Today in the name of multitasking, I took one of the books from my semester reading list to the gym. And about 20 minutes into my “random hills” workout, I hit upon this little number, which practically stopped me in my tracks:
“As I listened to these people praying to be able to live another day, I thought about my ample salary, my life insurance policy, my health insurance policy, my two cars, my house, etc. I realized that I do not really trust in God’s sovereignty on a daily basis, as I have sufficient buffers in place to shield me from most economic shocks. I realized that when these folks pray the fourth petition of the Lord’s prayer–Give us this day our daily bread–their minds do not wander as mine so often does. I realized that while I have sufficient education and training to deliver a sermon on God’s sovereignty with no forewarning, these slum dwellers were trusting in God’s sovereignty just to get them through the day. And I realized that these people had a far deeper intimacy with God than I probably will ever have in my entire life.”
–Brian Fikkert, “When Helping Hurts”
The existence of the poor has always been one of the great obstacles in my efforts to trust God. Each time I bow my head to thank God for providing me with food for the day, I get an awful feeling in my stomach as I think about all the people in the world who do not have food that day. Yet unbelief is unbelief, even if it’s out of concern for others, and my attitude is baldly sinful. I have come up with a few conclusions as I’ve struggled with the concept of God’s provision and systemic poverty.
First of all, my frustration over the fact that people are starving, while certainly warranted, also betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the heinousness of sin. Sin is not just a private thing in my heart against which I must war. Sin has affected creation on a much broader level–it warps this world, cracks social systems, and leaves pain, sorrow, and suffering, both personal and systemic, in its wake. Sin is abhorrent, and its effects are farther reaching than I tend to acknowledge on an average day.
Secondly, I know that one of the major ways in which God chooses to provide for the poor is through His people. For each question I ask God regarding how He is caring for the poor, I have to take a look at my checkbook, for I have the charge to do the same. I have allowed a sense of materialism and entitlement to infiltrate my worldview over the last several months as I’ve bought into the myth of the “starving graduate student.” Chewing on Scriptures such as Matthew 25:31-46, Acts 6:1-7, James 1:27, and 1 John 3:16-18 has convicted me regarding my flippant use of money of late. If I intend to live a life of sacrificial generosity in the future, the best place to start training is now. The two quotes following have helped shape my ideas regarding my Christian responsibility to the poor:
“When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her. It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed.” –Mother Teresa
“I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare…If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us. . . they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditures excludes them.”–C. S. Lewis
Third, I was reminded as I read the paragraph I quoted above that we do not have the whole story. It’s easy for me to sit at my breakfast table, gulping down oatmeal and looking over class notes, and vaguely worry about “starving people in the developing world.” But I don’t have the whole story. I don’t see people praying for God to provide, I don’t see the miracles He works out on behalf of His children, and I don’t see the sweet security in which He holds some of the least privileged as they rely only on Him. I hope I don’t sound as though I’m romanticizing poverty; it is a crushing, soul-stealing thing. But I do know that God is faithful, and His grace abounds in proportion to one’s need. Perhaps some of my concerns for the underprivileged stem from the fact that I have never known what it is to rely solely on His grace to provide my daily bread; perhaps some of these people whom I would (I hate to admit) pity are actually in a position to pity me for my spiritual poverty.