catapult magazine

catapult magazine


The embarrassment of wealth


Aug 17 2002
05:49 pm

My family were missionaries in Haiti. I had an shift in economic perspecitve as a child being in the poorest third world country in the Western hemisphere for several years. And it has never changed.

By 1st and 2nd world standards I don’t have much. All my worldly possessions, save my car, a table and chairs can fit into 10 boxes—5 of which are books. I have no debt. I don’t own a home. I have no savings. I’ve lived hand to mouth my whole life. My superfulous expenses are taking friends out to eat, books and art supplies. Sometimes I hate it. Sometimes I love it. Most of the time I don’t think about it. I’m not sure I’m wise. I have had plenty tell me I’m down right foolish.

By 3rd world standards, I’m rich. I struggle with what is wealth, and how to come to a place of rest in lifestyle, especially living in this country.

To be honest, I still feel I have too much. And that hand of guilt stays on me, all the time. It never allows me to truly enjoy an incredible meal, and I love fine dining. I love the expression of creativity in the presentation. I love the usage of color and the taste. But when that $100.00 tab rests at my elbow, I cringe. I could have bought a month’s worth of food for that. I could have supported a missionary with that. I could have donated it to Compassion International and fed 8 children for 2 months on that…. I wrestle with it, but justify the expense for the experience. And we all do that with whatever pleasures we enjoy. Is that bad?

I have a chronic disease of giving everything away, and often times it has left me in a financial bind wondering how I was going to pay my own bills. I give out of a strange sense of compassion for those I cannot get out of my mind, namely my Haitian brothers and sisters and fellow missionaries, but also those who, even in this country, seem less fortunate. My suffering with them in terms of living a minimal existence and giving to them, is a silliness that has perpelxed me for a very long time. But I’m coming to understand that it isn’t silliness, but a strange combination of brokenness and obedience.

What is it that we need to answer in terms of poverty? Is it really that everyone in the world needs to eventually become a 1st world culture, everyone needs the basic food, clothes and shelter, everyone needs a car and a 40 hour work week? Who’s poor? Maybe the deeper question is what is our end?

My own material poverty has created a deep understanding of the desperation of the poor, and sometimes that desperation frightens and controls me. It has also created a deep understanding of the faithfulness of God.

I’ve questioned the definition of His faithfulness. We like to stick these terms in boxes and say that the faithfulness of God looks like such and such. The Word says not to worry about tomorrow, and that the heavenly Father knows what you need and that He will provide those things. But there remains those believers who live in war torn countries, exist in solitary cells and live in economies of such poverty that their way of life will never allow them clean water let alone a meal. And God remains God. He is always faithful. Where is the break down in our thinking?

If God is faithful when we have extravagance and faithful when we have nothing, then “meeting our needs” must be something other than physical. He knows we need clothes, food and shelter, but those needs are not met on a regular basis for so many people in so many cultures that I’ve stopped believing that those things are what Jesus was really talking about.

I do believe that wealth is a matter of the heart and a matter of the Kingdom. I don’t believe having much or having little is the right question to ask. The Apostle Paul said he rejoiced in little and in much, in sickness and in health, in suffering and in freedom. All of it was the same to him. He was on to something. I see this same spirit in Jesus. His disciples had to remind Him to eat, and he would answer “My bread is to do the will of the Father.” The material was far less important to Him than the immaterial. And that is what I’m coming to for myself in greater measure as I’ve been working through some really tough stuff.

Jim Elliot said once (to the effect) “One is wise not to offer what was not one’s to give away in the first place.” Meaning, we are not our own. None of this, not even ourselves, is ours.

Perhaps the best question to ask ourselves in terms of physical wealth and privelege is "What has it done to my wealth in Christ Jesus? Is my life focused upon things which will burn, rust and rot or is my focus upon things eternal? As I focus on the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus said everything would be added unto me. That which is added may be poverty, sickness, material possession, joy or sorrow, but all those things, I trust as they come, will bring me closer to the Image of Christ. I may be a millionaire, I may be a farmer in China. The Kingdom of God is still the same.

I believe as I seek unity with Christ, that I will be unified with the body of Christ. And as that happens, their burdens are my burdens. Their sorrows my sorrows, and joys my joys. I cannot focus upon the Kingdom of Heaven and miss eternal wealth. I cannot focus upon the Kingdom of God and be unaware of the suffering around me. I cannot be in unity with Christ and lack awareness of His Spirit within which says, “Give this, keep that.” And that conversation with Spirit will be different for all of us—but most certainly all to His glory.

I think Kirsten has the right thought in this discussion, concluding that it is holding possession loosely, realizing none of it belongs to us anyway, that includes our person, time, energy and money. And I think the principle of tithing is tied into that truth as well for all those things. Tithing honors the God who owns it all. It reminds you that He can do as He wills. And keeping 90% of that wealth perhaps is what He wills, but there may come a day when you know He is asking you to exist with 10% and give the 90%. Whatever He requires is acceptable, for slaves cannot say to their masters, enough is enough.

He is faithful.