Empty Plates

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Going back to work with an international Bible ministry, I’ve been reminded of the year and a half we lived in Equatorial Guinea working with a Bible translation project in process there.

I experienced a myriad of emotions as I recalled our ten-year-old son surviving an acute asthma attack while staying in a village that had no medical resources. We could only pray. And pray we did, into the cloudless night, begging God to put breath in our child. God’s answer that night was “yes.”

Another memory gripped my heart. I’ll never forget carrying my eight-year-old daughter, like a rag doll, unconscious into a medical facility. Again, we prayed and again the Lord’s mercy fell upon us. She left the crude hospital three days later walking out on her own two feet.

Sometimes, the answers to our prayers were “no,” and other prayers went, we thought at the time, unanswered. But living outside our cultural norms where our daily work was to survive, we became dependent upon prayer in a way few living in the Land of Luxury (USA) will ever experience.

Alongside a developing prayer life, we also learned many new life lessons—some of a physical nature but most bore a spiritual complexion. We rose each morning with the neighbor’s crowing rooster to the relentless education of equatorial village survival.

The lessons were so many, I’m sure some have gone dormant—lulled to sleep by my dreamlike, western lifestyle.

But recently one of these lessons popped into my mind, like the first popcorn kernel bursting from the heat of a microwave. It happened when I heard a media evangelist talk about the poor and their need for a stronger faith. My blood heated up and then pop, a picture of my kitchen in Equatorial Guinea exploded across the screen in my mind.

In the kitchen, I remembered, I had a pantry. Well, sort of. Open shelving hung above the counter and those shelves were stocked with canned tuna, instant oats, flour, sugar, and imported oils (I never did figure out how to cook with the local palm oil).

Let me back up and explain why my kitchen pantry is what I thought of when the evangelist suggested that if one finds themselves poor, then one is not giving his or her faith muscles a proper training.

Early on in our tenure of third-world living I was amazed by the spiritual maturity of the Christian Africans working with my husband in translation work. These simple-living souls had little opportunity for “formal” education, much less advanced theological studies, yet carried a weighty faith. Their spiritual and proverbial responses to my cultural groanings would leave me in awe.

Or twist the knife of conviction deep into my heart.

They suffered under a tyrannical dictator and most had little in the way of material means.

And me, well, I had a pantry.

The faithful Guineans I knew didn’t have the luxury of shelves stocked with food. They began each day with an empty plate and they began each day expecting God to fill it. Give us this day our daily bread were not words prayed as a corporate, spiritual exercise in church, but words my new friends lived by.

I must be honest and tell you that I have never asked the Lord to feed me on a daily basis. I’ve viewed the Lord’s example of prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) as a bigger, general prayer that covers a host of life’s disruptions.

I have had the faith to pray for big bold healings, interventions, and personal dreams. I’ve prayed the Lord move across the world through His Word, and that He bring peace to Jerusalem. I’ve told demons to get lost. I’ve prayed without ceasing for my children. But I’ve never headed out to lunch without money or credit card and said, “Give me, Lord, the food I need to eat now.”

That prayer requires a kind of faith that is fashioned through knowing God as Provider, Master, Keeper. It’s not a side of the Creator that is called upon often enough by those of us living in the Land of Luxury.

Do you understand how the media pastor’s words were an electromagnetic wave blowing up my brain like a bag of corn kernels?

I’d seen the faith of the Christian poor. A big, robust faith that I had little experience with.

Here is what Jesus says about it:

Blessed are the poor in spirit (those who recognize their need for God’s Spirit, for their spirit is lacking the ability for eternal life), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn (who know the depravity of man and are troubled by it), for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek (those who need God, daily, to survive), for they shall inherit the earth,
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (that know what it is to live under the rule of the unrighteous), for they shall be satisfied.

There’s so much to learn from an empty plate.

There’s so much to miss with a full pantry.

May we make spiritual judgments from our need and not from our abundance.

And Lord, may I come to you for my daily bread.

Emptying your plate,

Laurie
www.LaurieGreenWestlake.com

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