One of the tensions that drives policies across the world is the tension between the rich and the poor. Economic systems and political parties vie to gain favor with all of the people by showing how they will care for the poor. In some cases, it seems like those who claim to be advocating for people who are poor end up with great wealth, while the lives of those who are poor tend to remain unchanged at best, or possibly worse off. The truth is that people who are poor tend to be exploited by any economic system and all political parties. As we prepare for elections again, it is easy to see how those who are poor are being exploited for votes.
Sometimes it is easy for those in the church to dismiss people in poverty. They quote the words of Jesus that we will always have the poor with us as justification to ignore those in poverty. Without getting into a discussion on the context of that statement, you have to ignore so much of God’s word to take that view, it isn’t funny. God reminds us again and again that we are called to care for those in need. For those who would ask, as Cain did, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” as a way to dodge responsibility, if you listen to God, the answer is “Yes, you are!” “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” (Proverbs 14:31)
It’s so easy to look at some people with contempt; especially if they seem to be locked into poverty. We wonder what they did wrong to get into a state of poverty. We imagine what their sins might be that caused their situation. In some cases, we may even be right about the causes of their poverty and why they don’t work their way out of poverty. In many countries that wouldn’t be possible, but in the United States it is. On the other hand, some might look at those in poverty with pity thinking they are locked in and that there’s no way out. They will give a couple of dollars to the guy on the street with a sign. They will seek ways to get the government to help them. Government programs abound and nothing changes. Poverty continues to exist. The number of people in poverty increases. Government grows in size. The rich get richer.
In so many instances of government programs, or people just handing out money, the end result is not that people in poverty get help; it’s that temporary suffering gets alleviated. When the temporary suffering is alleviated, it’s easy to seek relief the same way it came before and eventually temporary help becomes the permanent solution. The end result is that there is no escape from poverty. The key then, for the church and for followers of Christ, is to find a way to be kind to the needy by helping them find ways to get out of the situation of poverty and into a lifestyle of dependence only on God. We need to stop ministering to the poor in their condition, and seek ways to life them out of poverty. Today, look at those in poverty around you. Pray for them. If they need immediate assistance, find a way to help them without throwing money at the problem. Since no one solution fits the needs of all people in poverty, work with that person, find a support team, and develop a plan to help someone out of their poverty instead of supporting them in continuing their life of despair. One final thing to remember: many of those who are in financial poverty are often far more spiritually wealthy than you might imagine; seek their prayers and ideas instead of imposing your solution on them.
Lord God, there are so many people in poverty today. We could find many people to blame for this poverty, but we would rather find solutions. Give us wisdom. Help me to find one person that I can help as they seek to escape the poverty that has bound them. Help me show them how much You love them.
PS: one book that has shaped my outlook is the book When Helping Hurts. I don’t get anything from posting that link, but it may help a good organization that is involved in helping get people out of poverty.