Culture Devotion

Living in a Spiritual Third World

House Call

I once heard a story about a missionary pastor who was living in the Philippines. During the night a villager came and woke him. He groggily asked what the matter was only to have the villager reply that one of their members was sick and he should come quickly. Grabbing his bag of medical supplies, he rushed out the door and followed the villager to the sick man. Upon examination, he learned that the man had a fever but was otherwise showing no significant symptoms. He offered some medicine to reduce the fever and told the people to let him know how the man was in the morning.

A Lack of Faith

The villagers were “shocked” by the pastor’s “lack of faith.” It didn’t occur to the missionary that the people weren’t calling him from his bed for medical supplies. What they wanted was his prayer. Their expectation was that he would pray over the sick man, but instead, he handed them some medicine and went back to bed. To many of us that might seem like the natural move to make, but not so to the villagers.

Take a moment to pause and consider this event. Through our “Western eyes,” what the missionary did might seem like the most reasonable thing to do. After all, the man had a fever and there was a simple medicinal remedy available. Why make such a fuss over so little a thing? Perhaps it is because living with first-world conveniences causes us to live in a spiritual third world.

Many of us have never known what it is like to be truly
hungry. In the Lord’s Prayer we recite “Give us this day our daily bread…” but has
the depth of that petition been lost on those who have never been concerned
about their next meal? Many Christians around the world live on minuscule daily
wages, earning barely enough to get by. Imagine with just how much passion they
must pray that petition! We can scarcely relate to such a thing.

Self Reliance vs Reliance upon God

In Western culture, there is a tendency to celebrate independence and self-reliance. We pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and stand on our own two feet. It is one of our cultural values, but is it Christian? Yes, and no. Paul wrote that anyone unwilling to work should not eat. That’s a harsh teaching on independence if there ever was. At the same time, we should never reach a place where we become complacent and forget to thank God for all that we have while looking to him for our next meal.

There is no prayer to which God will reply “Why bother me? Just do it yourself.” Sometimes we think something is too small to bring before God. We are trained from our youth to rely on ourselves and not depend on others for simple things. This way of thinking often spills over into our prayer life. We impose our values onto God and, in doing so, we deny ourselves the level of intimacy that God wants for us. The villagers had never experienced the medical luxuries of the Western world. They understood that all healing comes from God, and so they turned to the only source of hope they had. Would the man have been healed without the medicine? It is difficult to say. Perhaps the missionary himself was the answer to their prayers. The thought I would impart on you is this: Never allow yourself to become so self-reliant that you forget to thank God for all that you have and never cease praying for your daily bread.

About the author

James Herbert Helms, Jr.

James Helms is a budget analyst who lives with his wife and two daughters in Maryland near the border of Washington, D.C. He holds a Master of Divinity from Liberty University. His intention is to eventually become a pastor within the LCMS. His local congregation is Redeemer Lutheran (LCMS) in Hyattsville, MD.

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