The Non-Essentials of Life
Issues of lifestyle have been forced on American Christians by a haywire economy and a starving world. Roberta Winter, in this Moody Monthly reprint, goes deeper than motives of fear or guilt, and gives some refreshing, personal reflections on how Christians can withstand the relentless pressures of cul¬ture by engaging in
Christ's fundamental purposes for His Church.
Scene 4: Winter 1968
(After our second furlough, due to several pressing circumstances, we remained in the States. Ralph became a professor in the recently established School of World Mission, and we suddenly found ourselves in a different world. Ralph had to attend important functions and entertain visiting dignitaries. Because they no longer needed a large home, my parents in law moved into an apartment, giving us their home and all its furniture. One day my sister came to see me.) "Roberta, you're probably going to be in the States for a while. Why don't you buy some new furniture? This heavy Spanish look is really out of date."
I was caught off guard. The furniture was much better than any we had ever owned. True, the sofa needed to be recovered and the table refinished. But I liked the style. Why spend money on something my sister would choose?
Ralph and I discussed her suggestion that night.
Does the furniture look that bad?" I asked. "Or do you think that we have become unconscious of what looks good?"
"Don't worry, Roberta," he said. "We decided a long time ago not to let others dictate our lifestyle. We have enough money to buy new furniture if we want, but that does not force us to buy it. Why can't we continue to live as if we were still missionaries on furlough, buying only what we need? If we let others know that we choose to live that way, maybe they'll quit worrying about us."
Let me state this idea a different way:
Principle Four: There ought not be any connection between what isearned and what needs to be spent. You don't buy things just because you have the money.
With this principle, money inevitably accumulates. We followed this principle while missionaries; so when it seemed necessary to start a new publishing house specializing in books on missions, we were able to do it. That in turn encouraged us in a much greater venture, the U.S. Center for World Mission.
Not quite the same, a group of 120 people in Minneapolis have lived for years on only a portion of their group income and used the rest to support dozens of their members as missionaries. What would happen to this world if more evangelical Christians were to realize that God blessed them with money in order to make them a blessing, not to pamper them.
What an immense amount of money would be released for highly strategic causes! How much easier it would be to understand that Christ did not ask us to be "successes' but servants (Mark 10:44).
Scene 5: Summer 1978
(We were seated around a long table at the newly established US. Center for World Mission. There were twenty of us with notebooks of accounting sheets and a copy of our support raising manual at each elbow.)
"One of the first things you'll have to learn in raising your support is how to live within your income," Ralph told them. 'Our support level is basically the same as Campus Crusade's. To those of you who have worked at well paying jobs, this will seem very meager.
"To some of you who are just out of college, it may seem like too much. We want all of you to have enough for your needs and a little besides for you to use as the Lord directs. I believe it is an important exercise to give money to someone else.
"Parkinson enunciated a law which says that 'expenses rise to meet income.' I believe there should be another which says 'when income falls, expenses also fall.'
"Most people have no idea where their money goes. Consequently, the thought of living on less scares them. In order to know exactly how we were coming out, our family 'Tias used a basic family accounting system."Month by month we can tell how our net worth is changing. This helps us decide if we are spending more than we should. We end up each month with both a profit and loss statement and a balance sheet just like a commercial enterprise."
I could tell my husband was beyond most of them. But little by little he explained a simplified process of double entry bookkeeping.
The lessons were important, even for those who never really mastered them. For months many of our staff were living on far less than their full support, and they were amazed at how well they got by. God supplied in unusual ways, and they learned how to buy more efficiently.
Very basic, however, was the fact that we were all in this together. Beyond the suggestions and clues we could give each other, we developed a certain sense of comradeship best stated in another principle:
Principle Five: It is much easier to adopt a simple lifestyle if you join a support group which covenants together to live on less.
Among other equally valuable lessons, we learned that God really does take care of us if we make His concerns our highest priority (Luke 12:31 LB).
We learned that simplicity of life means far more than how we spend our money. It also means being willing to live to the Lord, unworried about making a good impression (Col. 3:12b LB).
It means being willing to be God's servants in the jobs where He has placed us, recognizing that even Christ was under authority to serve rather than to be served. We learned that our money, like our lives, was ours only because He gave it to us; consequently it was at His beck and call whenever He saw fit.
As a group learning how to live in this new way, we came to value what Jesus meant when He said, "Only those who throw away their lives for my sake and for the sake of the Good News will ever know what it means to really live" (Mark 8:35 LB).
Scene 6: March 16, 1979
(Three generations gathered around a book, reading one paragraph at a time. Dr. and Mrs. McGavran in their eighties and highly revered as missionary statesmen, Ralph and myself now in the middle years, and eight young people. The book was John IL Mott's account '?f the early days of' the Student Volunteer Movement Jot Foreign Missions, written in 1892.)
"Can we do it again?" This was the unspoken question on every heart.
"In 1807 four other students,
praying for the world, said, 'We can do it f we will!' When they said that, there were no mission societies in America and only one or two in England. Almost all of Protestant mission work was still ahead of them.
"Today we have more than 60() mission agencies in America alone," Ralph said. "We also have thousands, perhaps millions, of evangelical young people. Not all will catch the vision of the unreached frontiers, but Singapore alone has 600 Chinese young people now ready to go.'
"But look," Brad insisted, "both in 1807 arid in 1892 the students had a watchword. We've also got to have something that will challenge the hearts of our generation.
How about 'A Church for Every People by the Year 2000?' someone said.
The air was electric. Never have I felt such a holy awe as I sensed that night.
Could we do it? Could they do it? Dr. McGavran's life was mainly spent, ours perhaps well over. During the next twenty cars the job of' missions would have to be the responsibility of these young people and thousands more like them.
Others their age were absorbed with getting better paving jobs or with furnishing homes. Not these! They had caught a higher vision. Their hearts were caught up in the awe of knowing God's hand on their shoulders.
Others their age in earlier times had also experienced this awe, this "expulsive power of a new affection' which dwarfed all lesser pursuits.
For Peter, fishing for mere fish lost its attraction.
The very proper voting Wesley abandoned his highchurch connections for the field and mining camps because Gods hand was on him.
Carey, just a poor village cobbler, became history's foremost missionary statesman, meddling in everything from education to commerce to law to Bible translation, all for the sake of the gospel.
Wilberfbrce poured his riches into legislation for the slaves. And the list goes on and on.
I've often wondered, given the chance, what Christ would have done with the rich young rulerthe only one about whom it is written, "Jesus looked at him and loved him" (Mark 10:21 NIV). But he ended up a rich unknown. Could he have become a Paul, a Luther, a Wesley;'
But he was rich, and "the attractions of this world and the delights of wealth, and the search for success and lure of nice things came in and crowded out God's message from his heart, so that no crop was produced" (Mark 4:19).
Principle Six: The foundation of the simple lifestyle is "the expulsive power of a new affection."
It is this which dims worldly goals and makes money itself seem unimportant.
It is this love of Christ and His cause which makes life become real living.
It is this Henry Varley spoke of when he said, "The world has yet to see what God can do with a man who is wholly committed to Him."
It is this new affection that makes the simplest lifestylereally glorious!