Leaving my home country was far from easy. Ions of years ago, I decided to
attend university in the United States. It wasn't until my application was
approved however, that reality set in. Did I really want to go through with
this? After all, Belgium was my home. All of my friends were in Belgium. All of
my family was in Belgium. All of my belongings and memories were in Belgium.
Could I really leave all of that behind?
"It'll only be for a short while!" I reasoned. But this thought did little to relieve my stress. I didn't know why, but deep down inside, I had the feeling that I was leaving my home for good, and the thought left me torn. But how could I advance my education in the way I hoped to advance it without leaving my home?
With dread and trepidation I prepared to transfer to another continent. I could only take three suitcases with me, and most of these were filled with clothing. I was forced to place a value on the rest of my belongings, for only the ones of the highest value would be sandwiched between my clothes. I also tried to spend as much time with family and friends as possible, but even this was stressful, for ever in the back of my mind was the realization that I would soon be transported by plane to an unknown continent, to an unknown country, and to an unknown university where they spoke the dreaded language that I had been unable to master in high school (See Undeserved Success. My Lord and Master Series part 5)!
Though I tried to maintain a positive attitude, there was no denying that the first few months away from home were hard. On my second day at the university, I met an American friend who I had known in France. He had a somber warning for me: "Welcome to our materialistic society! Watch out, because your mind will be bent as you are gradually sucked into materialism." Such comforting words! I made a resolution that day to resist any and all materialism!
It wasn't too hard in the beginning to maintain my European heritage. I was homesick, and I tended to compare everything with Europe. However, as days changed into months and months into years, I discovered to my horror that I had indeed become materialistic. Initially I blamed the culture. Then I noticed that in reality, there were many people who successfully resisted this temptation, and I also was eventually brought to realize that materialism was no better in my home country! In fact, people throughout the entire world are faced with identical temptations! It wasn't where I was living that made me materialistic, it was succumbing to the temptation!
This is, in fact, a Biblical principle: "You know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings…" (1 Peter 5:9 NIV), and Bible people faced the same kind of challenges. Look at Lot, for example. He moved away from his birth place, Ur of the Chaldeans, with his uncle Abram to an unknown land called Canaan. He most likely faced the same challenges I did, because he and his uncle eventually split up over conflicts of wealth:
"Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. And quarreling arose between Abram's herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot." (Gen 13:5-7 NIV)
Abram let his nephew choose which part of the country he would live in, and when Lot realized that the plain of Jordan was well watered and looked like a little paradise, he chose this part of the land. Unlike Abram, his eyes were attracted by the glories of city life. This move now seemed much easier than the one from Ur!
"Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom." (Gen 13:12 NIV)
"Watch out Lot! Before you know it, you will become materialistic!"
And this is what eventually happened. Before Lot knew it, he moved right into the city of Sodom: "He (Lot) was living in Sodom…" (Gen 14:12 NIV)
Lot's mind gradually became warped by the thinking of that local town. As wickedness increased, God decided to destroy the city. He sent angels to warn Lot and to lead him out of the city before it was too late, but when the news circulated through town that Lot was housing unknown guests, the town men rallied around his home with far from healthy plans! (See Gen 19:5).
Lot did try to appease them. However if you analyze his reasoning, you will realize that he was no longer the same person who used to travel with Abram: "Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, "No, my friends. Don't do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don't do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof." (Gen 19:6-8 NIV)
Wickedness had invaded his own roof! He literally had to be forced out of the city with his wife and his daughters (See Gen 19:16). When they were warned to not look back, Lot's wife couldn't resist. Her heart to belong to this place! Filled with lust and evil she looked back. When she did, "she became a pillar of salt." (Gen 19:24-26)
Meanwhile, Abram was changing as well. Only instead of his change being for the worse, it was for the glory of God. Throughout his lifetime, he learned to depend 100% on God.
One of the reasons why our prayers seem to go unnoticed is our evil inclinations, our hidden sins, our "false gods" who require most if not all of our attention. God cannot help those who live like that! Holiness can not be mixed with filth: "When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow." (Isa 1:15 -17. See also Jer 11:11-15; Amos 5:21-26; John 9:31)
Is it hopeless, then, to even pray to God if we are fighting with unwanted filthy inclinations and addictions?
Not at all! You can be freed from these addictions if you come to rely on the power of Jesus! He died so that you could be freed! He rose again on the third day, and he shares His resurrection power with you so that you could indeed be truly free. Let's continue reading through Isaiah 1: "Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD." Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land…" (Isaiah 1:18, 19 NIV)
Freedom is now more of a reality than ever! "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:36 NIV) I can confirm this, for I have been freed from several addictions, thanks be to God! God can and will transform you into a person of light, if you will only let Him: "We, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." (2 Cor 3:18 NIV)
We have a choice to make. Either we continue with our evil longings and become transformed into filthy, hopeless pillars of salt, or we allow ourselves to become transformed "into his likeness" and enjoy real freedom from addictions and evil thoughts.
Only by allowing God to work the changes in our life will we become what we were meant to be: "Images" of God Himself! (see Gen 1:26) And only by allowing our lives to be transformed will our prayers be heard.
When we live in sin, we have no idea what is good. How can we even try to pray for the good of ourselves and others? The prayer that can transform all of this is this simple prayer: "Lord. I am a sinner! I feel lost! I don't know where to turn! Please come into my life. I accept you as my Lord and Master and believe in your promise of complete freedom from my awful addictions. Thank you for welcoming me the way I am. I will follow you wherever you lead me. I love you Lord!"
God has great plans for you if you will let Him transform you to your full potential!
P. S. Thanks be to God, I eventually was able to shake off many of my materialistic tendencies. I have learned to love this culture, to call it home. I feel blessed to be able to live in this country of opportunities. Remember, hope is ever at our reach when we abandon ourselves in the insatiable love that God has for us!
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