A couple of Sundays ago I was chatting to our pastor about the journey I spoke about yesterday, and he kept challenging me to apply this to my time rather than my money. I’d bring the conversation back to money and he’d say, “Yes, money’s important, but what about your time?” It wasn’t until I got home that I wondered if perhaps the Holy Spirit wasn’t pushing him to think about money stuff, in the same way that I wasn’t feeling pushed to think about time stuff; God works in each of us in different ways, which means that my passions – Spirit-led as they may be – don’t have to be yours. What follows, therefore, applies completely to me and my circumstances flowing from my convictions. Please bear that in mind as you read.
I was wondering if I should even write these posts, but decided to for reasons including (but not limited to) the fact that I am happy and alive and excited about God in a way I don’t remember being ever, and if my passion can somehow shine through these words and be used by God to nudge you towards the same kind of joy, I want that. I’m praying for that. I also know myself well enough to be fearful of this fire subsiding as time passes, and I want to be kept accountable. Watch me when we’re together, read my posts, call out hypocrisy and pride where you see it and challenge me to dig further into my selfish heart and weed out the parts that so often try to convince me that my life is about me. I’ll probably cry, but I promise I’ll thank you for it later. Disclaimers aside...
As we were reading through James in one of my Bible study groups, we were talking about what “Love your neighbour as yourself” (which pops up in 2:8) really looks like. We remembered that someone had asked Jesus something along these lines, and he’d responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan – a man is attacked by robbers and left by the side of the road, half dead. A couple of the “good” guys don’t stop – they see the man but cross to the other side of the road and walk on. And then along comes a Samaritan man – of all people, he’s the one who takes pity on the beaten man, bandaging his wounds and pouring oil and wine on them. He then puts the man on his donkey and takes him to an inn where he continues to care for him. He pays the innkeeper 2 days’ wages to keep the man there, and promises to return and pay more if necessary. His act of love was unexpected, and it cost him a lot. Jesus finishes his parable by saying, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).
It struck me that my giving and loving costs me nothing. If loving like Jesus means giving ourselves up for the sake of others, I haven’t been doing a great job. If I’m completely honest, I’ve been doing a terrible job – I don’t even notice money going out of our account for the organisations and ministries we support; until two weeks ago I sacrificed absolutely nothing in my efforts to fulfil Jesus’ command to love my neighbour. Our generosity started after all of our needs (and then even our desires) were met; we lived our comfortable life and made our comfortable plans and we thought God was okay with that because we’d confessed with our lips that Jesus was Lord – in faith alone, right?! But James says that faith without deeds is dead, and, though I’d called it “sleeping,” I knew from recent experience that this was true.
I love Weezer. I discovered their Buddy Holly video back in the days when Windows 95 was hip and new, and they’ve held a special place in the ‘Bands’ corner of my heart ever since. I especially love The Blue Album: Holiday! No One Else! The Sweater Song! Say It Ain’t So! It’s pure gold. I also like leg waxes. I like watching movies. I like eating chocolate and cake and biscuits. But after Crazy Love, I started asking, “Would my brothers and sisters in Africa be disgusted that I’m thinking of spending money on [insert potential purchase here],” and found that I could no longer bear the thought of paying $90 to sit and listen to a band play live what I could hear them play for free on my stereo at home. The nut bars that I bought for a snack while at the shops cost more than some people survived on FOR A WHOLE DAY.
Realising that my husband and I are incredibly rich despite the fact that we earn comparatively little has been an adjustment. But I was reading about the Sahel food crisis and conflict on UNHCR’s website a couple of weeks ago and I saw this: “More than 16 million people are facing food insecurity and more than 1 million children under the age of five are at risk of severe acute malnutrition.” I’d never even heard of “food insecurity,” let alone experienced it. There are pets in this country who have no idea what “food insecurity” looks like. I’ve never had to send my son to bed without dinner because we’ve had absolutely no food – his potbelly is matched by chubby arms and bright eyes; he eats when he’s hungry, and sometimes even when he’s not (the boy will not say no to sweet food, ever). I treat as ordinary things that many would count as luxuries: biscuits, snacks, spare change. If loving others like I love myself means doing what I can to provide for others what I’d expect for myself – food, clothes and shelter at a minimum – what the hell am I doing paying someone $40 or more to pull hairs out of my legs?!
These are obviously my startling expenses, though I’m not used to being startled by them so saying no to these things hurts! Especially when I’m sauntering past a wall of band posters in Burwood for the first time in months and notice that one of them is advertising the fact that Weezer are coming to Australia to play through their Blue Album. Weezer! The Blue Album! So mean, God! For the first time my husband and I are having to question things we’d previously ignored, such as “If Jesus returned next week, what would he think of our savings account?“ and “Where is our local Franklins supermarket?” Ethical shopping is inconvenient. Thinking about giving away chunks of money that were intended to one day go towards the purchase of a house is scary. Giving ourselves only $10 for pocket money per week after years of unlimited small purchases (mostly snacks and lunches, but also books, music and toys) feels surprisingly restrictive. Loving your neighbour as you love yourself requires sacrifice.
It also puts things in perspective, though. For too long I’ve subconsciously compared myself with the owners of mansions I’ve driven by rather than with refugees who’ve had to flee their homes with nothing but the clothes they’re wearing. Advertisements constantly tell me I don’t have enough, and for too long I’ve believed their lies; I’ve let greed rather than love dictate how I spend my money. In 1 Timothy 6:7-8, Paul says this: “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” It’s not a bad motto. I have food! Good food! Varied food! Healthy food! I have clothes! Too many clothes! Not only that, I live in a safe suburb! Our house is enormous! Drinking water runs in abundance from the taps! If I need a doctor, I don’t have to pay to see her! I’m not dependent on my husband and son to survive! I feel at home in this country! With all my heart: Thank you, God. Now let me be someone who uses her resources to bring basics like these to those who don’t yet enjoy them.
In Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell says this (on pages 165-166):
The church doesn’t exist for itself; it exists to serve the world. It is not ultimately about the church, it’s about all the people God wants to bless through the church. When the church loses sight of this, it loses its heart. This is especially true today in the world we live in where so many people are hostile to the church, many for good reason. We reclaim the church as a blessing machine not only because that is what Jesus intended from the beginning but also because serving people is the only way their perceptions of church are going to change. This is why it is so toxic for the gospel when Christians picket and boycott and complain about how bad the world is. This behaviour doesn’t help. It makes it worse. Why blame the dark for being dark? It is far more helpful to ask why the light isn’t as bright as it should be.
I wonder what light we Christians could bring to this world if we were all driven by our love for Jesus to live like he did. I’m a tad embarrassed by the ways I applied submission to daily life in this recent post – they seem so petty now! Surely by now I should have moved far beyond simple acts of kindness to a life dedicated to serving at every opportunity? How much does it really cost to get someone a cup of tea? If Jesus was only willing to offer that little of himself – if he thought that was hard – we’d all be in a hopeless situation right now. Imagine if Christians were known for their campaigns against injustice rather than gay people. Imagine if our meeting together actually spurred us on to love and good deeds! Imagine if every one of us acknowledged that our lives are not our own – our money is not our own, our time is not our own, our gifts are not our own – and looked out for little pieces of hell on this earth that God could make a little more like heaven through us. And so I pray, as St. Francis of Assisi did,
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.O Divine Master, grant that I may not
so much seek to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.