Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Poverty of God

Have invested chunks of time lately into missions - Salkehatchie youth mission camp and taking a team to Bombita, Dominican Republic. So this week have been reflecting on what I've learned from it all. I was helped yesterday in my devotional time with a passage by Simon Tugwell (in his book, Prayer) on the poverty of God. But I'll return to that in a minute.

In preparing the team for the DR, I stated repeatedly that we have three objectives. First, we are making ourselves available to God in a different (new, for some) way, and we should pay close attention to the work God does with our hearts on the mission trip. Secondly, we go to demonstrate God's love and our love in a ministry of presence, letting the people there know we care about them. Finally, we will do some physical labor to help the ministry there accomplish its goals. The order of the objectives is crucial. Most folks want to reverse the order, focusing on what we're doing to "get done."

Indeed, several times on the trip we wanted to make the third objective the first priority. Like most Americans, we were set on "fixing things." When we saw the lack of clean water in the Hatian village where we were working, we began planning how to get a micro-desalination plant installed there. When we noticed the lack of a wholesome diet, we brain-stormed how to introduce vegetable gardening. As we observed the subsistence housing, we talked about future trips to work on particular homes. We are easily deluded into thinking the most important things we have to offer are our "know-how," our "get-it-done" energy, and our vast resources.

A team member said during a morning devotional that she felt bad because, while our work on the school was important, she felt that there was so much more we could/should do for the people in the village. Guillermo, a local worker, replied, "You have done more simply by coming here than you realize. Your presence tells us you care, and gives us hope."

Simon Tugwell, referring to St. Paul's passage (1Cor 1) about the weakness of God, wrote about God choosing to reveal himself not in displays of power, but the foolish, weak, and seemingly unimportant things of the world. He states:

This is why, if we keep clamoring for things we want from God, we may often find ourselves disappointed, because we have forgotten what we may call the poverty of God. We had thought of God as the dispenser of all the good things we would possibly desire, but in a very real sense, God has nothing to give at all, except himself.

God wants to give us God's self, but we'd rather have the "things" God can provide. Might this have something to do with "You shall have no other gods before me"? And how do we carry an awareness of the poverty of God not just on a mission trip, but in our daily lives?

My wife left yesterday, driving nine hours to spend a day with a friend who is in the last stages of a battle with cancer. She said before she left that she didn't know what she'd say, what to do, or what to expect, knowing this would be the last time she'd be able to see our friend alive. In a very real sense, she has nothing to give at all, except herself. And if we could just learn and live that, perhaps we'd begin to understand the poverty, and power, of God.