One of my favorite stories about John Wesley is particularly apt at this time of year. Here it is:
While a young, spiritually-indifferent Oxford don, John Wesley met the college porter late one night. The porter was a poor but deeply pious man. The evening was cold, and he was poorly clad, so Wesley urged him to go home for a coat. “I thank God for this the one coat I possess,” the porter replied, indicating the threadbare garment he was wearing. “And I thank Him for water, my only drink during the day.”
Intrigued by this response, Wesley queried, “What else is there for which you are thankful?” “I will thank Him I have the dry stones to lie upon.” “Please, continue.” “I thank Him that He has given me my life and being, a heart to love Him, and a desire to serve Him.”
Returning to his room that night, Wesley realized he was a stranger to such sentiments. The porter’s ready thanksgiving for his many blessings, even in the midst of impoverished circumstances, revealed a genuineness and depth of Christian experience that Wesley knew he did not possess.
Young Wesley had position and possessions but did not possess the understanding that the porter had. So many of us define our lives not by our blessings but by our possessions and positions. We often learn far too late, that God does not define our lives by those things. There is nothing inherently wrong with having possessions or positions, the problem comes when we discover that the position or the possessions actually own us, define us, cause us to act the way we do, and move us farther and farther away from the love and service of others that Jesus preached, taught, and lived. Matthew 25: 31-46 is one of those passages that is like the (unattributed but clever) Mark Twain quote, “It is not the difficult to understand parts of the Bible that keep me awake at night, but those that are crystal clear.” How do you use your position, your influence, your time, your leadership of others? How do you use the possessions with which God has blessed you? Unless you have been in a coma for a long time, you know that Bill Gates is one of the world’s richest men and one of the world’s greatest philanthropists. Things that rarely go together. Jesus did not chide Zacchaeus the Tax Collector (Luke 19: 1-10) for what he had done or owned but praised him for what he was going to do—and giving all of his money away was not among those things. If God has given you great gifts, then great givings are also expected. It is not how much we have but how we got it and how we use it that will put us directly into one of the two groups in Matthew 25: 31-46. I hate being hot and desperately needed air conditioning in Fayetteville in the summer, so I will never forget the couple in Fayetteville (members of Central UMC) who chose not to air condition even a single room in their home so that they could give more to Hispanic ministries. I don’t know if they are even still alive, but they, like the porter in the Wesley story above were truly thankful for all that God had given them. I pray that I, too, will one day have that same understanding.