Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Victims of Prosperity

Franklin and Phileda Nelson went to Burma as missionaries in the 1940s. They served there eight and a half years before the government closed the country to further missionary work. They returned to the United States where Franklin served several churches in various pastoral roles. While in Burma they worked among remote tribes, and Franklin found his sense of gratitude for God's providence rekindled. When reflecting on his missions work he wrote:

“In the Burmese hill country, the only way to get to remote villages was by walking. It was not at all uncommon for me to walk twenty miles a day in the dry season. When I got back to the States and worked as a pastor and church leader, I rarely walked a mile a day; the telephone and car made walking unnecessary. In Burma, if one of us got sick, the nearest hospital was ten days away. In the States, medical care is minutes away. Indoor plumbing and electricity were considered luxuries to the Burmese, but basic necessities in the States. In Burma, we'd go months without bread. Once we asked our daughter Karen to say grace before a meal, and she said, "Why do I have to pray for my daily bread when I don't ever get any?" It's hard to have that sense of helplessness and humility so vital to prayer when you sit down to your daily bread and don't even think about how you got it. I don't in any way blame people here for not knowing what God can do. We're victims of our prosperity. But I sometimes wish we had a few more hard times so people could experience firsthand how wonderful it is to be totally dependent on God.”1 

Being truly thankful for the blessings of God is difficult here in America. The reason is because we have no reference point for real poverty or dependence upon God. We live in the wealthiest, most prosperous nation in the history of humanity and our riches have become our God and source of security. A 2006 study done by the United Nations reported that 2% of the human population (mostly Americans and Europeans) holds over 51% percent of the world’s entire wealth.2

Recently, I logged on to a website, globalrichlist.com, that calculates how you fit into the worldwide distribution of wealth. The results were staggering. According to the calculations of this website my middle-class salary puts me among the top 0.31% of the world’s wealthiest. It would take the average day laborer in the third-world 67 years to earn what I make in one year.

What is even more socking is that Christians in North America will only give 2.5% of their income to their church. Out of that 2.5% the churches in North America will only give 2% of their budgets to missions overseas. In other words, for every $100 dollars a North American Christian earns, he will give 5 cents through the church to a world with urgent physical and spiritual needs.3 

God has blessed the people of this nation like none other, however it has come with a cost. As Franklin Nelson pointed out we have become “victims of our prosperity.” This is why faith in the American church is a mile wide an inch deep. Why depend on God when we have Wal-Mart, wi-fi and 900 channels of entertainment?  

I am reminded of what Jesus said to the church at Laodicea, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17).” If our wealth is not used for honoring God and building His Kingdom then it has become a curse to our souls and a bulwark to our spiritual growth. As you bow your head this week to give thanks for your blessings, consider how God might turn your gratitude into generosity. How can you use what you have to help someone in need?

1. Terry Muck, "Thankful in a Thankless World," Deepening Your Ministry Through Prayer and Personal Growth, 19 May 2004. 

2. David Jeremiah, The Coming Economic Armageddon (New York: Faith Words, 2010), 168. 

3. David Platt, Radical Together (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah, 2011), 16.

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