There are three emphases that I think are necessary for engaging well in God’s Kingdom. There’s another kingdom out there that vies for our allegiance, and we can tell which one we belong to by the things we love.
Let’s look at the ways to find out what we treasure, what we really love.
Simplify. We, the 20% of the world use 80% of the world’s resources. This thuds deep into me and I cringe at our mindlessness and sense of entitlement. Even so, I like my comfort and routine and ease. We all do. It’s human. For example, please don’t think about taking away my morning coffee comfort. Don’t talk to me about 25,000 people starving every day while we Westerners go on diets to look better and fit into our clothes.
It’s possible to live with less stuff. It’s entirely possible to be gloriously happy without the latest home-deco your neighbor has. It’s possible to live well without shopping at Walmart or even thrift stores every week or getting a manicure every month. It’s possible to have a wonderful life with only three sweaters to choose from in your closet. You can feed guests tomato soup and toasted cheese sandwiches and still have a fantastic evening together.
We don’t need all the extras we think we do. Amy Carmichael idealized living with as many things that could fit into a hobo’s handkerchief. I think she was on to something and it’s why I hated hauling a 50+ lb. suitcase from pillar to post when I was on furlough.
For a push toward simplifying, I suggest reading Jen Hatmaker’s book called “7, An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess”. It’s her account of when she simplified 7 parts of her life for 7 months as a discipline and way to assess her life. She’s crazy and disorganized and funny, and her book makes you think that if she can do that, you can cut out something in your world too. After my aunt read the book, she decided to not go to the grocery store for one month but eat what they already had in their pantry and freezer. Bravo!
Ouch. I don’t like this word.
And, like simplify, it’s a relative term. But still, what sacrifice colors your life? I’m not saying we should aim to be ascetics, but I am saying that we shouldn’t let discomfort determine our choices.
A friend recently spoke of her Sunday school teacher who was talking gravely about financial sacrifice. “Ladies, I’ve had to go a whole month without buying clothes for myself!” I want to say this as lovingly but as loudly as possible: if not buying clothes for yourself for a month is your idea of sacrifice, you have NO IDEA what sacrifice is.
If we could look into Jesus’ face when He was on the cross, and watch Him for hours like His mother did, we’d have a better idea of sacrifice. The most costly sacrifices have to do with the intangible parts of us that can’t be quantified in money or stuff. Sacrifice could mean choosing to live far away from family members. It could mean prioritizing ministry more than career. It could be sharing time with someone instead of money.
Always, it means doing without something you value for the benefit of another.
When I heard about a young man who bought a swanky car because he said he didn’t know what else to do with his money, my first thought was, “Wow, he has a really small world.” I guess he doesn’t know that the missionaries his church supports have to seriously scrunch to make their grocery money reach every month. I guess he doesn’t know about Comeragh Wilderness Camp that pours itself out for delinquent boys and is strapped for money. And about half a million other ministries that need funds.
Then I thought about my friend who was in college and was crying because she couldn’t give as much to missions as she used to, and I know she’s a lady who knows what sacrifice is and it’s clear to me what kingdom she’s part of.
In away, serve encapsulates simplify and sacrifice. This is about living with an outward view. Which calls for radically reorganizing the contours of our hearts because we are born looking inwardly and serving ourselves. Which is what the Gospel is all about—getting new hearts and looking at our world in a different way than is natural.
There are so many ways and places to serve that it sometimes feels overwhelming. I could stay in Poland and love people who don’t know Jesus and need Him so desperately. As an English teacher, I could do the same thing anywhere in the world. I hear my cousin’s Liberia stories and I just got done reading Kisses from Katie and I know that if I’d go to Africa (or India) (or Cambodia) and touch those children’s hair and feel their tears on my cheeks, something would break deep inside me and I could never be the same again.
We all applaud serving sick children in far-away places, and pouring out our lives on behalf of poor people in other countries. It all sounds exciting and exotic and news-worthy.
But sometimes the most important thing we can do is serve the person beside us. The brother who’s always asking favors from you. Or the neighbor who irritates you every morning. It’s all very easy to talk about serving someone in the Far East. It feels a little different when you realize you don’t have to step outside your living room to serve.
One January I had the huge honor of visiting at Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute the same night they were having their term banquet. Instead of asking parents and friends to come pamper them for an evening of finery, they invited neighbors up and down the roads around the school. The students cooked the food and served and played music and sang for and visited with the guests.
I happened to be a guest of the administrator’s wife, so I got in on it too. I was eating delicious food in a beautifully decorated gym and the pianist was playing “Shine Jesus Shine” and I wanted to melt into a puddle of tears. Vibrant, gifted young people were working and smiling and serving their world and it was so beautiful and right, it made me cry.
I think that I already live pretty simply. But the truth is that I live in luxury. I’m not sure what to do about it, but I do know that it means saying NO to things I could do or get. Often–every day and probably many times a day. It also means finding beauty and pleasure in things that are already around me.
Some of the costliest places of sacrifice for me has been living far away from most of my friends and relatives. My friends do amazing things like get married and have babies or suffer funerals and tragedies and I’m a million miles away. The loneliness and distance is something that never lessens even though it’s been like this for 19 years. Another sacrifice has been living in a country where I can’t speak the language well enough to communicate easily. It’s hard, hard, hard for me, the girl whose biggest problem used to be having too many words.
Serving people cuts across the grain of my soul because I think people should spend their days thinking about how they could make my life better. I’m a princess, after all! Ugh. When I see how ugly that stance is, it helps me rearrange my focus and CHOOSE to serve.
Simplifying, sacrificing, and serving are all part of the shape of Jesus’ life and what it means to be part of His Kingdom. The beauty of it is that His invitation to join Him is not about making us squirm or feel as miserable as possible. It’s part of selling everything just to buy the pearl that we treasure.
What do you love the most? That’s where your treasure is.