms of sorrow that third world people do not suffer?” Then one day I read a statement from someone who knows firsthand the sufferings and joys of both cultures. Heidi Baker wrote about what she learned in her work among Africa’s poorest. She stated that the affluent West, while it was rich in material things, was encumbered with all forms of emotional sufferings. But the African poor, who had so little materially and who often suffered deeply from lack as well as from military and social persecution, were joyful and thankful and childlike. Heidi concluded that if one truly saw the difference between the two mindsets, a wise person would choose the third world’s joyful suffering over the overfed spiritual poverty of the West. I know of several missionaries that have carried out this very scenario, and left the States to go back and live out their lives where they ministered in a third world country.
Scripture supports this truth. The message to the church in Smyrna (Revelation 2:9) begins “I know about your suffering and your poverty – but you are rich!”(Revelation 3:17) the message is just the opposite: “You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” Of course, this does not mean that poverty is a blessing or that it guarantees a spiritual blessing. Just as surely, it does not mean that material wealth is a bad thing that automatically brings sorrow. The blessing of the Lord makes a person rich, and He adds no sorrow with it. (Proverbs 10:22). No. Sorrow comes from the seeds sown inside our hearts, just as the joy arises in the poor from the same source. Still, there is a strong warning throughout scripture that material plenty can easily lead to spiritual bankruptcy. Just look around us. As a great country song of a few years ago stated: “I see love hungry people trying their best to survive; when right there in their hands is a dying romance and they’re not even trying to keep it alive.” Yeah, the West is more concerned with stuff than relationships.
The book of Deuteronomy was given as Israel completed the journey through the wilderness where they were dependent on God’s presence and provision. Take note of how many times they were warned that when they became materially secure, not to then forget God. It could be seen as the main theme of the entire book. There is a comforting element to the shaking we have been experiencing the past few months. God promised in Hebrews 12:26,27: Once again I will shake not only the earth but the heavens also. This means that the things on earth will be shaken, so that only eternal things will be left. Some have known far more financial loss than others. And I am not trying to set myself up as the judge of who needed to be shaken in that realm. But I can confess of my own awakening through shakings in my emotional and relational life. I have seen close bonds in relationships fade away into nothing and/or shatter into brokenness. I have seen myself reacting instead of responding, hurt and angry instead of trusting God to bring great good out of my shakings. I have held on to my grief instead of letting it go to the Cross. It isn’t ultimately about the shaking. It is about what cannot be shaken – the eternal things.
So what are you learning about yourself? What is the Lord trying to teach you about how your reactions and/or responses to loss, lack, conflict, or political insanity, reveal what is really inside? The sorrows of the West are certainly those stemming far more from relationship issues than from physical lack, even among the less fortunate. The spirit of hell, the fiery torment we tend to picture as eternal torment, is not some divine torture chamber where God gets revenge on the wicked. But hell, in its seed form, shows up in how we treat each other. Such things as rancor, bitterness, jealousy, envy, slander, violence, rage, cursing, etc. And if the seed form of hell can be such a terrible torment for us to endure, what kind of full-blown hell would it become? We are very foolish if we do not see that these and all such related emotions are the seeds that if left unhealed, will grow – bit by bit – into a hideous hell. That is why Scripture repeatedly refers to putting off all such seed formations from us. We must root them out and purge them from our hearts, and refuse to allow them to poison our relationships, our conversations, and our behaviors with each other. For if we do not begin in our own closest relationships, we are then unable to be Christlike when confronted with the wicked on the outside of our private world.
Geographical location is no guarantee of godliness. It is not about being African instead of Western. 90% of the 800,000 Rwandans who slaughtered each other 25 years ago were self-proclaimed Christians. Neighbors who had known each other for years murdered each other because they were Tutsis or Hutus who were considered Tutsi lovers. Jesus wept over Jerusalem because had the people heeded what He taught, they would not have fanned the flames that would destroy them in 70 A.D. It was their unrelenting rage against Roman injustice that they thought they could righteously resist, that brought them to utter destruction. If they had only known the time of their visitation. “Now,” Jesus weeps, “your house is left to you desolate.”
If you think that cannot happen here, think again. We are all capable of this and worse evils. Jesus would not have warned us against such evil if we were immune to it. We must be vigilant to root out the seeds of hell inside us while they are just seeds. No one wants to face the full grown hell of our own way. Do not wait till your frustration turns to anger and your anger turns to rage and your rage turns to cruelty. Stop it at the frustration point, by willfully choosing to ACT in love. Send that frustration to the Cross. Move in forgiveness. As we by grace arrest the growth of these evil hellish seeds within us, we will be empowered by love to hinder them from taking root and growing around us. We ARE the salt of the earth. We ARE the light of the world. Little things, little seeds, matter. Root out the evil ones; sow in the fruits of the Spirit. Dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete purity… 2 Corinthians 7:1