Yesterday, I caught up on a new friend’s blog. There was so much there that I spent two hours reading, re-reading, thinking, praying, and realizing things that I haven’t thought about in quite the same way she did.
This morning, however, God brought one specific portion back to mind as I woke up. This is a quote from a book, which she borrowed from yet another blog. Does it impact you the same way that it seems to be impacting quite a few of us?
page 106 – 107 from The Holy Wild, by Mark Buchanan
I was in Uganda, Africa about a dozen years ago, in a little township called Wairaka. Every Sunday evening, about one hundred Christians from the neighboring area would gather to worship. They met at the edge of a cornfield, under a lean-to with a rusty tin roof that cracked like gunfire when it rained. They sat – when they did sit – on rough wood benches. The floor was dirt. The band’s instruments were old or handmade – bruised, scratched guitars with corroded strings and necks that had warped in the humidity; a plinky electric piano plugged into a crackling speaker; shakers made of tin cans and stones. All of it kept straying out of tune.
One Sunday evening, I was too sour to join in. The music sounded squawky, I was miffed at someone on our missions team, I found the food bland, tasteless. I was feeling deprived and misunderstood. I found the joy of others hollow, mustered-up. I was miserable, and I wanted to wallow in it.
The pastor asked if anyone had anything to share. Many people wanted to, but a tall, willowy woman in the back row danced and shouted loudest, so he called her forward. She came twirling her long limbs, trilling out praise.
“Oh, brothers and sisters, I love Jesus so much,” she said.
“Tell us, sister! Tell us!” the Ugandans shouted back.
“Oh, I love Him so much, I don’t know where to begin. He is so good to me. Where do I begin to tell you how good He is to me?”
“Begin there, sister! Begin right there!”
“Oh,” she said, “He is so good. I praise Him all the time for how good He is. For three months, I prayed to Him for shoes, And look!” And with that the woman cocked up her leg so that we could see one foot. One very ordinary shoe covered it, “He gave me shoes.”
The Ugandans went wild. They clapped, they cheered, they whistled, they yelled.
But not me. I was devastated. I sat there broken and grieving. In an instant, God snapped me out of my self-pity and plunged me into repentance. In all my life, I had not once prayed for shoes. It never even crossed my mind. And in all my life, I had not even once thanked God for the many, many shoes I had.
Thanklessness becomes its own prison. Persisted in, it becomes its own hell, where there is outer darkness and gnashing of teeth. Thanklessness is the place God doesn’t dwell, the place that, if we inhabit it too often, He turns us over to. “See to it that no one misses the grace of God,” Hebrews says, “and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Thanklessness troubles and defiles many, because first it troubles and defiles the one in whom bitterness takes root.
I read that, and I was reminded of how civilization’s wealth is such a snare.
Those of us living in the United States or other “advanced” nations know that many of the world’s poor live on just a few dollars a day. Sometimes that knowledge reminds us to be grateful for the shoes on our feet, the clothes in our closet, our electronics, information, electricity, etc. Yet, a quick look at our own finances–especially in today’s economy–reminds us that we don’t have the option of living on a few dollars a day, even if we wanted to. Yes, almost all of us could live with less than what we have, but the truth is, even if we lost or gave up absolutely everything we own, we still couldn’t live on a few dollars a day. Not in this country. It costs more than that for food, for the simplest roof over our head, for the means to get to and from work to pay for the taxes on that roof…and so we are quickly drawn back into the cares of the world.
But that’s no excuse to not be thankful for anything and everything that we have.
I was reading in Romans 1 this morning, and verse 21 jumped out at me…probably because God had already laid the importance of thankfulness on my heart. Paul is talking about the unrighteous and summing up both the cause of their unrighteousness and the consequences of it. Here’s what he said:
For even though they knew God, they did not honor [glorify] Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
Did you notice what I did? Thanklessness is listed as a major root of unrighteousness! Perhaps this is because an unthankful heart is a proud heart, and God resists the proud.
Thankfulness comes from humility. It takes humility for a person in America to be thankful for shoes, because we somehow have come to think that we deserve shoes–that we have the right to expect that we’ll have not only the money to buy at least a few pairs, but also that stores nearby will carry our size.
But that’s not true. All of it is by God’s grace, for He could have chosen to make the place of my birth in the middle of AIDS-ravaged Africa, or a remote village of Afghanistan, or in a peasant’s hovel just before the Plague swept Europe. Instead, He chose to begin my life in 1976, in the most powerful country in the world, where the joy and thankfulness that can be found in shoes and simple meals and two pairs of clothes is all-too-often swallowed by the stress of living in a society with so many demands.
But is God any different for me than it is for that woman in Uganda who prayed for shoes? No, He isn’t. He is just as capable of providing for the taxes and required insurance on my little home as He is for that woman’s shoes. And He is just as capable of providing peace and rest in the middle of my storms as He is for those whose worries consist less of unavoidable bills and more of the lives of their loved ones.
He never changes. It is we who forget…who fall prey to the whispered lies that constantly try to keep us from even recognizing how much we have to be thankful for.
We have been given a great responsibility. There are many in the world who can’t help being thankful for food and shelter and shoes. It is all they have. We, however, must choose to be thankful.