On my first trip to India I encountered a happy boy and learned about joy. It was a missionary trip in 2000, when we stayed with a widow who had a nice home and a shack out back. In the small hut lived a family of three: mother, father and a boy of about 4 years old. They cared for the landscaping and house, and cooked their food over an open fire beside their small hovel.
I had thrown into my suitcase a toy I thought some child in India might like, although it was a reject by my own boys who lived in America and had too many toys. When I gave it to the young Indian boy, his face lit up and he hardly knew what to do. After a little inquiry, I found out that it was likely the first toy he had ever received in his life and that he would likely receive for a long time.
Reflecting on that experience, here are 3 lessons I learned from the happy boy who never had a toy:
#1. Virtually all westerners are well-off compared to the poor in many countries.
Here in California, we have a lot of people who stand at traffic intersections and hold up signs saying things such as:
- “Out of money, need food.”
- “Homeless veteran, can you help?”
A few months ago, I was watching one of them and as he displayed his sign asking for help he pulled out and answered a cell phone!
I’m not against anyone having a cell phone, but it reminded me that often we don’t know what it is to be really poor, like the happy boy who never had a toy.
Being poor is a relative term. Compared to a billionaire, I am poor. But compared to the happy boy who never had a toy and many millions like him, I’m rich.
Another eye-opening experience came when I visited the largest urban slum in Africa. It’s called Kibera and is located in Nairobi, Kenya. You have to be careful where you step there, since raw sewage runs down the drainage ditches. According to Wikipedia, “Most of Kibera slum residents live in extreme poverty, earning less than $1.00 per day.”
It was my privilege to preach in a church there, which was an oasis of cleanliness and order in the filthy slum. (see photos below) There the pastor described the people of his ministry area and explained that most of them are actually happy. They do not sit around bemoaning their circumstances. Rather, like the happy boy who never had a toy, they find joy and satisfaction in simple pleasures, family, family, and worship.
Sure, they’d like to have more, but they’re not waiting for more to find happiness. This is quite a contrast to many well-off Westerners like myself, as I described in a story about My Worst Christmas Ever.
#2. I prefer to channel charitable giving to the poorest of the poor (and they’re usually not in developed countries).
Since the most genuinely needy are in other countries, I prefer to give to those needs.
Around the world, there are desperate needs:
- People who don’t have safe drinking water.
- People who don’t have enough to eat.
- Some who cannot afford to educate their children (and there is inadequate or no public education.)
- People who cannot afford health care.
- Many who are in desperate need spiritually – many who have never heard the name of Jesus Christ. This is the most critical need of all.
The Bible says quite a bit about caring for the poor (see below). If they are nearby, we should give to help at home. But generally, for Americans and other westerners, the greatest needs are in other lands.
One great place to give is a ministry led by my friend Carlos Sales called Reaching the Hungry. Carlos and his team relieve both spiritual hunger and physical hunger in developing nations.
At the same time, I learned the hard way that it is unhealthy to create financial dependency, as described in my article Do You Destroy Through Dependency?
Here are some of the many Bible verses about helping the poor:
- “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.” (Proverbs 19:17 ESV)
- “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.” (Proverbs 28:27 ESV)
- “For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” (Deuteronomy 15:11 ESV)
- “If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.” (Isaiah 58:10 ESV)
- “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27 ESV)
- “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17 ESV)
#3. No matter where we live, we must beware of the More Monster.
One of my favorite comedians is Brian Regan. He has some hilarious sketches, including the one he does on the “Me Monster.” Check it out HERE.
It’s a hysterical portrayal of how we can be so wrapped up in ourselves—Meeeeeee! Thus, the “Me Monster.”
I’d like to suggest another monster, the “More Monster.” We human beings are always tempted to want more. The law of diminishing returns dictates that if we have something wonderful, the joy soon wears off, and we want even more. More pleasure, more money, more food, more leisure, more excitement.
Of course, true contentment comes from knowing God through Jesus, as it says in Hebrews 13:5: “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (ESV)
If you’re struggling with contentment, check out my article on 4 Ways to Find Contentment Now.
May the happy boy who never had a toy teach all of us these lessons. The simple pleasures of faith, family and friends are what joy is really all about.
Your thoughts are welcome! Please leave your comment below.
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Additional resources about related subjects on this site:
- 4 Ways to Find Contentment Now
- How to Avoid Comparison in a World Filled with It
- How to Renew Your Mind and Think More Positively
- Five Simple Steps Steps to Conquer Complaining and Find Happiness (no audio blog)
- How the Curse of Comparison Crushes
- 4 Great Questions to Ignite Passion for Evangelism in a Lost World
- How to Jump off the Fence and Decide to Support Missions
- 3 P’s of Evangelism