Monday, July 6, 2009

Contemplating Poverty

"Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?” James 2:5

When I first began to consider serving with Mercy Ships, I realized that I was becoming strangely jealous of the poor. I find it interesting that we tend to think we have something to offer the less fortunate. How many times have you heard someone return from a mission trip saying something like, "I went with the intentions of blessing someone else, but instead I was the one blessed." Why is that? Could it be that what they lack in financial security they make up for in faith?

I've grown up in a country in which financial status determines value, and self-sufficiency is to be pursued above all else. We don't seek God because we think we don't need Him. I don't pray when I'm sick; I go to the doctor. I don't ask God to provide my daily bread; I drive to the nearest restaurant or grocery store. What's worse is the sense of entitlement that develops from never experiencing need. When confronted with poverty, my first inclination is to question why God allows this kind of suffering.

But what if God eradicated poverty tomorrow? Would we all go about our daily business with God as an afterthought? Would we all forget that it is He who provides our next breath? Would we all miss what it really means to know Savior, Provider, Healer, Comforter, Father, and Friend?

The Bible teaches that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Matt. 19:24). I cannot help but consider, could it be that in all my American wealth, I am the one who is truly poor?

Lord, I have nothing to offer and so much to learn. May the poor of this world teach me how to be rich in faith.

Additional Thoughts (7/9/09): I wanted to clarify that I don't believe living in poverty is God's intention for His creation, or that poverty is in any way a blessing. There are so many scriptures that command us to look after the poor. He even told the Israelites that they would have no poor among them if they listened to His voice and obeyed His commandments (Deut. 15:4-5). There are certainly enough resources in the world that if all believers obeyed His commands, there could potentially be no poor among us either. However, Scripture also acknowledges that in a fallen world, there will always be poverty (Deut. 15:10 and Mark 14:7). The surrounding context of James 2:5 is about not showing partiality to the rich; it is a reminder that a person's value is not determined by his/her financial status. In reflecting on these verses earlier, I realized that material possessions are often a barrier to faith. As far as faith, I don't want to be like those in the church at Laodicea to whom Jesus cautions that he will spit out of His mouth, "Because you say, 'I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,' and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked" (Revelation 3:16-17). It's too easy to be blinded by our own self-sufficiency. I'm tired of being blinded to my need of Him, simply because I think I have everything I need.

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