READ: Psalm 113
THINK: A few years ago there was an experiment conducted at Princeton Theological Seminary among a bunch of people who planned to go into a career in pastoral ministry. When the would-be pastors arrived at a classroom they were given a relatively short amount of time to prepare some thoughts on the Bible story of the Good Samaritan. They were then told that they were running late and needed to hurry over to another building to record their talk. Along the route they had to travel to get to the other building, the experimenters placed a disheveled, homeless looking man who was coughing and appeared to be in rough condition. They found, much to their dismay, that few seminary students – even when thinking about and preparing to talk about the Good Samaritan – stopped at all to help the man. Most others just acknowledged him quickly to ask if he was okay and when he coughed and said “yeah, I will be” they kept on walking. It’s a really sad experiment…that shows pretty clearly that pastors or would-be pastors are not perfect people who are way better than everybody else, but it also shows just how easy it is for us to ignore those in need!
God cares about impoverished people. (It’s possible that you picked that up yesterday while reading Amos.) The Psalmist declares, “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes, with the princes of his people.” (Psalm 113:7-8) The God who raises the poor from the dust is inviting us to be a part of what he is doing for them. That’s how he works. He gives us the privilege of doing his work when we’re willing to line our hearts up with his. And poverty is a cold-hard reality of our world that God cares deeply about.
Brokenness & homelessness, hunger and starvation, disease and death grieve the heart of God. Poverty is the result of sin in our world. And not just the sin of the people who are in poverty. Sometimes it’s easy for us to stop caring or avoid the issue by looking at people in poverty and noting that its their own bad choices that got them there. We see a homeless single teen mother on welfare and list off the many poor and sinful choices that she made to get her to that place and we use that as a license, a justification, not to care and not to help – as though we haven’t made bad and sinful choices ourselves. Or we look at the developing world and see the poor choices their leaders have made and then turn our backs. And yes, poverty is the result of sinful choices – but not always and not only those of the impoverished. A young girl born into sex slavery or kidnapped and illegally trafficked across the world to become a prostitute or a slave isn’t there because of a string of her own poor choices. A kid born in the slums of India isn’t there because he made some bad decisions in the womb. But sometimes people are impoverished and suffer because of the greed of the Western world and the United States. Poverty is a sin problem. Not just an individual sin problem, but a communal sin problem. It is caused by the sinfulness and rebellion of the human race – all of us. You and me and we and they, the CEO in Minneapolis, the homeless man in Chicago, the single mom in New York, the orphan in Africa. It’s a sin problem, and it’s a tragic problem. And it’s a problem that God cares about.
I think, if we don’t line up our hearts with God’s heart on this one – if we read this today and then hop in our cars and plug our iPhones into the radios and then fill them with gas and drive to our houses and then kick off our shoes and sit on our couches and watch flat-screen TVs without letting God change our hearts at all – then we have a deficient gospel. We have a hole in our gospel. We can tell people that Jesus died for their sins, but we can’t really tell them why…we can’t really express his great love for people. We can’t explain fully that even though this world is broken and there is evil and suffering and poverty – the God of the Universe is at work to make things right again because he loves people. And he’s not just at work for some far off day in the future…he is healing and restoring right now. He is lifting the poor out of the dust today.
Jesus kicked of his ministry on earth with these words in Luke 4: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
PRAY: Open yourself up and be vulnerable – ask God to come in and shape you into his image. Ask him to break your heart for the things that break his. Ask him to line your heart up with his for the poor and broken people in the world. And ask him again today who he is calling you to be – and what he is calling you to do – to show his heart and his love to those people.
After studying the book of James, which does not let you grace yourself out of doing something about the poor, I began acing in this conviction. However, I’m afraid that if this truth is not consistently put in front of my face I will conveniently forget it. Thank you for not letting me wander from the truth! (James 5:19-20) 🙂