An Object Lesson
Some years back I spent about $25 on a mint green Hydro Flask. It was my favorite water bottle. Faithful. Indestructible. Last summer, I loaned it to a friend who worked outside all day. After about a week, he announced, “I gave your Hydro Flask to my coworker, because he really liked it, and he didn’t have a water bottle. I figured it would be okay since I ordered you the Asobu flask.”
I stared at him for a moment, then slowly said, “O-kay…”
And that was the end of it. I forgot all about it until I was in a Wegman's grocery store several months later. It was Saturday night, and I went to pick up some caffeine-free tea for a sister who would be coming over after church the following day. I looked at the water bottles, but the Lord wouldn’t let me spend that much on a water bottle again.
Nearby, I saw the SodaStream machines for sale. For the past few months, I'd survived by praying in the money for the rent and the car payments. This financial tightness showed me that every penny I had came from Jesus. My newly-opened eyes saw how much of what is sold in stores is not actually necessary.
When I saw the SodaStream, I thought of a friend who’d purchased one when we were in graduate school back in 2012. She and her fiancé lived in one room at the top of a townhouse. Others lived in the home, but I never saw them. The couple survived on $10,000 a year in Fairfax, Virginia, one of the most expensive places to live in the country. They were living below the poverty line, and they spent the little they had on a SodaStream.
As I drove home, the Lord showed me that I hadn’t forgiven the man who gave away my Hydro Flask. I began to go through my usual forgiveness process: identify what the person did wrong, acknowledge that it was wrong, acknowledge that I choose how to respond, identify what is owed to me, and agree with Jesus that I won’t try to collect.
“Lord,” I began,
“it was wrong for him to give away my water bottle without asking me. That’s theft, and to make it worse, he did it under the guise of charity. Lord, you don’t do that. You don’t take from us without asking. You require the consent of our will.”
I rounded a quiet corner. Before I could get any further with the Lord, the corollary of what I had just said struck me with such force that I began to weep. The Spirit of God came down on me right in that car.
God would not take anything that belonged to me, and give it to somebody else, without my consent. This meant that all of the people suffering throughout the world would continue to suffer unless the Lord could find someone with an innocent, tender heart who would be willing to listen to the Holy Spirit and to give as he directed.
I saw the Lord walking through the earth. Jesus was searching for someone in whom he could dwell and put his heart.
As I drove, I saw that the resources to end suffering and bring the gospel to the ends of the earth are already in possession of Christians. The problem is, our hearts lack love for people. We don't know them as our neighbors whom we are bound to love as ourselves.
In 2010, I lived with a Muslim family in Dakar, Senegal for five months during a study abroad program.
Every day when I walked to school, I would encounter groups of talibés. They would run after me, shouting in the Wolof language for money. They couldn’t have been older than six or seven. Holes the size of a quarter pierced their dirty, oversized shirts. They were always barefoot.
Talibés come from poor families, many of them polygamous. Over 200,000 talibés, boys between the ages of 5 and 15, beg daily on the streets of Dakar. Unable to support the children, the parents put them in the care of a marabout, a Muslim teacher of the Qur’an. Many marabouts set begging quotas for the boys. If the daily quota isn’t met, the marabout beats the child. If the talibés do poorly in their studies, the marabout beats them. In June 2016, one 13-year-old died after his teacher severely beat him with a rod for not mastering a verse from the Qur’an.
While I was in the capital city for only one semester, other exchange students lived in rural villages for nine months. One student, who almost died of polio as a child in Vietnam, described his experience living with a family in one of these Muslim villages.
“There are no showers. We take bucket showers. My fingernails never get clean.” He continued,
“There’s a family in the village that won't pay and send their daughters to school. The girls only eat every other day, but the boys eat every day. The dad bought an iPhone and walked around the village showing everyone. ‘Maangi cool!’ he’d say, shaking the iPhone. ‘I’m cool! Maangi cool!’ It was crazy. He was just walking around saying ‘Maangi cool’.”
It would be easy for me to look at this and say, “That’s terrible that he does that to his daughters! How can he use Islam as an excuse for that?” That would be true. But, the selfishness of this man’s heart is no different than the selfishness of my heart.
Think about it. Which is really the greater sin? Is it a greater sin for a man with no knowledge of Christ to deny his children food for the sake of an iPhone, or for a Christian American, who could spend $38 to provide for an orphan in Haiti for a month, to spend it on a 24-ounce Hydro Flask instead?
My five months in Senegal showed me that human beings are basically the same everywhere. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you have—the natural human heart still wants to squeeze out every last bit of luxury that it can for itself. When I came back to America, my heart was so hard that I thought, “Well, if people in Senegal lived here, they would be spending what they had on all these luxuries. So, I’ll just spend what I have on myself and enjoy it.” O, how I have wept over this!
Selfishness the Cause of Suffering
Humanitarian efforts to end suffering without the gospel will ultimately fail. Selfishness is at the root of all suffering. The gospel is the only way to end this reign of selfishness in the heart and turn it to benevolence, which is the heart of God.
Christ's atonement opened the way for everyone on earth to be made holy. Read through the gospels, and look at how the kingdom of God came in healing power to restore both body and soul to wholeness and holiness. Every individual can repent and be made holy, but not every individual will. If every individual would repent, the world would be restored to its pre-Fall condition. Thus, there is no justifiable reason for sin and suffering to continue. If you live with a selfish heart, you are guilty before God.
Revivalists like Rees Howells, Charles Finney, and Jonathan Edwards understood that the Holy Spirit empowers the church to break the darkness and call all to repentance.
“So the promise of the world's conversion, and the sanctification of the church under the reign of Christ, is unconditional in the sense, that it is certain that those events will at some time occur, but when they will occur, what generation of individuals shall receive this blessing, is necessarily conditioned upon their faith.”
Right now, Satan’s kingdom could be completely overthrown. This mighty work waits to be accomplished by a generation of the church that will renounce all sin, be baptized by the Holy Spirit, and enter by faith into the promises of the Scripture for the immediate coming of the millennium.
What Do We Do?
Our first duty is to repent. We need to come to our senses, and see, with light from the Holy Spirit, the ways that we are walking in selfishness and what the consequences are on those around us.
To identify your selfishness, consider that everything rightfully belongs to God. This means that anything that you think of as “yours” is stolen from God. Is there any area in which you have not consecrated all time, energy, talents, money, mind, body, spirit, and soul to Jesus Christ, to be used as he directs for his glory and his kingdom? If so, you have stolen from God in order to promote your own selfish interests.
Your selfishness, if there be any, hurts people not only abroad, but in your own communities. Many in America live in a reality of perilous health; shattered families; lost homes and jobs; physical, verbal, sexual, and financial abuse; and emotional instability. Consider the heart of Christ in relation to your own feelings. Can you honestly say that you have Christ's heart for sinners?
Jesus said, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15 KJV). And the book of Isaiah says, “You who remind the LORD, take no rest for yourselves; and give Him no rest until He establishes and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth” (62:6-7 NASB).
Charles Finney described this duty in his lecture, “The church bound to convert the world.” This does not mean that every individual will be saved, but that the world, by the church, will be brought under the dominion of Christ. Brother Finney was so bold as to say,
“When the church really enters into sympathy with Christ, and so loves the world as to be willing to give themselves for its salvation, to live and die for this purpose… [the world] might as well be converted in 50 years as in 500 or 5,000.”
Like the children of Israel, the promised land is waiting for the church. God does not expect us to go up without his Holy Spirit. But he who made the call has also said, “And lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the world.”
God expected the children of Israel to believe his promises. He expected them to put away their idols, be sanctified, and consult the oracle of God for guidance as to how to take the land. Likewise, God expects the church to believe his promises. He expects Christians to renounce all sin, be made holy by the blood of Jesus, and wait on the Lord for the gift and direction of the Holy Spirit.
How have you responded to this call?
Are you aware that while you’re watching Sunday night football, boys the same age as your sons are being beaten to death and sold into sex trafficking? You may have heard of one 21-year-old ISIS fighter who raped over two hundred Iraqi women and said it was normal. But did you respond with indifference, or with loud weeping? After you read this article, will you take the pains to learn about what is happening in the world so that you can pray? Will you let the Holy Spirit remove the callouses, which prevent you from feeling, from your heart?
If you will yield to the Holy Spirit, he will bring you to a place of crushing in which you regularly weep and pray in agony over the souls of the poor, the afflicted, and the heathen. You will be so distressed by the worldliness of the church that you will feel, “If the Lord does not bring revival, I am going to die.”
Have you ever experienced this crushing? Or, have you said, “God wants me to enjoy his creation,” and neglected self-denial?
Beloved, can you imagine that you can go on living in selfishness, while the blood of children and widows cries out from the ground, and still be saved?