There are few things comparable to the African night’s sky. In the bush of Zimbabwe, there are no cityscapes or skyscrapers, no stadiums or subdivisions, no interstates filled with headlights or any other number of civilized contributions that steal away from an evening sky’s natural brilliance. I sat under the innumerable stars as I listened to similar stories from a number of high school seniors around a campfire. The common theme was easily identified: now that we’ve seen how little these people have, we realize how much we have and how much we take it for granted. These sentiments are generally echoed by anyone who has visited a third world country, anyone who has seen the poorest of the poor up close and in person. Earlier that day, I had been welcomed graciously into a small hut and listened to a widow’s story about how she would often go days without food. All over the world, people suffer from want and need that we can’t comprehend. You can find a wealth of numbers, statistics, and information about this. In fact, as I was writing this blog, I received the following tweet from David Platt: “Reality: 1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water today. Result: 1 child dies from unsafe water every 15 seconds…” I’d like to share with you a video from Sarah McLachlan, who is not associated with any ministry or Christian organization, but clearly understands the need.
I don’t say all of this to try to guilt you into an empty feeling of remorse or guilt, but to alert you of another common idol in our culture: comfort. The worship of comfort exists equally between the saved and the lost, those proclaiming Christ and those proclaiming anything but. Those who are comfortable believe they have no need of God or the gospel. In the church, we’re often guilty of twisting the gospel to conform to the American Dream, our two-story house with a white picket fence, 2.5 children, and two new SUVs in the nicest neighborhood around. This simply doesn’t seem to fit with Jesus’ words in Luke 8:57-62. These are not words of comfort. Platt, pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, has recently released a book all about this issue entitled “Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream” . I would certainly encourage you to pick this up and give it a read, with the warning that you should be prepared for a heavy dose of conviction.
Many will wince at this and claim that there is nothing wrong with working hard and making a good living. I would agree, there is nothing inherently wrong with this. In fact, God has gifted many people with the ability to make money. However, you can judge whether or not the idol of comfort exists by simply asking this: Are you willing to give it up? In Luke 18, the rich young ruler comes and asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. The answer was simple, but must have been difficult for the man to hear. “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Unfortunately, the rich young ruler was not willing to give up what he had. Jesus went on to say “how difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God,” not because rich people must perform more works or give up everything they have, but because he knew that those who are comfortable rest in and rely on their comfort, rather than being willing to give freely for the sake of the gospel.
I’m a young, married, seminary student trying to plant a church. That’s four strikes against me as far as finances are concerned. My wife said “I do” just over a year ago, and since that time all I’ve wanted was to be able to settle down and be comfortable. However, that hasn’t been an option. What I once saw as a burden, I’ve slowly started to see is a time of preparation. I don’t have much money, but God still convicts me about how I spend what he blesses me with. God has shown me that true comfort exists only in Christ, and my idea of what it will look like one day when I’m settled down and comfortable has changed dramatically. I’m not insinuating that anyone should live in a cardboard box, or that everyone is called to give up everything they have and move to Africa. I am simply saying that God has entrusted us with the gospel and with a great deal of wealth when compared to the rest of the world. My prayer is that we would be wise and generous in sharing both.