When I was 15 years old, I travelled to Nairobi, Kenya, where one of the most harrowing scenes greeted me. I had checked into a hotel and decided to walk downtown. Around the corner, I came across a boy – probably the same age as me – sitting on the street with no forearms (they had worn away from leprosy) and torn clothing. Emaciated, he looked up at me with an empty, hollow expression, his tin cup balanced on his upper arm, saying, “Dollar? Dollar?”
The face of poverty
Shaken, I stared at him speechless and abruptly turned on my heel and ran back to the hotel room. Now I am not proud of how I reacted, but growing up in the middle of America, I had never seen poverty of that scale, or looked into the eyes of someone who had no hope.
I returned to my hotel, pacing back and forth stunned by the interaction. I still remember it like yesterday; I kneeled down at my hotel bed and prayed, “Oh God, if You could ever use me to help alleviate that kind of suffering, here I am.”
You cannot ignore the poor
When you look straight into the face of extreme poverty, when you smell poverty, when you hold a two year old baby whose bones are sticking out and eyes are out of focus from malnutrition, when you’ve seen and touched destitute people, something snaps inside of you. It has to.
A fast that pleases God
In Isaiah 58, we read about God’s heart towards the poor and the type of fasting He asks of us. The Lord says that if you really want to impress Him, here is the kind of service that you can engage in.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loosen the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” Isa 58:6-7.
An array of blessings
God then describes the kind of blessing that He will pour out on people who will serve the needs of the poor.
“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear, then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer…”
This is one of the longest lists of promises of God recorded in a single passage in the entire Bible. Basically God says that if you give yourself to helping the poor He will give you:
• Answer to prayer
• Soul satisfaction
Adopting God’s heart
What does this tell us about God’s heart for the lowly, that He would ask us to partner with Him in alleviating their suffering and promise such an array of blessings.
If you had to see the world wide stats of how little Christians and the average church goer engages with the poor, you would faint. The figures are so low, so dismal, that it is just depressing!
With God’s heart so moved towards the poor and His imperatives so clearly spelt out in Scripture and His promises for those who serve them…Why then are so many blessed, redeemed, adopted, eternally secure believers quite removed and comfortably distant from the plight of the poor? My top five reasons include:
1. Lack of teaching
If you are in a church where Scriptures on helping the poor are not taught, it doesn’t let you off the hook. You have a Bible and you can read the 2 000 verses pertaining to the poor. The prompting of the Holy Spirit will lead you to take action about helping the unfortunate even if the church you are attending never does. This is clearly marked out in Matthew 25:34.
2. Little or no understanding ofextreme poverty, a blinded eye or ignorance about the severity
Many of us can be totally insulated from the poor. When you are exposed to extreme poverty, when you sit in a mouldy cardboard home where seven people live, when you see a village try to live off a polluted river, with children dying because of it, you will be driven to do something about it even if no one else will lift a finger.
I made a pact with God that every year I would go to a place of desperate poverty and re-acquaint myself with the horrors of it because if I don’t, their plight slides down my priority list. I encourage you to expose your family to these places.
3. The issues of poverty are so overwhelming…
We think: “What can my small amount do?” Mother Teresa’s answer to this was: “Not all of us can do great things, but we can all do small things with great love.” All of us can do something to alleviate the suffering associated with poverty, no matter how small the task.
The answer is never to do nothing – just do a little and God will multiply your effort in ways you cannot imagine!
4. People are jaded about helping the poor because they have heard a bad story about waste and fraud associated with helping others
Matthew 10:16 teaches that we should do our homework and be wise about how we can leverage our money to do the greatest amount of good.
If there is the slightest hiccup in a charity you support, don’t just take your lot and go home, don’t fall into cynicism but learn a lesson, get up and keep being generous to the poor and God will honour that.
5. One doesn’t know what to do to make a difference
In Exodus, God bring Moses into leadership and He asks Moses what he has in his hand. Moses responds by telling God that all he has is a staff…the Lord uses it and He does several miracles around that beaten worn staff.
If you don’t know what to do for the poor, ask yourself: “What do I have in my hand?” What skill do you have? What is your profession? What are you good at? Start there and get creative. We all have something in our hands that we can present to God to use on behalf of the poor.
Take up the challenge
The result of serving the poor is never sadness, the first promise is joy! These promises are all waiting for those who will spend themselves for the poor.
Take up the challenge to consistently read Isaiah 58 and it will get into your heart and transform you for the better.
By: Bill Hybels