My last student summer ever before starting work at the end of August and I’d 6 weeks to fill. A few of them were for volunteer teams, I’d to make a call with my family at some point for a bit, but the rest was free. What to do?
As usual, browsing facebook would turn out to give the answer (!). The Warden of Tyndale House (the evangelical theological faculty at Cambridge University) posted up on his status about needing someone to drive a few guests round England for a week. Knowing the type of people who visit Tyndale, I thought this could well be someone very interesting in the Christian/theological world, so dropped him a line. And that week was to change my thinking a lot.
It turned out that this was an older couple from the US, who were big names in the evangelical Christian scene, but who also lived next to an ex-president of America, and were used to living with such people in their every day lives. They were old enough that they didn’t fancy driving on the “wrong” side of the road, and so had asked me to drive them round, join them on their holiday and look after a disabled relative that they’d with them. Having not driven in 2 years since I passed my test (apart from a big white van that I managed to scrape the side of, and also nearly topple on the motorway), I probably should have informed them that driving the poshest car that I’d ever been in, was not the most sensible on this occasion.
But not only was it the poshest car I had ever driven, we stayed in the classiest 5* hotels that I’d ever been to. Michelin star restaurants where meals were crafted to order, based on the customers desires. Rooms with gardens and pools that you’d happily stay in all day. Bathrooms with heated floors, LED twinkling lights in the ceiling, jacuzzi tubs and a drinks bar. And concierges employed as much to just keep guests happy and chatting away. One click of the finger, and anything was mine, at no cost to me.
I’m quite glad that I actually have little desire for 5* hotels…the real things I chase after are scenes like this one in North Africa, where I was visiting friends the other week!
But I had a dilemma.
I’d just come off a year of volunteering with the Christian Union (university) movement in the UK, which was self-supported. Frugality was a way of life, and I’d got into the mindset that it was Godliness. This holiday however for me, was the most spiritually sapping thing I’d ever had. Everything at my finger tips, and no need of anything or anyone else. To me, this was anti-gospel (the gospel being the thing declaring we are very needy people, in need of God, and of others). Yet here were some of the richest people in the world, claiming to be mature Christians and heralded by many, throwing cash at anything that moved. I was baffled and struggled all week, while trying to enjoy this.
But the more I reflected on my trip, back on a summer volunteer team (sharing a shower between seven, basic meals and a budget of around 70 euros a week to cover accommodation, food, resources and freetime), the more I saw that yes, perhaps you could live a Godly life whilst being rich. And maybe even further than that, we need Christians who are living out this existence, mingling with US Presidents and influential circles of every type. Now don’t get me wrong, you could be doing all of these things from bad, ungodly motive, but I don’t think these folk were.
Their generosity to me and to Tyndale House was huge. They’d shaped their holiday round visiting something that they’d support financially that would massively shape British Christianity. They’d had me there to help their disabled relative, which was also a large part of why they’d had to travel 5*. Apart from the misunderstood clash between American consumer culture and reserved British five star culture, their behaviour and lives were incredible examples of dependence on God and Godly character. And just because I’d found it hard spiritually, didn’t mean they weren’t vibrantly living out a sacrificial life.
Sunset over Paris, the other week (see pic below for explanation)
Here’s just a few reflections that travelling with them helped me to see:
- Godliness need not have any correlation to wealth (Proverbs 4:23 – it’s what comes from the heart that matters, not necessarily the outward appearance). I can rejoice in my Father’s goodness to other believers in giving them wealth, and weep with my fellow believer who is struggling to make ends meet.
- That in Christ, is all richness found. He is better than gold (Proverbs 8:18-19).
- That in all God gives me, I should honour him with it (Proverbs 3:9). Given I (and probably you reading this too) are in the top few percent of richest people in the world, given our ability to travel (even on a budget), we must not think ourselves as the poor.
- It is very hard not to forsake being needy when you have everything, and very easy to get bitter when you have nothing. Therefore, I will make Proverbs 30:8 my prayer: “give me neither poverty nor riches, but only give me my daily bread”
Before I book any travel, my prayer is that I stop for one evening to sleep on it, pray for guidance, and remember these things, amongst others.
Paris, the next destination for my US friends, who offered me the trip free of charge again – so tempting! But I felt not appropriate this time. Thankful to another friend who gave me a free hotel this year in Paris, with him.