I am overcome. And from my point of view I have by default become the bad guy. As I walk past a beggar on the street, my heart turns to mush then hardens out of a sense of self-preservation. It either wells up and explodes or freezes over; to beat no more. The reason for this conflict. I have money and she doesn't. I am the bad guy and she the innocent and snubbed. Some may even say the Gospel is primarily for her and not me, I was born rich and she poor (Micheal Taylor, Good for the Poor).
The rest of the day my mind is consumed with this line of thought. How do I reconcile the fact that I have been born into wealth and she into need? Certainly it is by no doing of either of us, yet who is condemned? My heart tells me I am the recipient of condemnation for seeing someone in need and feeling only a questionably motivated pity.
Yet my mind wages its own war. Would my money help her? Or would it simply reinforce her resignation to poverty? Yet, this is Myanmar and she likely a widow, does she have any other choice? Undoubtedly, her situation is dire. So whether it's to ease my conscience or express generosity I give her an amount that could provide her food for two weeks. And I walk. Feeling an odd unease nonetheless. Because I am rich and she is poor.
Many people devote much of their lives to helping solve this problem known as poverty. The seemingly unsolvable. Last time I wrote of how the cause of social action can easily hijack the overall scope of the Gospel. This time I pull it in, because if there is no social responsibility amongst the church, we are not following our Christ, and the heart of YHWH is absent.
There are two principles that can serve as a good reminder of how we, individually, can aid those less fortunate than us. Yet, like with all Gospel movements, it must begin in our hearts and flow to our actions. If not, we face a dreadful case of religiosity.
Abandon Self Interest
At the heart of my issue is a resistance to self-abandonment. While we can understand that Jesus does not set a universal principle for all believers to sell all they have and give to the poor (the rich young ruler Mark 10), he does teach that one must come to a place where they abandon self interest in all areas of life to truly strive for the kingdom (Luke 12 verses 15-22, Matthew 16 verse 24). "Repent, for the kingdom of God is here" (Matthew 3:2), can be understood as 'turn from what you are looking at and focusing on and look to the Kingdom of God'. So what does this look like practically?
Let's face it, we tend to indulge. A lot. And because we tend to indulge we are experts in self-justification. Find out where you indulge often (food, electronics, clothes, vacations) and examine to see how these patterns may have taken your heart. In light of this, can you say you are seeking the kingdom first? For example, recently I have been drawn to the plethora of life experiences at my disposal. It has created a frantic paranoia in my heart to experience all I can as if this life is the only one I have (YOLO right?). So I set my heart on and indulge in road trips, hikes, vacations(none of which are bad) but I have loss my perspective and need to repent (turn my eyes) towards the Kingdom.
Besides, resisting self-indulgence can free up some finances and time so we can give and serve those who truly need. Any amount of research will bring up many options to give financially to help the poor (Kiva, Worldvision, Samaritans Purse) and any amount of searching locally will bring opportunities to serve.
"The world is not changed by merely trying to rearrange it. It has to be redeemed. You have to change its spirit as well as its shape. It needs God more than it need us (Michael Taylor, Good for the Poor)"
When we pray for the poor of this world (locally and globally) a few things happen. Our heart grows. Our worlds are often small. We become enslaved to self interest and then blinded to our slavery because of a culture that glorifies that self-interest. This is primarily a spiritual problem, thus needing to be addressed as one. When we pray we can break this bondage to self and turn our interests to eternal realities.
When we pray for the poor of this world we can be assured that God works. We are often tempted to think that prayer is not activity. Many books have been published to emphasize the error of this thinking. (The Weapon of Prayer, E.M. Bounds, Too Busy Not to Pray, Bill Hybels) An examination of the circumstance surrounding Isaiah 46 assures us that God moves in response to prayer. When we forget to pray we are attempting to leave God out, and undermine the Gospel (E.M. Bounds)
Our prosperity and others poverty is not a simple matter to resolve. Yet the confusing reality of some being rich and others being poor should not stop us from pursuing the benefit of the less fortunate. We can join in the ministry of Christ, 'Though he was rich, he made himself poor" (Philippians) We enter a place where to "Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things" (Colossians 3 verse 2) is a true reality in which we promote the interests of the Kingdom of God in a fallen world; righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14 verse 6) Let's promote this spiritually and physically. The two are not mutually exclusive.
Dan Peterson is from Chicago, Illinois USA, currently living in St. Leonards, Tasmania, studying cross-cultural ministry (his final year). Dan is a musician and personal fitness trainer, who loves exploring the Australian bush.
Dan Peterson's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/dan-peterson.html