By Michael E. Brooks
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21, NKJV).
When we parked our van and got out to visit the congregation in the hill tracts of Bangladesh, I noted that they were assembled in a shiny, new looking, tin sided building. A smaller building with tin roof and bamboo mat walls, also looking new, was nearby.
It was only when we saw the burned timbers and crushed tin of previous buildings, and spoke with the members, that we realized the story. Twice over the past several months the church building and preacher’s home have been burned by opponents of Christianity.
Each time the preacher has quietly rebuilt, and begun anew. Each time the members persistently rejoined him, and continued worshiping God as he has instructed them to do.
We noted during our visit the absence of material goods. There were no beds, table nor chairs in the house. Very few clothes hung from the nails in the wood framing. We saw no linens, and few dishes or cooking utensils — few possessions of any kind.
The church building had a newly packed dirt floor, still soft, with a couple of bamboo mats to protect clothing from stain as the congregation sat on the ground to worship.
Yet while we were there we heard remarkably few complaints or requests. I asked the preacher, “Are you afraid that if you replace your furniture they will come and burn you out again?” His answer was simply, “No, I just have no money.”
I did not get the impression that this situation was greeted with resignation or despair. Rather it was an acceptance based on trust, and the conviction that these physical hardships were not of great importance.
The preacher and his church are convinced that God is in charge and that he will care for them. Their treasures are stored in the right place.
Sunday school classes often read and teach Jesus’ instructions to “lay up our treasures in heaven.” Preachers often elaborate upon the meaning of this phrase, and attempt to make relevant application to the situation of their audience.
Rarely, if ever, have I better understood its importance and its true meaning, than in that brief visit.
This small group of Christians could have vented anger and frustration at their persecutors. They could have complained that God had not properly protected them, or rewarded their faithfulness.
They could have presented their guests with a long list of material needs. But they did none of these things. They simply welcomed us, and worshiped God.
There is no doubt as to where that group’s goals and desires lie. They are not impervious to physical need, or desire. But they know what is most important. And they know the one who has promised to provide for their eternal prosperity. They have treasure that cannot be burned or stolen. It is safely awaiting their arrival, even as it continues to provide for their temporal reward.
By Michael E. Brooks