Saturday, July 2, 2011

Thou Shalt Live Comfortably--And Other Things God Never Promised

I came across this article back a few months ago. Like so many times before, I 'accidentally' discovered this article right when I needed it the most. I was so blessed by what this man had to say. It was so refreshing to read and a real kick in the butt at the same time. I wanted to share in hopes that someone reading may need to hear this just like me.

Enjoy and be blessed!!

Thou Shalt Live Comfortably—And Other Things God Never Promised

by Michael D. Warden on October 02, 2008

A few years ago, I embarked in pursuit of a life-long dream to live and experience the cultures of various Central American countries for an entire year. I went with no set agenda and few preset plans, leaving my course open for God to shape as He would. True to His ways, God opened up several opportunities for me to serve. In the process, I befriended several local believers, natives of the lands in which I was the outsider. Without exception, they were gracious and passionate people who treated me with a selfless kindness and deep respect that humbled me. I treasured the months I shared with them, and when the time was over, I was sad to say goodbye.

Upon my return to the United States, I found that everything around me had changed. Only really, it hadn’t. The change wasn’t in my surroundings but in my own newly opened eyes. Everywhere I looked, I was being told to satisfy my “needs” by buying. The onslaught of commercials paraded before me—You need this. You deserve this. This will make you happy.—openly challenging the peaceful well of contentment that had deepened in my soul during my months away. Their messages screamed from the billboards, echoed through the cavernous malls, and spilled off the clothing people wore; they blasted through the radio, the television, and in movie theaters. The stench of consumerism suddenly seemed to saturate the air, soaking everything around me in its unpleasant odor. Whatever product, service, or experience was being touted, the underlying messages were always the same: You have a right to this. You deserve to have nice things. You should be comfortable. Your life should be free of pain. You should be happy—and always, always entertained.

For most of my life as a Christian, I have quietly believed the tenets of consumerism. “What’s wrong with having nice things?” I would ask myself. “Doesn’t God want to bless me? I work hard for what I get. I deserve to reap the benefits, don’t I? Nothing wrong with that.” But consumerism is a deceptive weed. Its hidden roots dig far deeper into most of us than the occasional act of harmless self-indulgence. They burrow right to the core of our beliefs as followers of Christ. Once there, they lie to us about what a Christian should expect out of life—and what he shouldn’t.

As believers who are called to walk in God’s truth, it’s crucial to recognize the false messages of consumerism. While there are certainly more, here are three lies that strike most prominently at the root of our faith, and perhaps do the greatest damage to our freedom in Christ—and our witness to the world.

Lie #1: You Have a Right to a Comfortable Life

I came to see this lie through a simple comment made offhandedly by a missionary friend a few years ago. “God did not save us just so we could live comfortable little lives,” he said. The statement seared me like a branding iron upon my heart.

According to the U.S. Federal Reserve, more than 40 percent of U.S. families spend more than they earn each year. The typical American in the U.S. currently maintains around $8,400 of credit card debt.

God’s Word promises us many things—wonderful things, things to be treasured, beliefs to cling to when times grow difficult in our lives. But He never promised any of us that He would give us a comfortable life. That’s not a right that we as Christians can claim. Yet many of us do, demanding it as naturally as if the edict for our comfort came down from heaven itself. Many of our choices and priorities are founded on the belief that we deserve a comfortable lifestyle, home, job, and even (dare I say it) church life.

The message of our culture—that you deserve to be comfortable—isn’t the message of the gospel. “God does not promise to make us middle class,” says Robert L. Hubbard, professor at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago. “While there’s nothing excessive with wanting to have a nice house, new car, three meals a day, and full cable service, these are not biblical ‘needs.’ The kingdom of God and the middle class are not the same thing. He blesses some of his people with wealth; still, He guarantees only that we’ll have food and clothing.”

The Apostle Paul reflected the attitude we should embrace with respect to physical comforts. “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these” (1 Tim. 6:7-8).

God promises to provide. But as the Scriptures clearly point out, He didn’t save us just so we could live comfortable, little lives.

Lie #2: You Have a Right to Be Entertained

More than any other nation, we’re a people enamored with our right to be entertained, and we happily throw our money and time into those activities and products that hold the greatest “entertainment value” for us. Being entertained is how we Americans relax and escape the daily stress of life.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average American spends almost $2,000 each year on movies, sporting events, concerts, music, video games, and other entertaining diversions.

I am no different, of course. I’m a great lover of movies and music, and even play video games from time to time. But my love for entertainment becomes a problem when I begin to view it as a right, and I begin to (unconsciously, almost) fill my life with only those activities that promise in some way to entertain me. I focus on pleasing myself and do not think so much about sacrificing my pleasure for the sake of meeting another’s need. I judge the value of my church (and even my relationship with God) by how much pleasure it brings me and tend to dull my hearing against voices that are inconvenient or too demanding.

For good reason, the Apostle Paul issued a strong warning against this sort of pleasure-centered approach to life. “But know this: difficult times will come in the last days. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the form of religion but denying its power. Avoid these people!” (2 Tim. 3:1-5).

Clearly, Paul saw the pleasure-focused lifestyle as a serious threat to the health and purity of the body of Christ—to the point of warning us to sever all ties with people who choose to live that way.

But do we?

Lie #3: You Have a Right To Be Free From Pain

Pain is bad, isn’t it? That’s certainly what our culture tells us. If something hurts you, then you must distance yourself from it. Medicate it. Perhaps divorce it. That’s the healthy response. Life shouldn’t be painful. If it hurts, then something must be wrong.

Perhaps this is the most damaging lie of all for those of us who follow Christ. For veiled beneath the words lurks this horrible falsehood: “Whatever brings me pain, whatever hurts me, cannot be from God.”

As a consequence of this belief, we find ourselves running from church to church, from job to job, from relationship to relationship, anytime any one of those things dares to hurt us or make our lives difficult or uncomfortable.

We run from pain because it hurts. It can damage and wound. The truth is, not all pain is from God. There are times when the right thing to do is to walk away and to separate yourself from the source of your injury. But where we go wrong is in thinking that God believes all pain is bad, or that every place or person He calls you to should never cause you to hurt.

Jesus Himself promised that suffering will follow those who follow Him. “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). Although a lot of pain comes from the world, sometimes it comes—out of love—from the hand of God Himself. “Endure it as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there whom a father does not discipline?” (Heb. 12:7).

Our culture runs from suffering, discomfort, and anything else that doesn’t please us. But as followers of Christ, we live by a different standard of truth. We welcome pleasure when it comes, but also hold this reality in tension in our hearts—that God’s greatest gifts often come to us through difficulty and hardship.

So while we live in a culture that advocates an “all pleasure, no pain” approach to life, perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to reject the painful, tedious, and inconvenient things that come into our lives. For those may be the very tools God is using to set us free.

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