What's Up With Spiritual Wealth?
In November 2006, I was sitting at the airport in Delhi, India. It was hot and sticky with lots of flies buzzing around in small swarms. Exhaustion had its grip on me, but was being nipped at by an undercurrent of excitement as I wrote in my journal and engaged in some serious people watching.
I was homeward bound, concluding two weeks in that part of the world. As a member of a six-person team from across the BIC denomination, we’d spent most of the time in Nepal, in and around the industrial city of Biratnagar.
By the way, BIC is shorthand for Brethren in Christ, one of the best kept secrets in North America.
We were visiting church leaders in Nepal and trying to be an encouragement. The reality is that we were the ones who had been thoroughly revitalized by men and women who serve Christ in adverse conditions—they strive against a deeply ingrained caste mindset and strong opposition from authorities.
We met leaders whose understanding of what it means to be motivated by an eternal perspective was so automatic that it humbled us—men and women who routinely face hostility, and respond to it not with whimpering or whining, but with determined grace because they completely understand why Jesus was born.
I arrived home in time to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family and begin the Advent Season with my church family. At that moment I was convinced that my time invested with Nepalese brothers and sisters would color my perspective of Advent in an extremely positive way.
It did then and still does now. After hanging out with people whose material poverty is swallowed whole by their spiritual wealth, the question of why Jesus was born takes on a depth of meaning seldom attainable in the midst of affluence.
Why Was Jesus Born?
Celtic Daily Prayer reads: “Advent is traditionally a time of preparation for Christmas. It is said that the door to the stable where the Christ-child has been born is very low -- and only those who kneel find access. In the run-up to Christmas we remember especially Zacharias and Elizabeth, and the child John who, still in the womb, leapt in anticipation of the coming Lord. Christ has come; Christ has died and is risen; Christ will come again.”
Why was Jesus born? In a word: Hope. Jesus was born to give hope. The human race is stuck inside the curse of sin, with all its destructive ramifications. Christ was born as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Only the hope that Christ provides can lift people up out of the muck and mire of oppressive bondage.
Religion cannot do that—in fact, as seen in Nepal and right here in North America, religion quite often is the ball and chain that is the hardest to shatter. Only relationship with God made possible by the conduit of Jesus Christ grants us hope. And hope always perseveres.
Those of us who have freely received the forgiveness God provides in Christ are to be truly thankful—in our thanksgiving we are to remember that as recipients of grace we have been commissioned with a vital responsibility.
Jesus said that to whom much is given, much is required. The Apostle Paul built upon that foundational theme when he wrote that as believers in Christ our lives are not our own because we have been bought by a great price. In the midst of political turmoil and grinding poverty, our Nepalese brothers and sisters modeled both those Biblical principles in attitude and action.
Maoists & Cow Dung
While we were in Kathmandu, a ten year long Maoist insurgency achieved a major victory in what was heralded in the local newspapers as a historic agreement. The Maoists had brokered a deal that gave them an influential voice in the government of Nepal.
There were many pro and con demonstrations in the streets. We drove through the middle of a rather boisterous rally, with the army lined up on one side in riot gear and a mob of Maoist supporters chanting and screaming on the other side. Our taxi driver referred to it as just a “little fight”, but it had all the ingredients necessary for a full-fledged eruption of violence.
The Maoists are continually involved in recruiting schoolchildren to indoctrinate them into communism. We eye-witnessed columns of twelve and fourteen year olds with ancient guns marching and spewing communist slogans—we eye-witnessed women in remote villages hunkered down on their haunches, using nothing but their bare hands as they rolled cow dung, sticks and straw into fire-logs for fuel to cook over.
It is against this backdrop of political chaos and economic suffering that vibrant cells in the body of Christ press on and reach out to others for the most elementary reason: Jesus is Lord and he was born to save sinners. Danger lurks all around them, yet their purpose is fixed on the things of God and the stuff of eternity—their faith shines like shimmering stars lighting up the darkest night.
By comparison, the church in North America is fat and lazy, feeding at the trough of excess. There is much for us to learn about faith and prayer and action. Our focus needs to be radically altered; far too often catering to our wants and preferences is what animates or excites us, and all that must be flushed down the toilet. We need to take risks to advance the gospel and be mobilized by a singular motivation: Jesus is Lord and he was born to save sinners.
What’s up with spiritual wealth is this: To achieve it in affluent North America is incredibly hard because the consumer culture has wrought its devastating influence on the church—insulated by layers of abundance and luxury we have a false sense of security that is detrimental to spiritual prosperity.
Lay our circumstances alongside the harsh financial realities for much of the world and it is obvious that we are so immersed in wealth we do not even recognize our blind-spots or the dangers.
One can deny that, but vehement protestations will not change the fact that we are programmed to expect economic ease as a birthright—we get our shorts all bunched up into knots and wring our hands in worry when the Dow Jones takes a nose-dive or fluctuations in the stock market raid our retirement storehouses.
All that does not mean we should surrender or capitulate to the cultural norm. We ought to keep an intense hunger stirred up within by seeing temporal illusions as obstacles that can actually harm us—we must strive to do whatever is necessary to make eternity our top priority.
Is that ever easy? No, just the opposite; it is always an arduous process of letting go—nothing about gaining spiritual wealth while blanketed by the myriad deceptions of material opulence is easy.
It would be best for us to heed what Jesus said in response to the degree of difficulty involved for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Jesus put the onus on the supernatural work of God—we need to continually be available and open to the mysterious and powerful work of God in our lives.
What does it mean to pray give us this day our daily bread? Those who follow Christ in Nepal would answer that question much differently than we do in the land of plenty because for them a day by day dependence upon God for basic necessities is a constant theme of their lives. Call me crazy, but as disciples, isn’t that the kind of tight connection to God we claim we desire?
We can take huge strides toward that goal when we seriously apply the truth of Scripture: To whom much is given, much is required. When we do so, like our brothers and sisters in Nepal, we can be shining stars in our circles of influence.
- Wanted Man
Wanted Man a.k.a. Ken R. Abell, seeks to be a blessing to others. He's a rake, a rambler, and a teller of tales who understands that there is strength in a story well told and well lived. To learn more, inquire or schedule him, visit this web site.
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