Slum of the Soul

The other day, I was having breakfast with our pastor, and we got talking to some guys at another table that he knew. Eventually, my pastor showed them some of our new ServeNow fundraising pieces we just designed and I noticed one of the guys kept looking at the cover picture of one of them. The picture shows the worst slum I have ever personally walked through in Nepal.

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But then this man said something that has stuck with me, and I’ve been thinking a lot about, even prior to it being articulated this way. He said that as he was looking at this picture it struck him that while that was an outward, visible and physical slum in a third world country, there are millions of people all around us right here in America who live in a very different kind of slum; a slum in fact that is not on the outside, but inside of themselves. A slum or poverty of the soul.

While speaking at a camp recently in Arkansas, one message I spoke was out of Daniel chapter 4. This is a fascinating account of how God humbles the most powerful and prideful man on earth at the time, King Nebuchadnezzar. My message that night (you can listen to it here: Daniel 4) was a warning about how this really began, which is stated in verse four: I, Nebuchadnezzar, was living at ease (comfortable and content) in my home and prospering in my palace.

I believe like with King Nebuchadnezzar, the single greatest test or battle (often “unseen” but real) for especially American’s (I know this is true for myself), is the danger of becoming content, complacent and comfortable spiritually because of external conditions. In fact, I believe it might even be more challenging for those of us who have a comfortable life or are “successful” according to the world’s standards, to see our need for Jesus and live as sold-out, committed and on fire followers of His, than it is for those who live in much more difficult, desperate even dangerous situations.

I say that quite confidently, because I live here in America myself, but travel to parts of the world where I am frequently in slum areas. What I find in those places (the worst external conditions) often amaze me. Where there is especially a Christian presence, I find some of the most vibrant, joyful, passionate, spiritually hungry, inwardly content and committed believers and churches. I also sense a presence of the Spirit of God that I rarely experience in most churches in the US. This is very similar to what I see, hear or read about among believers facing some of the worst persecution in some of the most dangerous parts of the world.

Further, I actually believe it is easier to minister to people who live in these circumstances, than it is here in America where comfort has lulled us to sleep spiritually. I often say that I believe the hardest mission field to truly penetrate is right here in our own backyard and country.

We may be rich; but we much poorer in spirit than we often recognize. Jesus in fact warned often about the danger, distraction and deception of wealth, material possessions and comfort. While not evil in and of themselves, they can easily blind us to our true need of God and desire for God. There is an epidemic and crisis of a “slum of the soul” that manifests in a sense of hopelessness, emptiness, boredom, depression, meaninglessness and even suicide, in so many (too many) of us in America.

Until we recognize this and shake ourselves from this complacency we will continue to deceive ourselves and be among the “walking dead.” Someone just today, who has been thinking about this same thing, reminded me of what Jesus said: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3) and Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. (Matthew 5:6).

By the way, I would submit to you that if you are “bored” in regard to “Christianity” perhaps you haven’t yet discovered the true adventure it is to follow Jesus. There is no way you can read the Gospel accounts, the book of Acts and Hebrews 11 (or for that matter anyone in the Bible who truly lived a life of faith) and claim their lives were “boring!” God is after a real and dynamic relationship with you and this is the “essence” of eternal life; a life that is abundant, fulfilling and internally satisfying (John 17:3, Psalm 16:11).

I would also submit that the only reason we become “bored” with God is when we are blind to His beauty and complacent in our pursuit of Him and his presence. God is anything but boring! No one who “see’s” Him ever grows bored of him. Perhaps we need to renew our hunger for him, seek Him with all our heart, learn to walk with Jesus and pray that he “opens the eyes of our heart” that we might truly know him. I promise that your life will never be the same…unless you shrink back and become a spectator and “fan” instead of a seeker and follower of Jesus Christ.

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. (Psalm 27:4).

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