In the dictionary, a first world problem is defined as “a relatively trivial or minor problem or frustration (implying a contrast with serious problems such as those that may be experienced in the developing world)”. I guess most of us would agree that a problem like “my coffee isn't hot enough” or “my kitchen isn't the colour I want it to be”, when compared with those living in less than $1 a day, are not “real problems”. But what about us as Christians living in this prosperous developed world? What if the first world church has a lot more spiritual “first world problems” than we realise? How did we end up with things like apathy, complacency, materialism, desire for comfort and security, fear and worry, low levels of faith, self-sufficiency, with all of our “Christianity”? When we read of movements of the work of the Holy Spirit today in places like Africa and Asia, we have to stop and wonder… why aren't we seeing that here?
Then I had a thought… where did Jesus struggle the most when He was walking the earth? Where did He perform the least amount of miracles… and why?
The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth
1 He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. 2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary* and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence* at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Have you ever thought ‘If only I was in a different environment ….. things would be better’? If I lived in a nicer house ….. had a better job ….. had married someone else? Circumstances do make a difference ….. but the truth is ….. they don’t change who we are on the inside. As someone once said ….. ‘Wherever you go ….. there you are!’ The Israelites finally reached the Promised Land. A land flowing with milk and honey! Surely now they would be content. Surely now there would be no more complaining. Surely now they would live in peace and harmony. But ….. alas ….. they brought along the old nature of self centredness and pride. Many times in the Old Testament it says ‘They did what was right in their own eyes’. A recipe for disaster!
There was once an eagle that had been flying for a long distance and was very tired. Afraid of predators if he landed to rest on the land somewhere, he spotted a large ice floe slowly moving down a river and decided to rest upon it for a while. He thought to himself, “I won't stay long on this ice as it's quite cold, but just long enough to restore my energy”. The longer he stayed, the tireder he realised he was. Eventually, he noticed a large waterfall up ahead. He thought to himself, “no problem, I will wait until the ice floe is about to fall off the waterfall and I will lift my wings as it does and continue flying”. He settled down to wait for the approaching waterfall, and just as the ice floe reached it the eagle attempted to stretch out his wings to fly. But as he did, he realised that his whole body had become numb from the cold ice floe, and he could barely move! He panicked, but it was too late… he plunged over the edge of the waterfall together with the ice floe, and was lost”.
The second story is like this…
A farmer once found a young eagle that had been injured. Since the farmer kept chickens, he decided to take the eagle home with him and nurse it back to health in the chicken coup. The eagle healed and the man decided to keep it as a pet. Every day he would come out with the chicken feed and call the chickens and the eagle out to their meal. The eagle would hear the man coming and try to race the chickens to their food! He had grown very big and ate a lot. One day, a hunter came along and noticed the eagle being kept in the chicken coup with the chickens, living as if it were one of them. Having used eagles to help him hunt game before, he said to the farmer, “do you mind if I buy this eagle off you? I'd like to use it for hunting!” The farmer agreed and the hunter took it to his home in the neighbouring village, and gave it space to fly around. But the next day when the farmer came out with the chicken feed for his chickens again, the eagle heard the feeding call from his new home and came flying over to fight the chickens for their chicken food again! Realising that the eagle still thought it was a chicken, the hunter decided to take the eagle up to the top of a high mountain. As soon as the eagle saw the great expanse of the sky, and was away from the distractions of the chicken coup, it immediately took flight, soaring the winds and the heights, and it became an expert hunter.
What can we learn from these two eagles?
The second eagle doesn’t know who he really is, and what he’s really capable of. His environment has created habits in his behaviour and thinking that have caused him to think that he’s a chicken, and the biggest highlight of his day is to just get the most chicken food. It takes someone to come in and tell him that, no, he was meant for much more than this, and take him to the heights of where eagles are really meant to be. As soon as he’s there, the temptation of the chicken food and the coup disappears, as he realises how good it is to live how he was meant to live.
The first eagle is already flying. He knows who he is, but he is tired and wants to rest. Instead of making the effort to fly to higher heights where the wind could carry him, he decides to rest on a cold ice floe. It gives temporary relief from his tiredness, but lulls him into a false sense of security. Assuming he is free to come and go from the ice floe at any time, he stays there, thinking it will have no effect on him. But the longer he stays, the more numb he becomes, without realising it. And then, when a critical moment comes, it is too late to find out that the ice floe has disabled him, and he cannot escape.
I wonder if any of us feel like either of these two eagles. Perhaps we haven’t fully realised who we are in Christ, and we are stuck just pecking chicken food from the ground, not realising the power that is within us, and the heights that await us. Or perhaps we realise we might be more like the second eagle. We are tired, or perhaps we have become distracted, and we want to rest on a false security… finances, our own abilities, our possessions, our reputation, our comfortable routine, our earthly relationships, entertainment, our culture… Perhaps these things are starting to disable us, our convictions, our dependence on Christ as the only true source of hope and safety.
Perhaps we need to run to him today and say “take me back to the heights again, may I not find rest and hope in anything but you”. Or perhaps we need to ask him to take us to the heights for the first time, and give us a revelation of who we are in him, and what we were meant for.