“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. " (John 3:16)
"Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. " (1st John 2:15)
How can we learn to live in this world, to love it as God does, but not the "things of this world"?
How can we learn to live here--and be very much involved here--but not be 'defined' by the 'stuff' of this world?
Can we live in a materialistic world without becoming materialistic?
All of these questions have been bumping around my brain since my trip to Africa. As I shared in church yesterday, the people in Uganda and Kenya have very little. They are living day-to-day off the land, some are trying to make a living selling things harvested, while others have gone to the city in search of a more prosperous life, only to find that it doesn't pan out.
They look to America...and the American Church...as proof of God's blessing. Specifically, they assume that we must be loved by God and pleasing to Him BECAUSE we are blessed, materially and financially.
They think that, if they could just figure out what we've done to be blessed, they and thier churches would be better off.
Strictly from a 'this world' mindset, they're probably right--thier infrastructure, thier government, their laws, their organization (or the lack thereof), if addressed like America's would probably go a long way toward improvement of life.
...but from a Spiritual standpoint, I'm not too sure they'd be better off.
They are amazing in their all out abandonment to God in worship, their grace and optimism IN SPITE of their poverty. They see God as very real, very present, very important and very concerned about their lives now. Their connection with Him is close, intimate (with some exceptions, of course).
I wonder: If they started to prosper like we have, would it remain so?
Prosperity brings it's own set of difficulties and temptations.
We become TOO enamored with the 'stuff' of this world, and it distracts us from our love of God and the things He loves.
"Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity. " (1st John 2:16, the Message)
So what are WE supposed to do? Are we supposed to sell everything we have? Is poverty somehow more 'spiritual' than wealth?
No...that would be too simplistic and easy, and it would lead to legalism and self-righteousness.
Instead, we must simply try to keep our focus on loving the Lord, with all our heart, soul, mind, and loving others as we love ourselves. We can do so with material goods, but we must never trust material goods to give us peace, or choose material blessings over the blessings of God.
This seems to leave a certain amount of 'tension' in this issue. It would be easier if someone would just tell us to do one or the other--go for poverty, or go for riches. Jesus seemed to lean that way when He told the 'rich young ruler' to "go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor, then come and follow me" (Mark 10:21). This man went away sad, because he loved the things of this world more than he loved Jesus. This was not Jesus' words to everyone who had wealth...He simply knew this man's heart, and exactly where he needed to be challenged.
What are WE to do with this? How can we live in this world without being distracted so much by material wealth that we forget that HE is to be first?
We have to live with the tension...we have to allow His Holy Spirit to examine us. We have to start asking, when making a purchase or deciding how to spend the money He allows us to have, "Lord, what do you want me to do with this"?
It may be that He gives you the freedom to go ahead, without condemnation, and make that purchase...it may be that He moves you to choose to do something else with the money...in either case, it's the practice of putting Him in His rightful place--#1--that is important.
Today, start asking Him to help you think differently...to think about the wealth you've been given as a tool to be of service to Him. Submit your 'stuff' to Him...learn to love the world, but not the things in this world.