Australia has had a pretty lucky streak as a country. Among other things, we were the only developed country to avoid the 2008 recession; our COVID death rate has been among the lowest in the world; and we have been largely spared the political turmoil plaguing the Middle East, Europe and Africa.
My family and friends back home share this perspective. A decade ago, as I was preparing to migrate to Australia, the mantra amongst us middle-class Asians was “work hard, save money, and retire in Australia”. It wasn’t as quiet as New Zealand, or as wild as the United States, or as foreign as Europe. It was just right—the Goldilocks of countries—an oasis of stable democracy, strong welfare support and economic opportunity.
I love it here. I got married here. I graduated from university here, and I know how good I’ve got it.
I love it here. I got married here. I graduated from university here, and I know how good I’ve got it. I remember how frustrated I got at my Australian counterparts when I first migrated: how can you complain about compulsory voting? At least your democracy works! You don’t want to work because that will affect how much Centrelink you could get? But to work is good! This notion that there were social safety nets available to those who were not able (or willing) to work was incredible to me.
Now that I am truly assimilated, I notice different feelings in myself: a gnawing sense of discomfort that I am here—well-off and well provided-for in this lucky country—while most of the world is suffering.
I also feel an inexplicable pressure to live my life well in response. Maybe some of this pressure is a godly prompting to consider all the gifts, opportunities and blessings—both material and otherwise—that I have received from God. Maybe it is the result of the Spirit working to convict me of my lifestyle, which is sometimes thoughtless and ungrateful.
Yet maybe some of these feelings are actually unhelpful and should be discarded. What light does God’s word shed on my feelings and conscience? How do I live my life well while I am in this lucky country?
Serving God Wherever He’s Placed Me
In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul emphasises that “each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them” and not seek to change their current social or marital status. Paul does not mean we should not seek to change anything about our situation ever. In fact, Paul’s own life was characterised by changing circumstances (Phil 4:11-13). Rather, Paul is exhorting us to realise that the main thing we need to worry about is obeying God regardless of our circumstances. Because God is the one who sets out good works for us to do (Eph 2:10), we can be confident that he plans to use us wherever we are.
God is the one who sets out good works for us to do … we can be confident that he plans to use us wherever we are.
This means I don’t have to look elsewhere—either wistfully or guiltily. Instead, Paul is saying my first response should be to look around me and ask how I can serve God here and now. He has already given me hard, meaningful work to do. He has called me to be winsome at work; to care for my family; to be faithful in my marriage; to learn selfless service at church. For me, right now, there are so many ways to serve God without moving too far from where I live, or drastically changing other aspects of my life.
Of course, being preoccupied with my immediate circumstances does not mean I am excused from caring for the rest of the world. I must lift my eyes beyond my comfortable little spheres for several important reasons.
Firstly, God places responsibility on those who have been gifted wealth, privilege, and status to be generous, “rich in good deeds,” and “willing to share” (1 Tim 6:17-19). In this sense, being given more in this life is both a privilege and a responsibility (Luke 12:48). We can and should play a practical role in alleviating the suffering of others, whether they are within or without our immediate circles. This does not mean we need to be monastic about the way we live. After all, part of the reason God gives us gifts is for our personal enjoyment of them (Eccle 3:12-13). However, I do need to be sober about God’s calling to be generous in the management of my resources and live in ways that allow me to give an account for them with a clear conscience (Matt 25:14-30).
I notice a twisted form of gratefulness that all the bad things in life are happening out there, to invisible faces and lives, rather than to me.
Secondly, lifting my eyes to what is happening around the world, whether by reading the news, or receiving prayer updates from missionaries overseas, makes me confront the truth of my own selfishness. Sometimes, it expresses itself in feelings of entitlement—the part of me that believes I deserve to live in this lucky country. I am tempted to believe the reason I am here is because I worked harder and played my cards right. Other times, it manifests in a dogmatic pursuit of life’s pleasures, like worldly comfort and social status, and I become like Gollum with similarly tightly-held ‘preciouses’. And yet other times, I notice a twisted form of gratefulness that all the bad things in life are happening out there, to invisible faces and lives, rather than to me. An empty form of gratefulness which yields no fruits of generosity or service.
Following Jesus’ Example
In both fortunate and unfortunate circumstances, I am challenged to remember Jesus Christ. Our Lord is the chief example of having it all, yet willingly choosing to give it all up. He was the only one who could be rightly spared from suffering, and yet he chose to endure earthly sorrows and pain alongside us. He became “one of us” so that one day we may join him in all of his restored glory (2 Cor 8:9). Whenever I am confronted by my own privilege and wealth, I am simultaneously confronted by the tightness by which I cling on to them. Jesus was entitled to far more than us, yet he was more willing to sacrifice it all, and endure much more than many of us ever would. He who created the heavens permitted himself to be lowered to the grave. Since Jesus is my Lord, then the call of my life is to imitate this sacrificial love in real and practical ways (1 John 3:16). The early church, following Jesus’ footsteps, gave to God’s work out of their extreme poverty (2 Cor 8:2). What does this mean for us, the one-percenters of the world?
The Truly Good Life
Upon reflection, I am living an uncommonly good life. I am comfortable, happy and safe. Whilst Christ has freed me from feeling guilty for this, he has also freed me to use my life well, which counter-intuitively might actually mean delaying comfort, safety and wealth now, with a view of gaining everything back in the next life. May we, both in good times and hard times, be motivated to live sacrificially during this earthly life. May we be driven by a desire to hear “well done, good and faithful servant!” by our Lord, living alongside him who demonstrated what it truly means to live a good life.