The Apostle Paul once wrote, “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:8). Do you share Paul’s point of view on money, possessions, and contentment? I would like to answer “yes,” but if I’m being honest I have to say “no.” I really want to be in the place where I can take Paul’s words as my own and speak them with joy, but the truth is that I still have some growing to do.
It’s 9:30 p.m. I’m at the Mumbai International Airport on the west coast of India. I’ve just arrived after twenty-eight hours of travel, and I’m making my way from the International Terminal to the Domestic Terminal. It’s a huge airport and a long journey. The bus finally arrives after about thirty minutes, and I disembark, make my way through customs and security, and begin the search for a foreign currency exchange where I can convert my dollars into rupees.
I find the booth easy enough, but I can tell from a distance that it’s closed for the night. I’m a little disappointed because my internal clock is on American time, and I want to get a snack and a drink so that I can sit and work for the next six hours until my flight to Hyderabad departs. But it is what it is, so I approach the booth to check the exchange rate and the hours of operation. The exchange rate is plain to see, but the hours are written in Hindi so I’ll just have to wait and see on that one!
As I turn to walk away, I catch some movement out of the corner of my eye. I look down to see what it is, and wow, it’s the booth attendant. He’s lying on the hard floor, curled up, and trying to get some sleep for the night. This isn’t something I’d see at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport! As my friend Ethan Larson later said, “Americans have home-offices but some in the third world have office-homes.” That’s funny, but in the moment I feel sorry for the man. I take a seat some twenty feet away from his resting place and begin to ponder the differences between his life and mine.
This is the fourth time I’ve been to India, and over the last five years I’ve logged over 200 hours of research on this ancient and important country. So I know that given his broader social context, this man probably has it good. He’s probably much better off than most in the vast city of Mumbai, and indeed the country. He’s probably not as sad as I am about his working and living situation, but I don’t know. I just know that the thought of him trying to sleep on that hard floor has really got me thinking about my luxurious home and the many comforts I enjoy and take for granted.
Four hours have passed by now. I’ve been reading a very good book and making notes on this and that. The attendant wakes up, opens the booth, and greets me with a broad and sincere smile. He looks refreshed, and he’s very kind and helpful to me. He even gives me a favorable exchange rate, as far as airport exchange booths go.
I’m glad that I’m finally able to get a drink and a snack, and after doing so I walk to my gate, board my next flight, and wait for the plane to depart for Hyderabad. But I can’t stop thinking about this man. I’ve been to second and third world countries many times over the years, so it’s not like this is a new experience for me. But something about the unexpected way in which I encountered him has gripped my heart. I was trying to get some spendable cash to meet my fleshly desires. He was trying to get a little sleep on a rock-hard floor.
I honestly don’t know what to think about his circumstances, so I decide to pray for him and set my mind to being more grateful for my own. I take so many small and large graces for granted. I’m so quick to inwardly pout or outwardly complain when various conveniences or desires are interrupted, threatened, or taken away. So I pray and ask the Lord to use this experience to teach me to embrace Paul’s words with all of my heart: “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:8).
I long to be happy with nothing more, or less, than Jesus. Indeed, we who believe in Jesus have received grace without measure and all the riches that reside in him, so what more do we need? If we were to lose all of our material possessions, we would still possess all things in Christ. Therefore, we, above all others, should be content in this world whether in riches or in poverty, in sickness or in health, in life or in death.
Lord Jesus, thank you for this man. Please provide for him. And please help us to see and feel and say with joy in our hearts, “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”