This last week as I was studying for a message I was putting together on Philippians 2:3-4 I revisited a really good book by Henri Nouwen called Creative Ministry where I came across this amazing insight:
“…As long as we want to change the condition of other people because we feel guilty about our wealth, we are still playing the power game and waiting for thanks. But when we start discovering that in many ways we are the poor and those who need our help are the wealthy, who have a lot to give, we become true social agents and do not give in to the temptation of power, because we have discovered that our task is not a heavy burden or a brave sacrifice but an opportunity to see more and more of the face of Him whom we want to meet.” From Creative Ministry by Henri Nouwen (P88-89)
I was struck when reading this of how many times I have reached out to others from a place of subtle arrogance thinking that I had something to offer only to find that the impoverished and the outcasts really had a wealth to teach me. Nowhere has this been more noticeable than in the area of short-term missions. How many times have I gone on missions trips as the Biblically literate, affluent American who is there to help these poor folks in the third world only to realize that I was the one in need of their prayers, their ministry, their simplicity of faith.
While Nouwen’s example of ministering to the poor is certainly striking it can bring with it the temptation of not realizing this truth in every one of our daily relationships with others whether our children, coworkers, neighbors or even our enemies. I read a quote by Catherine Doucette that sums this idea up quite well, "Every person in this life has something to teach me, and as soon as I accept that, I open myself to truly listening." These are truly subversive words that have the potential of absolutely wrecking the pious religious ego behind which each of us have a tendency to hide.
Sometimes we are so obsessed with looking for God in the Bible, in Church, in religious activities that we miss his face and his voice in others. May God give each of us the grace today to truly enter each and every relationship we have as students rather than experts as those willing to receive rather than those who have so much to offer.