|Pastor Cliff Chappell, St. John's All Nations|
Church of God in Christ, Portland, Oregon
At various points in our ministry, my wife and I have been very nearly homeless on two occasions. We have been down to the last can of beans in the cupboard. And we have faced crises in which we despaired of adequate finances, medical care, transportation, relationships, and mental health. We can testify that being bankrupt is nothing to be sought, but that it is not without its blessings, either, whether the bankruptcy is economic, emotional, or spiritual in nature.
My friend, Cliff Chappell, recently wrote, “To be bankrupt in our spirits would bankrupt us of our bad attitudes towards others. It would bankrupt us of our anger, hatred, and bigotry…of our arrogance, selfish pride, and it’s all about me syndrome.” He knows what he’s talking about. You can read his full post here.
So, it may not surprise you that “The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing” is my favorite sermon by A.W. Tozer. His closing prayer to that message haunts me in its sincere desperation for God: “Father, I want to know Thee, but my coward heart fears to give up its toys. I cannot part with them without inward bleeding, and I do not try to hide from Thee the terror of the parting. I come trembling, but 1 do come. Please root from my heart all those things which 1 have cherished so long and which have become a very part of my living self, so that Thou mayest enter and dwell there without a rival. Then shalt Thou make the place of Thy feet glorious. Then shall my heart have no need of the sun to shine in it, for Thyself wilt be the light of it, and there shall be no night there. In Jesus' Name, Amen.”
But here’s how it works for me when I presume that I am anything other than spiritually bankrupt:
- When I believe that I bring something of myself to the open table to which the triune God calls me (Paul Louis Metzger’s explanation of the Trinity’s invitation to us can be found here.), then I surely imagine that I must have something of myself to offer to others.
- When I offer anything to others as though it first belonged to me, then my reasonable expectation is that something will, in turn, be returned to me in exchange.
- These quid pro quo transactions, where other persons and their resources become commodities to be traded, lead me to believe that there is something I deserve, some right I may exercise, and some privilege to which I am entitled.
- When I do not receive my due, my rights, or my privileges, then I logically conclude that what is mine must have been misappropriated by others elsewhere.
- My unquenchable desire, therefore, is rationalized as simply pursuing the balance of justice.
- Thus, I determine to find out who has what is “mine” so that I can retrieve it from them.
- But how do I determine who it is that I need to take “mine” back from? I can identify them as anyone I perceive as having rights or privileges which, in my perceived impoverishment, I conclude that they do not deserve. In fact, whenever I have too little, then I am free to take from anyone who in my estimation has too much, or at least more than they deserve.
This process of “commodifying” one another can continue, even subconsciously, into marginalization, depersonalization, and a dehumanization that allows us to justify our exploitation, oppression, or even destruction of countless others. After all, they have what is supposed to be mine. Why wouldn’t I be right to take it back from them?
What keeps me from such self-centered pillaging of others' resources? It is simply this: my salvation and sanctification, my provision and protection, indeed my life and breath are but a gracious gift from among the limitless resources God makes available. When I recognize this, only then may I live in the assurance, confidence and joy that allows me to truly claim to others to be “your servant for Jesus’ sake” (II Corinthians 4:5).
Otherwise, I will continue to see others, including you, as a repository of resources to which I should have virtually unrestrained access…until you notice how much more I have than you do.