In a ministries class I once took at Azusa Pacific University, we studied the life and work of Mother Teresa. Her early work took place in one of the poorest places on earth at the time; Calcutta, India. We watched films of her and her fellow nuns as they carefully removed emaciated souls from the streets. They offered affection, food and water. Much to my amazement though, some of those barely alive were smiling as they received the care. They appeared to be dead as they lied on the streets, but they were alive enough to express appreciation for the love shown.
Years later, Mother Teresa made the controversial move to New York City to care for the poor. They showed footage of her work in this vast city. Most of the poor in New York already had housing, we’re far from starving and had their basic needs met. One big difference though; they weren’t smiling. They appeared devoid of any joy or gratitude. They seemed dead in fact. Not in body like those on the streets of Calcutta, but in spirit. Mother Teresa went on to say that the United States suffers from the worst kind of poverty; spiritual poverty.
God desires to clothe you and me with his righteousness in part to protect us from the deceptions of this life. And that includes the deception of the glitter of gold. And the Word reminds with little subtlety that a thief is indeed real and ready to remove our coat.
“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” John 10:9-11
So how does this evil force called Satan actually steal from us? One common way is through creating a counterfeit idea of what a full life is. And too many fall for a monetary model of success apart from spiritual fulfillment, even in the church. I have seen far too many good church attending Christians allow their ambitions to take up all the space in their heart. They no longer are excited about the things of God, no longer want to even talk about God and they lose their taste for his precious word. They just can’t get their minds off the pursuit of the American Dream. And their spiritual life is neatly tucked into a 2 hour time slot each Sunday morning.
Some of us tend to get into trouble when Gods blessings become more important than our personal connection with God. When God is no longer our first love, the very reason we lift our head off the pillow each day. In the process, we allow the coat of protection from deception to be removed. So how do we make sure that the wealth we’re surrounded by doesn’t smother out our understanding of what a full life really is?
Part of the answer is found in the words of the Apostle Paul. He faced the same temptations and struggles we do. And in a letter to the Corinthians, he makes a insightful statement that hints to the reason for his spiritual survival;
“And why do we stand in jeopardy every hour? I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.” 1 Corinthians 15: 30-31 NKJV
Paul saw the need to die to his human nature everyday that he may avoid the deception of a life apart from God. Though we live in a very wealthy country in general and we ourselves may be enjoying our own success, we must deny our success in a way that we don’t live by it. It’s taken me years to learn not to look to the blessings themselves, but to the one who blesses. It’s that simple.
As we live by the spirit of God each day and deny the very flesh that thrives within, this is when our witness will matter the most. If we’re not resisting effectively, we won’t be the light God has called us to be.
I like the imagery of a coat because when I take heart and soul to God, when I bask in his Word and contemplate his excellence and beauty, and when I care more about what he thinks than anyone else, I feel as if God has placed the coat of love, hope and peace on my back. And then I know what it’s like for God to provide for me well beyond monetary success.
When this happens, my bitterness fades. My greed subsides. My anxious spirit softens. The worries I would normally carry disappear and my whole being finds a balance only God can arrange. My poverty of spirit becomes one of wealth. And once again, I have eyes of abundance for Gods bountiful gifts and generosity. Don’t be fooled by the counterfeit life that the evil one would dangle before our eyes, it’s far too shallow and hardly sufficient for what God desires for you and me.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
Matthew 6:32-34 NKJ
Don’t let anyone or anything remove the coat God has placed on you.