“Go watch Elliott,” Richard said to me very seriously.
I stepped into the kitchen in our tiny wooden jungle home and looked out onto the back patio where Elliott liked to play in the big water basin. He was three and a half and full of imagination and wonder at all the things the world had to offer. I watched as he played contently, then glanced up into the virgin jungle behind our home. Then a smiled spread across his face as he waved enthusiastically. That’s when my own smile faded.
“He keeps doing that,” Richard responded to my look of concern.
Shortly after I called to him.
“What do you see, buddyroo? Who are you waving at?”
“Oh, it’s my friend! See him out there? He is waving to me,” he said with certainty.
I saw a bucket in the distance and asked if that was it. No, he assured me. It was his friend, right over there. I told him it was time to come in and told myself it was nothing more than his vivid imagination at play.
Later that same day, we were having a conversation with our oldest behind a closed door when suddenly we hear Elliott crying uncontrollably, fearful. I go running out to see what’s wrong and he’s on the front porch now. He’s pointing and crying. I look and all I see are the trees surrounding our home.
“What? What is it son?!” I say, concerned.
“My friend!! Right there! He’s throwing things at me! He’s throwing fire at me!!”
I see nothing.
Visibly shaken, I grab him up and assure him he is safe, that Jesus is with him and the enemy can do no harm. My heart was awakened to a new reality of spiritual darkness and oppression that day. And I would never be the same.
This story is one of many from our four years in the Amazon jungle. The darkness was tangible on many days and most nights. The longer we were there, the more discerning our Spirit became to the evil around us. Many a night Richard or myself would awaken parallyzed. It became so commonplace that we could sense it in one another almost immediately and the other would awaken, wrap themselves around the other and pray out loud until the oppression subsided.
The demons were dark and ugly.
When we moved back to the States over a year ago now, we stopped experiencing these events. It was a welcomed relief as it’s mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually exhausting to fight this ever present battle we had faced for years.
But it wasn’t long before we made a stark realization: those same demons are here in the clean, comfortable, and convenient United States of America.
They’re just pretty here.
Here they don’t look like unnaturally tall dark shadows in the doorways at night. They look like another good deal at Target tempting us to decorate for every season though our homes are bulging at the seams, indulge in new styles though our closets are full, use shopping as our thrill and coping mechanism. “Retail therapy”.
They don’t look like a young indigenous boy piercing your soul with his glare while murmuring an unintelligable language. They look like obsessing over our homes, our bodies, our cars, our church buildings, our education. “Self-improvement”.
They don’t look like your one year old staring into the corner of the room at two a.m. screaming and trembling uncontrollably. They look like “liking” about a hundred things on social media that have to do with world change, social justice, and loving the unloveable but not truly sacrificing for a single one. “Passively passionate”.
The demons here in America are shiny and new. They are comprised of comfort, ease, and yours and your family’s wellbeing. The demons here love to disguise as “good” things. “Blessings”. Things that aren’t inherently wrong.
We have redefined the word “need” in America. We defend it on behalf of our family’s happiness, health, and protection. We are willing to pay the price because after all it’s “good”. We will spend hundreds and thousands of dollars on the newest health and natural trends for our families, futally striving to make every aspect of our home “safe”. We will buy the newest kitchen appliances with all the convenient features. We will buy all the newest educational tools and toys. We will buy excessive amounts of clothing (and then complain about the laundry). We will buy the newer vehicle and the best electronic devices. We “need” them all to function in our busy, daily lives.
And ALL of that makes perfect sense. Why wouldn’t we use the resources we have to buy the best of the best? Why wouldn’t convenience be a proirity? Why wouldn’t we give our kids the world? Why not indulge? We work hard and deserve it.
Unless you are a Christ follower. Unless you believe—truly believe—that there is a lost world out there who truly lacks. That your brothers and sisters are literally dying from lack of basic needs.
Then it doesn’t make as much sense anymore.
Then all of the sudden, maybe your kids have plenty of clothing and hand-me-downs and second-hand aren’t so bad after all. Maybe last year’s seasonal decorations are sufficient to make our house homey and we realize it’s not the decorations that make it a home anyway, it’s the people. Maybe you don’t need all those new-fangled health products when the access we are afforded in America to plenty of clean water and whole foods can usually do the trick, just like God intended. Maybe your car can go another 50,000 miles and maybe that phone you have really is good enough. Maybe your appliances are sufficient. Maybe we cater too much to our kids and blur the lines between need and want, making it impossible for us (and them) to decipher.
Maybe our time and resources have a higher purpose. Maybe we live in the land of plenty for the sake of the world, not our own little kingdoms.
Maybe by living simply, we can let others simply live. And life can slow down enough for us to take it all in. See the needs around us. Feel the hurt of the world in our own souls. Bare their burdens.
Because don’t we look just like the world when we are keeping up with all the trends? And don’t we isolate ourselves from the needy when we are too focused on ourselves?
And maybe—just maybe—we could be exchanging what is BEST for what is just good.
It’s past time for Christ-followers in America to stop kidding ourselves. To stop believing that it’s ok to live self-indulgent lives. To stop laughing about spending excessive amounts of money at Target and on Amazon. To actually decide this year NOT to give into the holiday fiasco, no matter how tempting all those trinkets and gadgets are (studies show they won’t be used in the next six months anyway). To not just “like” the posts on social media about helping the orphan and widow and patting ourselves on the back for packing a shoebox or two, but instead giving until it HURTS. To choose to pray over how we spend our money and ask God if it’s truly a need or a just perceived “need” based on our culture of consumption and commercialism. To stop building bigger and better buildings to draw the crowds in but instead giving more and more to our communities, pouring ourselves out.
To be different.
Our demons are pretty here. They glitter and shout, “I’m good for you!” And all the while Jesus whispers, “I’m best for you. Your job is to give of yourself. To die to your fleshly desires. To sacrifice. To look different. I am enough. I will meet your needs. I define need.”
And it’s high time we teach our kids this, too. It’s time we show our kids that we can maintain self-control at the store when we only purchase what we came for and not a new shirt and pair of shoes and those towels on sale and a spice rack and six new throw pillows because they were cute and we just couldn’t resist. Instead we teach what consumerism and commercialism are and we speak out about cheaply made clothing and household items that enslave men, women, and children around the globe and how we can use our money and resources more wisely for Christ’s sake. We talk with them about making healthy choices but being careful not to obsess. That it’s ok to have fun, but not to overindulge at the expense of others. That we purchase with others in mind.
The reality is, we all die one day. One day, we leave it all behind. So even when our homes look like a Pinterest post and we eat all things organic and we have offered our children the best of the best and our closets are full and our cars are the newest and so on, at the end of the day God is sovereign. And the only thing that will add true fullness to our lives will be the glorifying of God with our lives through daily dying to ourselves and depending on God not only to meet our needs, but to define them as well.
I feel like I have a new perspective, having stepped away from glittery America into the darkness of the jungle and now back again. My eyes see it. But my heart feels the tug. I find myself “needing” things I would’ve never thought twice about before, after just a short time back Stateside. It’s a slow fade. I find myself justifying purchases, though my heart whispers, “This isn’t best.” I feel the pull of commercialism towards the things that aren’t inherently wrong, “It’s on sale….” And it drives me to my knees, asking the Lord for discernment and wisdom for my family for the sake of my brothers and sisters around the globe AND for the sake of my kids who will one day live independently in this crazy, chaotic, self-centered world.
I share this, not to sounds preachy or judgmental. I share it as a sort of call to action for American Believers to say “no”. To seek the Lord in decisions with finances and resources, not simply blending in to the culture around us. “No” to consumerism and self-indulgence. “No” to settling for what’s “good” when we already have what’s Best. “No” to being like the world, just throwing Jesus in the mix by keeping “Christ” in “Christmas” and attending a Sunday morning church service, all the while squandering the bulk our resources on self-centered pursuits.
And it’s time to say “yes”. “Yes” to living simply. “Yes” to sacrificing until it hurts. “Yes” to living as a community, a Body of Believers determined to give more than we receive and love our neighbor as ourselves. “Yes” to letting Jesus be all we need and trusting Him to meet our needs. “Yes” to BEING the church.
No to all the pretty demons around us.
Yes to the fullness Jesus has offered us.
**Disclaimer: I don’t presume to know HOW the Lord will lead anyone in this area. Each family of Christ-followers has a responsibility to the Lord alone with how they use their finances and resources. I just encourage each of us to take an honest look, not comparing to each other, but comparing to Christ alone and asking Him how to best use what He has entrusted to us for the sake of the lost world around us.**