December 5, 2011
Outside shops, bell ringers stand by red kettles, asking for donations. Our mailboxes are stuffed with holiday catalogs nestled between solicitations for various funds for the poor. During the holidays, a time of celebrating our abundance and giving gifts, we are asked to be generous not just to friends, but to strangers who are in need. In these tough economic times, we may be tempted to cut back on holiday giving. It’s easy to say, “What can I do? I’m poor myself.”
We use that word far too loosely.
Perhaps you make less than you once did, or maybe you’ve even lost your job. Or you’re retired and your savings has been decimated by the stock market’s gyrations. Things are tight. But if you have food and shelter (even via a local food pantry or government assistance) you are not poor, according to the Bible, or compared to most of the world, writes Dr. Scott Todd in his book Fast Living: How the Church Will End Extreme Poverty. And compared to the global poor, you have great resources.
When reading the Bible, some people assume all the language is figurative, that poverty refers to moral or spiritual poverty. In that sense, we are all poor. But the Bible deals not only with spiritual reality, but physical reality as well. So we are not all poor, because some of us who are morally bankrupt have our basic needs more than met. Todd adds that if we say that everyone is poor (because we are all broken or perhaps emotionally or spiritually impoverished), we will misread the Bible, and “borrow promises meant for someone else.”
For example, the Bible promises: “He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea” (Psalm 102:17). (See also Psalm 12:5 or Psalm 34:6) “the destitute” does not refer to everyone who ever faced a difficult situation, but those who are economically deprived. “Wiggling our way into the place of the poor in Scripture distracts us form what God is really saying to or about other people—people who don’t have enough food to eat,” Todd writes in Fast Living.
If you are reading this, you have access to the Internet, so you either have a computer (and electrical power) or are sitting in a library somewhere. Which means that, relatively speaking, you are one of the world’s wealthiest residents. That fact should inspire not guilt, but generosity.
If you feel poor, your first instinct may be to hoard, to hang on tight to what little you have. But paradoxically, one of the surest ways to feel rich is to give to others. Often, we think of ourselves as poor when actually we are just lonely. A great way to overcome loneliness is to join with others in doing good for those who are truly destitute. One way to do this is to gather a few friends and support a worthwhile cause together. Pool your resources to multiply your impact. Some great opportunities for this kind of collaboration are posted on the live85.org website.
Even if you have no cash, you have time (especially if you’re unemployed). You could feel rich by giving generously of your hours, rather than dollars. Volunteer in a soup kitchen, or a school, or church. Share articles like this one with friends via email or social media. Or simply notice the needs of others, and do something practical to meet them. Maybe a single mom or widow in your neighborhood needs some help with simple home repairs. Maybe a young parent would appreciate if someone would run errands for her—dropping off her dry cleaning or getting the oil changed in her car, mowing her lawn or shoveling her driveway.
A generous spirit brings good things into your life. Volunteering while you’re unemployed will give you experience that will enhance your resume, or bring you into contact with someone who might have a lead on a job. As you begin to see yourself as a generous person, you may realize that, like the widow commended by Jesus in Mark 12:42-43, you are still able to give.
The Bible says that “The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor” (Prov. 22:9). You don’t have to be wealthy to be generous. If you’ve been asking God to help you, and it seems that he is not listening, be honest: have you refused to be generous with any of your resources: time, money, etc., letting fear rule your life? Have you complained about your own “poverty” and ignored those who truly are in need?
The Bible says: “Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered” (Proverbs 21:13). Is a lack of generosity keeping you spiritually poor, and blinding you to the riches you have? How might a change in perspective cause a change in your circumstances?