Being a true disciple of Jesus in the United States isn’t easy. What lies before us is an issue that is so pervasive in U.S. culture that it’s hard to see it very well until you leave it: materialism.

I’m not going to go off on some anti-materialism diatribe here, because that doesn’t really get us anywhere. However, it is an issue, because as we realized in the first chapter, one of the requirements for being a disciple is that you must be willing to give up everything.

What—and take a vow of poverty?

No. Getting rid of all your stuff isn’t the answer.

Jesus was a carpenter—He needed His tools. Paul was a tentmaker, which required some gear. Materialism is a heart issue. We give up things from our hearts. We can be just as icky and selfish over the few things that we might possess as we can with a railroad carful. The heart of the matter is this: do we love Jesus more than we love things?

If you’re not sure, I can relate. I like creature comforts as much as the next guy.

When my wife and I were in the States on a short furlough after we had been in China for a year, our pastor, Joe Wittwer, took some of the men from the church and me to a Mariners’ baseball game in Seattle. What an exciting opportunity to be with the guys, enjoying the most American of games! We bought bags of peanuts and soft drinks, ready for an exciting contest.

Then, as they always do before a game starts, they sang and played the national anthem. After the first three notes, I spontaneously broke down and wept. It’s difficult to explain how much you appreciate your native country until you’ve left her. Yet in the United States, we are drowning in our own blessings. Our riches have so saturated us that we don’t even know how saturated we are.

I recently received a letter from a good friend of mine. He was responding to a newsletter I had sent out in which I told about a blind woman who was healed through the ministry of a Bible college student in Papua New Guinea.

Jim and Laurie,

It is always so cool getting your notes! We often forget in the ‘richness’ that surrounds us that God is still working in miraculous ways. We seem to get so numb to Him that the possibilities of God doing miracles seem so foreign.

Thanks for sharing the stories and reminding us that He is working and He is ever present.

My friend hit the nail on the head. It isn’t that we don’t want God or that we intend to sin our brains out; it’s that we’ve become numb. The huge force of the culture is always impressing on us that we’re so full that we don’t need anything.

It’s not just TV, the internet, or advertisements. It’s the incredible bounty available everywhere. Missionaries home on furlough have been known to break down and cry in the aisles of grocery stores, overwhelmed by the abundance and variety of choices. It’s our genuine, need to have adequate health care, to have vehicles, insured and in working order, to keep pace with the demands of the American lifestyle and to be safe, to have homes in good neighborhoods, with quality furnishings, music, video, computers, and the list goes on and on. We need jobs that offer sufficient salaries to supply for all these needs.

We don’t live hand-to-mouth the way much of the rest of the world does. For most of us, the paycheck is regular, the cupboards are stocked, the pension fund is accumulating, and soon we just aren’t needy any more.

In the early years of our marriage, we didn’t have much money to live on. We couldn’t afford to buy boxed breakfast cereals, so we ate oatmeal every morning. Our financial situation gradually improved, and so eventually we could buy breakfast cereal. This may not seem like a big deal. However, since then, when I lower my head to give thanks for a meal, I remember the days when we had so little. I am genuinely thankful for the food that is before me.

We have lived in places where the water and electricity were shut off for days at a time and where hot water was only available at certain times of the day. When I pour a hot cup of water to drink during my prayer time in the morning, I thank the Father that I have pure, good-tasting water. Many places in the world don’t.

As Christians in the United States, we are in danger of being on the receiving end of Jesus’ stern words to the church at Laodicea: “You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17).