You know what’s great, and also sometimes very annoying at the same time? It’s that when you pray to God, He answers. I mean, it’s wonderful that He does so, but sometimes when you ask Him a question, He doesn’t give you quite the answer you were looking for. And that’s annoying. Can’t God just play along to my little imaginary fantasy world once in a while, and just do what I want Him to? I think it’d make things so much easier. Then again, the world would probably end up falling out of orbit or something.
But let me start at the beginning. I was in the shower this morning, and I was feeling a bit guilty. I’ve kind of been letting my relationship with God slip a bit, just sort of doing the “good Christian thing to do,” offering up my quick, meaningless prayers before meals and doing my daily devotions – namely, skimming over the words on the page without really letting them sink in. “Oh, that’s nice, God wants us to love people. Maybe I should get around to that sometime.” You know how it is, I’m sure. The general desire was there, but I hadn’t been putting any effort into it. And along with that, I’ve noticed that the days when I screw up the biggest are the days when I didn’t bother to put any effort into my relationship with God. I mean, it’s uncanny how it works like that. I tested it once. I would pray and seek God, and things would go great. Then I stopped praying and stuff, and things went downhill within a matter of hours. I kept that up for a couple days, and then decided that I’d probably end up in a ditch somewhere within a few days if I didn’t start praying again. Boy, that was a close one. Phew!
Anyways, so today, I was feeling a little guilty, as I said. So I was just sort of trying to get back into the swing of things again. I was sort of trying to have a conversation with God – not really one of those “Dear God, please give me stuff” shopping-list prayers. I was just trying to, you know, make small talk. Eventually, I got on the topic of university. That’s what always happens nowadays. Someone will come up to me, and the first question out of their mouth after “Hello, how are you?” is “So, what are your plans for university?” There are some days when I wish I could just blow up all post-secondary schooling in the world so that question would have no reason to exist anymore. But at the same time, since it’s always freshly implanted in my mind by the number of times it comes up in conversation, I couldn’t help but talk to God about it. After all, it’s pretty much going to be the biggest change in my life since I learned how to walk. I mean, I’ve lived in the same house for almost nineteen years, and now suddenly I’m going to be shipped off to another city, dropped off in a strange building, in a small room with a complete stranger, and be expected to live comfortably and act normally? Boy, I had better have my teddy bear and security blanket, because at least then I’ll have something to hang onto when I sit huddled in the corner crying.
Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration. But at the same time, it’s constantly on my mind. Everything I’ve known is suddenly going to be pulled out from under my feet, like someone yanking out the carpet from under you really quickly. You had better have some pro surfing skills, or you’re going to end up flat on your back. So there I was, praying about this. I was kind of rambling on about this and that – just sort of voicing my worries and my concerns for the upcoming changes. I asked God to help me get the stuff I needed, and I prayed for my roommate – mostly that he wouldn’t be a) a complete jerk, b) a pot-smoking, binge-drinking player who would bring home a new girl every night, or c) gay. That’s actually my biggest concern. I figure I can adjust fairly quickly to the new city, the new surroundings, and the new classes, but if I have to live with a complete idiot for the next eight months, I’m going to jump out the window. But then my super-spiritual training took over, and I actually smartened up and prayed that God would help him adjust to the new atmosphere once he got there. After all, I figured I had heard enough stories about missionaries praying, “Oh God, I’ll go anywhere for you, but please don’t send me to Russia,” and then getting a plane ticket to Moscow in the mail the next day. I didn’t want to pray, “Dear God, please help my roommate to be a Bible-believing, born-again Christian who does not smoke, do drugs, drink, fornicate with women, lie, cheat, steal…” and then meet my new chain-smoking alcoholic biker, wearing leather everything and brass knuckles. Boy, I’m a smart one. I knew just how to get out of God what I wanted. Or so I thought.
Okay okay, in truth, it wasn’t really that way at all. That stuff didn’t go through my mind. I really just honestly prayed that God would send the right person to me so that I could have a good influence on him and him on me, and I prayed that he would adjust quickly and that we would learn to get along with each other easily. Then, after that, the conversation turned to finances. Now, I think I’m in pretty good shape for the first year. I have scholarships covering most of my tuition, plus an RESP my parents set up long ago, and a decent amount saved up in the bank. It’s just the following years that I’m not as sure about. I didn’t think about it at the time how stupid I must have sounded. Here I am, not even worried about this year of university, but rather already planning ahead and worrying about next year. Boy, I’m a step ahead of myself. But anyways, at the same time, it’s a legitimate concern, right? I need money for all four years, and right now, I have money for only the first of those. So I prayed about it. And then I stepped out of the shower, got dressed and all that jazz, and promptly forgot all about it. I figured that God heard me, gave me some of his peace that passes all understanding, and that was that. My day went on.
It was about 2:00 PM when I decided that I should do my “good Christian routine” and read my Bible. I’ve been going through the book of Luke, and today I read about the first half of chapter 12. And what I read made me laugh out loud. Like, literally, I read it, and then I leaned my head back and laughed out loud. It was so perfectly God’s answer to the prayer that I had offered up to Him that morning that if I had been drinking something at the time, I probably would have snorted it out through my nose in surprise. Let me share just a few verses that stuck out to me:
“What is the price of five sparrows? A couple of pennies? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to him than a whole flock of sparrows.” (verses 6-7)
“Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” (verse 21)
“Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won’t he more surely care for you? You have so little faith! And don’t worry about food–what to eat and drink. Don’t worry whether God will provide it for you. These things dominate the thoughts of most people, but your Father already knows your needs. He will give you all you need from day to day if you make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.” (verses 27-31)
Ouch. Here I went and spent so much time worrying about all the money I didn’t have and all the ways that I would be forgotten by my friends, family, and how I would come home on the weekends and be asked, “Who are you?” and then I had to go and read this. It was right at verse 31 there that God said, “Knock knock! Sound familiar?” He will give you all you need from day to day if you make the Kingdom of God your primary concern. In other words, who cares about money? Who cares about storing up enough wealth (the image that comes to my mind is a chipmunk storing every acorn he can find until he has a tree full of them – but is he really ever going to eat all those acorns?) to get you through all of life? And then, here was the kicker:
“Sell what you have and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven! And the purses of heaven have no holes in them. Your treasure will be safe–no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it. Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be.” (verses 33-34)
And I just kind of looked heavenward and said, “Uh…do I really have to sell everything?” And I’m sure God must have said something like, “Well, I didn’t say to be stupid about it. I just might not be able to come up with a miracle that big.” Then again, maybe that was just my mind. But it got me thinking – why am I so worried about saving up every cent that I have, when there are starving kids and tortured souls out there that need it more? I mean, do I really need a piece of paper that says I went through four years of university? Four years of my life, and thousands of dollars, and all I get is a piece of paper and a few letters to go after my name? It was at that moment that the whole scenery seemed to zoom out drastically, and I saw things – if even just a glimpse for a single instant in time – from God’s perspective. I caught a glimpse of what God sees when He looks down on me. He just sort of shakes His head and says, “Did you really need that new shirt? What about the ten other shirts you have? Well…at least you bought it on sale.” We are so incredibly selfish here in North America. So incredibly stupid.
Anyways, with that said, no, I didn’t make a drastic decision not to go to university, but instead travel over to deepest, darkest Africa and teach the Ooga-booga-ites about Jesus. That’s not where God has led me. No, He’s led me to university, and yes, that piece of paper will help me help others. But for a while there, I had been getting things a little confused. I had started to look at the piece of paper as an end in itself, rather than as a means to an end – namely, the end of helping others. I want to be a psychologist, or a counselor, or something like that – someone who can help people through the rough times in life. I’m not sure exactly. God hasn’t really revealed the entire path to me. All I see is that where I’m going now will help me get to that destination that is, as of right now, hidden. The great thing, though, is that I don’t need to see the destination before starting out on the journey. As long as God is guiding me, and as long as He can see the end, then I trust that I’m heading in the right direction.
At the same time, I can’t wait for four years to start helping people. And so, I asked God (with a slight hesitation, just because, well, I’m a penny-pincher) how I could use my money, right now, to help others. In other words, how I could “sell what I have and give to those in need” – while still not being entirely stupid about it, trading away my life savings, and then never achieving the university degree that will help me help others even better. I’m sure that God could definitely find the money to pay my way through university, but He’s not necessarily going to do so if I foolishly wasted the money He’s already given me. But at the same time, He’s also given me some money to put to use right now. And so He directed my thoughts to a time many months ago when I reached the same decision. Unfortunately, I never acted on it. I put it off, and kept putting it off, until my conscience was sufficiently quieted down to let me drop it entirely. But not this time. I’m going to do what I promised God I would do back in November. I even posted about it in my blog. So with that said, I leave you with the words I wrote back then. You can read the full blog entry if you want, but here’s the part that really sealed the deal for me. If I said I’d do it back then, then I sure had better do it! I trust that you do the same with what God has given you. I can’t sit here and point out where you’re not doing so, but I’m sure you and God can work something out.
“It’s been said before that the problem faced by starving children is not a lack of food (or money), but rather an imbalance in the distribution of food (or money). The only way to balance it out, though, is by North Americans getting past their self-righteous attitude of giving $20 a month just to say that they give to charities, and getting into an actual attitude of giving to others for their benefit. I mean, honestly, we would think nothing of spending $20 on something we wanted. Many people spend much more than that on having coffee every day. If we actually cared anything for the people who are over in third world countries literally dying of starvation, then cutting back on our coffee intake would seem just so small a step. And yet, doing that, and giving the money we would spend in drinking coffee to charity instead, would likely feed a hundred starving children for a month. But which is more important, starving children, or drinking your flavoured diuretic? Which is more sorrowful, a child living only a fraction of his life, or us looking in the fridge and complaining, ‘There’s nothing to eat in this house!’ I pity our self-righteous, blinded souls.
“How is this disgusting attitude stopped? I believe it can only be reversed by a return to Christian principles. No other belief system or faith is as adequate for this shift in attitudes. The Christian faith is the faith that teaches that ‘it is better to give than to receive,’ and tells the rich man to ‘give all he has to the poor.’ Christian principles are responsible for the majority of the charity organizations that exist in this world today, and I’m sure the remaining charities could at least be traced in some way to the Christian faith. Our society offers nothing in the way of giving. It teaches only to take whatever is necessary, and then some. But, ‘Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.’ (James 1:27) Christianity is the only way to break down the walls that separate us and bring us together in unity and harmony with each other.
“Of course, the major argument against this is the number of Christians who do less to help others than even the most devout atheist. The explanation for this is the sad, sorry state that most Christians are in. Many, or dare I say the majority, of Christians have been ‘polluted by the world’ and, while claiming that they follow Christ, they don’t follow His example. He gave everything He had, up to and including His life, for all of humanity, and we can barely let go of the loonie that we reluctantly give up to World Vision. And Jesus didn’t even get a tax break! For goodness sakes, if for no other reason, we should give to charity because our government will give part of it back to us! We’re so deluded into thinking that we can’t survive without our daily coffee or the new object of our desire that we saw on TV that we can’t even possibly fathom that some people would readily sell that same object in order to just feed themselves and their family. Our sick, selfish minds are consumed with nothing other than ourselves and our personal satisfaction, and even when we go ahead and buy all that our hearts desire, we’re never satisfied anyway. True Christian principles teach us that the only way to be satisfied is by giving up our desires and replacing them with God’s – and His all-consuming desire is to love each and every human being on this planet. He gave everything up by sending His Son, and if we aren’t completely ready to do the same, then we are living in sin and selfishness.
“And with that said, I am as much at fault as anyone else. Over the next few days, I will be looking at a bunch of charities to which I can donate money. In the past, my mindset has been to save my money for university, which, although is necessary, is not as important as helping others. With that mindset that I had, I found it hard even to tithe – in other words, give money to the God I claimed to love and serve. But I have decided to give money (after tithing, of course) to a charity which I will choose. And though I know that will leave me with less money for university, I can trust in the God that I serve, and I know that if it is His will for me to go to university, He will both bless this choice that I have made to serve others by giving, and also provide the money that I need for tuition for university. I’m trusting in Him, and that’s both a scary and a comforting thought at the same time. But I know that it’s the only way for me to escape the calloused heart syndrome. But what about you? It’s your turn now.”