Have you seen the latest consumer reports? According to the Department of Labor’s 2011 Consumer Expenditures Report, the average American household spent nearly $2,500 on entertainment in 2011. “Over 40% of American families spend more than they earn” and “carry, on average, $8,400 in credit card debt.”7
We see a culture that is fueled by a desire to satisfy self and live extravagantly. These attitudes and behaviors aren’t just relevant to the secular world, but are very much a part of the Western Christian culture as well. Unfortunately, the same “me-centered” consumerist patterns exhibited in the United States spill over into our spiritual lives and can play a detrimental role in Christian world missions.
This isn’t just about money. This is, once again, about perceptions and expectations established before going onto the mission field. Recall what we addressed the last couple of days: the wrong motives of adventure and poverty tourism. In discovering how these motivations might have played a role in your decision to serve in Cambodia, it might not have been too hard for you to change your thought processes and begin to think about how you can align yourself with the right motivations.
But this “me-centered” phenomenon that says, “My life is going to be changed,” or, “I can’t wait to see what the Lord is going to do in my friends and me during this trip,” might be harder to overcome because it really does feel right to us in the first place. It seems like the good and spiritual thing to desire after all – far better than merely looking forward to what souvenirs you can buy or the awesome pictures you can take with your new camera. But going on a trip so that God can touch your life is still self-centered.
In a sheltered culture, convicted by our own ignorance of the world, “people are convinced short-term missions are one of the most effective ways to expose American Christians to the needs of the world.”8 Parents send their teens on trips with the local church youth group in order to open their eyes to the challenges people face in other parts of the world,9 and we often use the spiritual highs and enlightenments we expect to experience as catalysts for our own little spiritual awakenings.
Consider these scenarios: You have been spiritually dry, lacking revelation and insight, and you know that traveling to another country and encountering the work of Christ’s kingdom is just what you need to bring you to the next level in your relationship with God. Or maybe your spiritual cup is overflowing and you know from experience that serving in Cambodia will keep it that way.
Even though these might seem like right motivations, they are not. THIS TRIP IS NOT ABOUT YOU. This trip is about God receiving glory through transformed lives in Cambodia.
Of course we want God to work in our lives, to refine us and reveal Himself to us. And more often than not, serving others in the setting of a mission trip will bring spiritual growth and refreshment and make us more aware of the needs in our world. And again, these are not bad things in themselves. But spiritual self-centeredness, as a motivating factor, can have the same distracting effect as that of seeking adventure or poverty tourism. It can pull us away from the lasting spiritual and physical impact God wants to have on the Cambodian people and the established ministry being done there. It can essentially become a “spiritual vacation” as focus becomes internal instead of external – as we become something other than the tools in the hands of God that we were meant to be.
Modern Christians are not the only ones with this “me-centered” mentality.
Read Matthew 20:20-28. The mother of disciples James and John asked if her sons could sit at the right and left hand of Christ in His kingdom. She too was concerned with what her sons could get by being part of Jesus’ ministry. To this, Jesus responded, “Yet it shall be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as ransom for many.”10
Here, Jesus clearly identified the mother’s motive as out of line and provided an alternative that stood in blatant contrast.
Take a moment to search your heart and see if you have fallen to this “me-centered” mindset, and remember that Christ says that “whoever desires to save his life will lose it.”11 Ask yourself the following questions:
- Am I willing to serve in Cambodia even if it means I will get nothing out of it – no sense of satisfaction for doing a good thing or spiritual revelation?
- What am I truly looking forward to the most about this trip?
- Is my heart that of a servant who desires to dutifully serve his master, or gain something for myself?
7 “Consumer Debt Statistics,” Progressive Consumer Debt Relief, http://www.progressiverelief.com/consumer-debt-statistics.html (accessed Oct. 20, 2012).
8 David Livermore, Serving with Eyes Wide Open (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006), 53.
10 Matt. 20:20-28, NKJV
11 Matt. 16:25, NKJV