I’m passionate about caring for the poor now, but I haven’t always been. There was a time in my life when I knew I was supposed to care for people experiencing poverty, but I just didn’t care that much in all honesty.
What do I still lack?
It’s not the most well-known part of the story, but a phrase from Jesus’ interaction with a rich young ruler in Matthew chapter 19 verses 16-22 really resonates with what I was feeling at that time: “what do I still lack?”
I had enough head knowledge on the issue, I was cognitively aware that I was supposed to care for the poor, but I wasn’t emotionally invested. My heart wasn’t in it, so to speak. And I wonder if this was how the rich young ruler felt at this point as well, given the question he asked here: What do I still lack?” He had some sense that whilst he was doing lots of good things, he still lacked something.
Sell your possessions and give to the poor…. What?!
Into this confusion Jesus spoke the startling words, “If you want to be perfect, go, and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matthew chapter 19, verse 21).
As someone involved in fundraising, I am intrigued by this command. It seems like a wildly impractical thing to say! I’m confident that if I decided to make such a suggestion from the front on a Sunday, there would not only be those who go away sad (see Matthew chapter 19 verse 22) but some would ‘stick around’ angry (the angry ones never just ‘go away’…)
Of course, Jesus was abundantly more qualified to make outlandish statements than I am, because He really lived what He preached. I, on the other hand, would look a bit silly telling people to give everything away, just to hop in my car and go out to lunch with my wife. Jesus could say it, because He lived it, and his hearers were compelled to listen to Him.
There’s obviously a bunch of lessons here: Jesus wants our whole lives, including our finances, to be submitted to His will; Jesus wants us to free ourselves from those things that compete for our attention or that we rely on for our comfort outside of Christ. But I want to suggest that Jesus is also suggesting a strategy for emotional investment: that we can motivate ourselves by investing treasure in specific places.
Strategic treasure placement
If we assume the rich young ruler truly felt that he was ‘lacking something’, and that he was not ‘sold out’ for the mission, then we can assume that Jesus’ suggestion is: ‘put some (in this case all) of your treasure into it.’
I’m reminded of what Jesus said back in Matthew chapter 6 verse 21, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
We usually see this verse as a way of measuring our spiritual temperature; we understand it to be saying ‘you can tell where your heart is by how you spend your money’ (or other treasure – time, energy, whatever). But I wonder if it can also be read as saying ‘where you want your heart to be, put your treasure there’?
This is certainly in line with how I came to care about those in poverty when I was struggling to engage the issue, I put some treasure into it. I invested money into poverty alleviation work. And I found that, over time, I did became more emotionally connected to the issue! Furthermore, I found that the more treasure I invested in poverty alleviation, the more motivated and engaged I became.
Where my treasure was (some of it, at least – let no one misunderstand and think I sold everything and gave the money poor!), there my heart was also.
Where can you invest your treasure?
Perhaps you’re struggling to engage with some area of the faith as well. Maybe, like me, you don’t feel engaged with the issue of poverty alleviation. Or (and this is very common, in my experience) you know your church supports mission work, but you just don’t care that much about it – maybe you can’t even name the missionaries the church supports.
One way to become more passionate about it is to put some treasure into it. Start to give regularly to the churches mission budget. Or give some of your time (which is worth far more than money, for many of us) to pray for the missionaries regularly, or to read all their reports and engage in the issues they are dealing with.
Of course, the application of this is far broader than just mission work – there are all manner of areas we could engage better in – evangelism, outreach, chaplaincy in schools, all kinds of stuff.
The question really is, what is the issue for you? What’s an area that you know Jesus cares deeply about, but you don’t share His passion? Then, put some treasure into it (be it money, time, effort, or something else) and see if you experience a change of heart in that area. I am quietly confident that you will.
Brent Van Mourik is the Queensland Church Relationship Manager for Baptist World Aid Australia and is a registered pastor with the Baptist Union of Queensland. He completed a Bachelor of Theology with honours in New Testament through Malyon College in Brisbane, where he now lives with his wife, Jane, and his young son, Joshua. In his down time, he enjoys making and drinking good coffee, and developing his theology of disappointment, whilst putting into practice Ephesians chapter 4 verse 26 (“In your anger do not sin”) on the golf course.
Brent Van Mourik’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/brent-van-mourik.html