The poor, the rich, Jesus, and you
How can people living in slums have more joy than those in mansions?
There's a common belief across our world that our happiness is determined by the possessions we have. But the reality can be quite different...
I once took a short-term mission trip to Manila in The Philippines. Part of our ministry was spending time with the house churches that operate in the city's poorest slums. One day was spent meeting and praying with house church leaders, another day we ran a drama workshop for youth and their leaders.
These people live in poverty. Manila's squatter areas are a mass of claustrophobic, shabbily built structures. Our society would assume they are miserable and without hope. Yet as we played drama games, joked around, worshipped together through song and heard from God's word, I realised they were among the happiest people I have ever met. Their joy didn't come from their stuff, it was a much deeper joy.
At the other end of the spectrum, our society would make us believe that the rich live in carefree bliss; it's there in the advertising, the magazines, the movies.
But the reality is, from what we can see, rich and famous people are no happier than anyone else. Their lives have lots of problems too – and their money doesn't lead to real joy. Magazines and newspapers are filled with stories of celebrities' troubles, and there's countless stories of lottery winners who have found less happiness than they had before.
The old saying is true: money can't buy happiness. There's something missing within all of us that we try to fill - and many try to fill it with stuff. But it doesn't satisfy us and it definitely won't last. Jesus put it like this in Mark 8:36:
What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?
We can gain the whole world full of stuff (money, property, power, social connections) but in the end it doesn't satisfy our soul. But Jesus does! In John 6, he uses the metaphor of food to show how he fulfills our needs and desires:
I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty ... unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
Unlike the things of this world, Jesus satisfies our souls in this life, and the next. He has guaranteed to be with us in this life, and for us to be with him for eternal life.
So, what about us? If we know that our true joy, satisfaction and eternal life comes from Jesus, how should that play out in our lives?
I think perhaps we are to be more like the Christians I met in the Philippines - not focused on material possessions or wealth, but finding all we need in Jesus.
Jesus puts it like this in Matthew 6:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart is also.
If we know that everything we need is found in Jesus, we need to live like everything we need is found in Jesus! I know I find this a challenge in a world with so many distractions, but we need to be focused on what is important, what will last, and what gives us true joy: life in Jesus Christ.
What do you treasure more? The things of this world or our saviour?