“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” (Philippians 3:7, NIV)
Last week my car died as I was driving to take my boys fishing. Needless to say, I wasn’t in a great mood the rest of the afternoon, even though a friend came in just a few minutes to jump me and get me home, and other friends gave me a loaner (thank you!). I had a super busy week last week, so even though a couple guys from my Life Group offered to help fix it, I ended up taking it to a shop because I didn’t have time to work on it. Truth be told, I was a little frustrated with the Lord.
Then God reminded me what it really means to be blessed. When I’ve gone on mission trips to developing nations, I’ve always been shocked by two seemingly opposite things: (1) the abject poverty of the people we’re serving, and (2) the incredible faith of the believers there. Many of the brothers and sisters in Christ I’ve served alongside in these places are barely surviving. They live in tiny homes with dirt floors that are the size of many Americans’ living rooms. They may only eat one meal a day–if they get work that day and can buy food. Many live with (or have come out of) families with sexual abuse, physical abuse, substance abuse, emotional abuse… do you see the pattern?
And yet, in spite of these circumstances, they have the most amazing faith I have ever seen. They continuously talk about how good God is, they sense His presence, hear Him speak, and are filled with His power. They know what it means to depend on God in ways that I have never known. I can talk about trusting God, but when was the last time I had to trust God to provide food that day? When was the last time I had to trust God to heal me because there was literally no healthcare system to go to? When was the last time God was really my only option?
In America, we tend to define “blessed” in material terms: a promotion, a bigger truck, a bigger TV, more stuff, a bigger house. We look at all the “poor” people in other countries and pray that God would bless them the way He’s blessed us. And yet, look at my faith. If I had 10% of the faith of the believers I’ve met in those “poor” countries, my whole life would be turned upside down!
It seems to me that we are physically rich but spiritually poor, while they are physically poor but spiritually rich. So, who’s really blessed? We go on mission trips and give them a bunch of stuff (granted, it’s often stuff they need) and teach them Bible stories, and they show us what it really means to trust God. We come back with stronger faith. Who is really helping whom? To be sure, I am thankful for the material things God has given me so that my family can eat three meals a day, live in a comfortable home, and drive cars that work (even if they sometimes need new alternators). But I often find that those very material things can hinder my trust in God if I let them.
In Php. 3:7, the word “gains” could be translated “assets,” and the word “loss” could be translated “liabilities.” Those terms were used in Paul’s day in much the same way the English equivalents are used in ours: to speak of net worth. Of course, Paul was thinking of spiritual net worth. All the “assets” of being religious are really “liabilities” that can actually keep people from recognizing their need for Christ. But I think the principle applies to other things as well. Sometimes our material assets can become spiritual liabilities that get in the way of our relationship with God. We must never pursue the gifts rather than the Giver.
My prayer for the week is that we’ll remember to be thankful for what we have, but also that we’ll take a few moments to evaluate if some of our assets might really be liabilities.