Have you noticed that a common reaction to a short-term mission trip is for the participants to express something like, “I now have more of an appreciation for what God has given me.” This is expressed in many different ways, but the essence is the same. We come away being especially aware, appreciative, and thankful for all the “blessings” that God has given us. Normally we are referring to things like cars, washing machines, dryers, easy access to water and electricity, a nice home, bountiful food, and so on. As time goes on and I consider the depths of God, His activity in our lives, and the condition of the world—I find myself questioning this sentiment more and more. Are what we consider blessings in America actually from God or the wolf dressed in sheep's clothing?
The other day I saw a post on Facebook from someone currently on a short-term mission trip. He was relating a sad story about some boys he encountered and posed this question to those following him back home: “the question is not why God allows suffering but rather the question is why God has blessed Americans with all we have and we spend it on candy corn and ignore those who suffer?” Now that is a good question, but I wonder if the presupposition is all wrong. What if all of us have a faulty presupposition? What if all of our “blessings” aren’t really from God? If you have traveled internationally and spent significant time with followers of Jesus from impoverished countries, think back on your experiences with them. Now who seems like the blessed one? That is always a dilemma that comes up for short-term missionaries. We recognize impoverished believers have a joy and contentment beyond our own, we see a commitment to serving Jesus that we wish we had, and we recognize it is because they don’t have the “stuff” that gets in the way of following Jesus. Yet we go home and try to figure out how to get all of our “stuff” over to them!
So how do we view the world? How do we view our abundance in relation to the poverty-stricken world around us? What are our responsibilities? These are hard questions! I once heard someone say, “taking a vow of poverty is easy…you just say ‘no’. But stewardship is hard.” What do we do with this life God has given us?
Recently I was in Haiti, and I saw a girl who was probably eight or ten years old pumping water out of a community well. She had probably five or six buckets she was filling and she was working hard! She was pumping that handle with everything she had. And it took her quite a long time to fill up all those containers. I thought about how easily I turn on my faucet and have an endless supply of good, clean, safe, healthy water—even here in the Tucson desert!
As I watched her while we were sitting in terrible traffic, I realized this was really hard work. But, you know, there’s nothing wrong with hard work! In fact, we would probably be better off as a society if we had to work a little harder! Yet, there is nothing wrong with having to walk out and pump water and bring it back to the house. Most of our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents did the same thing. But what does this girl in Haiti lose by having to work so hard to survive? The answer is availability. What could we gain by all of our technology and “blessings?” The answer is availability! Our standard of living and ease of survival should make us more available to God and give us more time to spend loving God and serving others. But that isn’t what has happened for most of us is it? We have filled our “extra” time with things with no eternal consequence such as TV and internet addictions, self-absorbed hobbies, and even substituted carting our children around to activities for actually loving and teaching our own children!
Are what we call “blessings” really blessings from God? For the first time in my life I really don’t know. But whether they are or they aren’t a question still remains about our “blessings.” To borrow the words of the famous Dr. Phil, “How’s that workin’ for ya?” The question restated is this, “are all the things you consider blessings helping you follow Jesus or are they obstacles? If your answer is obstacles, then make a change! Start changing the way you view the world! Start changing the way you view your purpose. Start changing the way you view your “blessings.” Instead of being something that blesses you, turn them into something that blesses others!