My heart is not proud, LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content - Psalm 131
Our first month of ministry in Uganda entailed a heavy dose of "door to door" evangelism. We would split into groups with a pastor or a translator (the local language is swahili), and start conversations with the intent of spreading the gospel to people in specific areas of the community. And while there were reservations within the team regarding the effectiveness of this approach - not being able to spend quality time building relationships with the people we were preaching to, questioning whether they really understood what was being told to them, etc - that's not what I wish to focus on with this post.
An advantage that arose from such a diverse range of interactions was getting a glimpse into the everyday challenges facing people born into third world countries. The extreme poverty in areas like Uganda have been well documented by others and I'm not sure my words do it any justice - necessities like clean drinking water or a mattress to sleep on are considered luxuries, with the majority of the population struggling to find a means to pay for basic schooling and healthcare. It was not altogether uncommon for us to find families that could not afford eating more than one meal a day.
In the face of everything just described, I was deeply struck by the joyful disposition that accompanied the faith of most Christians we encountered. There seemed to be a genuine sense of gratitude for what little they already had, but even more so, there was an inner poise that provided a level of contentment I have rarely seen matched, even in supposed "utopian" countries like Singapore or the United States.
Why does a poverty stricken Christian family in Africa experience deeper happiness than the rest of us who live with far greater resources and advantages? The answer, I believe, lies in a deeply ingrained instinct for consumerism in our postmodern society. Most of us have been brought up to approach life, and subsequently the Christian faith, strictly based on a cost - benefit analysis. The pervasive attitude toward God is one of "what have you done for me lately?" We reject Jesus when circumstances are less than ideal, in spite of the fact that the bible repeatedly emphasizes the experience of suffering as a hallmark of what it means to be a Christian (Philippians 1:29.)
Through the people I met in Uganda, it became clear to me what the prophet Habakkuk was taught through his trials in the face of God's seeming injustice. We are to love God for Himself alone, not just for what he gives us. This is what the great preacher Jonathan Edwards expounded on when attempting to distinguish "true grace" from "the experience of devils," who tremble before and have a theological grasp of God (James 2:19.) If grace has truly transformed us, we don't ultimately care if life goes according to plan, as long as we have Jesus. The externals that we place so much emphasis on like money, power, and reputation, are nothing compared to what lies before us in eternity.
The challenge then is being like the "weaned child" in Psalm 131 - someone who has worked gospel truths into his or her heart as a paradigm of viewing reality. Internally, the soul is stilled into profound contentment and joy. Externally, the result is humility and a willingness to trust God. Spiritual maturity occurs when we realize the reason God's actions are sometimes unexplainable is not because we are wise and He is foolish; rather, it is because He is too "wonderful" for us to comprehend (Job 42:3.)