It is interesting how the Lord speaks if you are paying attention. The Lord has been speaking to me for the last few days about an issue. Let me give you some context. When I first became a Christian almost 23 years ago, I was part of a house church that really lived the Book of Acts, in respect to sharing our possessions and wealth with those who were in need (see Acts 2:45, Acts 4:34, 35). I was also part of several ministries that ministered to the less fortunate who found themselves in dire need of housing, employment and mental, emotional and physical care. I even opened up my home to someone who was sleeping in their car. This did not end well. When I started pastoring, I was assigned to an inner-city church in Guelph that had a significant ministry to the “marginalized” of society. Many had addiction and mental health issues, which often stemmed from unfortunate upbringings. Some, however, were just “down on their luck” because of divorce, loss of employment, and bad decisions. Everyone had a story of how their current situation was a result of someone else’s choices, which greatly affected their ability to cope with life. Another group of people were the working poor who just did not make enough to look after all of their and their family’s needs. And then, there was another group of people who were recent immigrants to Canada, and just trying to start a new life with very little. For several years I was faithfully serving and helping people get through their trials. I spent many hours meeting individuals to encourage and pray with them, admonishing them to trust the Lord, and surrender their lives to Him. The fruit was very little, and I began to wonder if I was actually helping or enabling people. I had some bad experiences where I felt I was taken advantage of, and my heart began to sour. As time went on, I drifted away from helping the poor and less fortunate, and honestly became hard to their plight. Ministry was tough, and I chose to focus on other aspects that did not require so much personal investment.
On Friday, I was walking home from the Healing Centre and ran in to a friend. As we were talking, he shared how he would walk downtown just to hang out with some of the “less fortunate” and take them for coffee. He talked about just being the presence of Jesus, a listening ear, and a friend. I found myself defensively waxing less than eloquently about why ministering to the marginalized was not a great idea. I had all of the religious and secular reasons for why it doesn’t work – I probably sounded more like a Pharisee than a follower of Jesus. After talking for half an hour about other things also, I continued on my way home. The conversation had opened up an issue in my heart and soul that God obviously wanted to deal with – my view of the poor.
I started to prepare for this devotional by meditating on Proverbs 19, reading it many times over and over, in different translations, and the word “poor” kept jumping off the page. Actually, in the New King James Version, it appears 5 times, each time giving a little more insight into their plight.
“Better a poor man whose walk is blameless than a fool whose lips are perverse.”(19:1) Many people have preconceived ideas about the poor, that they are all thieves, liars and criminals. The truth is that they are human beings first, many of whom know about Jesus, because most of the outreaches to the poor are done by churches and followers of Jesus, or they grew up in church. The word “blameless” means complete, wholesome, sound, innocent and integrity. In other words, we can’t paint all the poor with the same brush. We need to deal with our preconceived biases.
“Wealth brings many friends, but a poor man's friend deserts him.” (19:4) This is indeed true. Because of their misfortune, or for other reasons, the poor have lost many friends and family members. Each one of them has a story of abandonment, loneliness, and isolation. Proverbs 19:7 is true; I have heard it all too often: “All the brothers of the poor hate him; How much more do his friends go far from him! He may pursue them with words, yet they abandon him.” Everyone needs a friend...that stick closer than a brother!
Proverbs 19:22 states, “What is desired in a man is kindness, And a poor man is better than a liar.” Many of the poor were very generous people, who gave what they had. Many, though they had nothing materially, were always willing to give of their time to serve with the needs in the church. They often, because of their poverty have been pushed to the side, instead of valued with something to offer society and the church. Some of the best helpers in the church were what we would call the “poor”. They were trustworthy and dependable.
The most convicting verse regarding the poor in Proverbs 19 is verse 17: “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and He will reward them for what they have done.” Just meditate on this verse! Do the words of Jesus come to you? “I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to(for) me!” (Matt. 25:40 NLT) God will “reward” those who “lend” to the Lord by helping the poor (see Psalm 41:1-3). There are so many scriptures about helping the poor, all through the Bible. God expected, and repeatedly commanded His people to look after the poor. Here is another proverb: “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” (Prov. 14:31)
We should not respond to these verses by all rushing out to help the poor…but wouldn’t that be awesome! We should however, examine our judgments about them, and ask for the heart of Jesus towards them, and not ignore the downtrodden when we see them. I remember one radio host who used to close his Christian program with the line, “we are just all beggars telling other beggars where to find bread”. Jesus is the bread of life that everyone needs to feed on. Just as Jesus did, sometimes you have to minister to their physical needs before you can minister to their spiritual need. Think about it! Wouldn’t you want someone to notice you if you were just a poor beggar. We are all just one catastrophic event away from being there ourselves. At the very least, a devotional like this ought to cause us to be extremely grateful for the wealth we do have, giving thanks to God for His abundant provision in our life. Maybe we can share what we have been given with those who aren’t so fortunate. I praise God for the encounter I had on Friday. God changed my heart through it!
Have a blessed week!
Don’t neglect the rest of Proverbs 19!
Laziness: verses 15 & 24
Teachableness: verses 20 & 27
Obedience: verses 8, 16 & 23
Lying: verses 5, 9 & 28