3 Keys to reconciling wealth and poverty
When I first started ministering to the homeless in 1996, I didn't know what to think. Every time I would visit the homeless camps and see the poverty that they were experiencing, I would leave very confused.
How could I be so blessed and they be so poor? It literally hurt my heart.
As I began to go on overseas mission trips to developing countries, those feelings were magnified. Often times, after witnessing first hand the extreme poverty that so many people were faced with in places like Central America and Asia, I would come home and question everything about my life.
Should I feel guilty for having what I have? Should I sell it all? Should I give it all away? Was God mad at me for having a home when others didn't?
Well, I don't pretend to have those answers. As a matter of fact I am still to this day somewhat perplexed when it comes to reconciling the wealth of some with the poverty of many. I don't have the answers.
But in the middle of my confusion and my questions, I believe the Lord has given me three keys to help me understand this a little better.
Not long ago, we spent an entire day in a squatter village building a nipa hut for one of our children's feeding centers. A few men of the church came together and it was a long but fun day of work.
The bamboo posts for the corners were all crooked and we dug the post holes with a pry bar and a half coconut shell! I was amazed that in the end, it was square and very well built. These guys are great builders.
That day, at lunch time, we had a big meal. We had chicken wings, rice, fish and pineapple. It was a good meal for all of the workers.
But poverty abounds in this village and as they were setting the table, I thought of all the families nearby who most likely did not have adequate food. The thought of eating the delicious meal set before us seemed almost evil. I mean, how could we enjoy the great food when others are hungry?
Then, as we stood around the table, they began singing. They do this quite often here in the Philippines before a meal.
They sang the song:
"Thank you Lord, for saving my soul
Thank you Lord, for making me whole
Thank you Lord, for giving to me,
Thy great salvation, so rich and free"
After we all sang together, we bowed for prayer and thanked God for the meal that he had provided and asked his blessing upon it.
Did we eat good? Yes. Were we ungrateful for the blessings? No.
They acknowledged through praise and prayer that every good gift is from God and they were extremely thankful for it.
In the Bible there is a story of a rich man and a beggar. The beggar's name was Lazarus and he was laid at the gate of the rich man and begged for crumbs that fell from the rich man's table. But the only thing that he received was the dogs that came and licked his sores.
You probably know this story already but both of them wound up dying. The Bible tells us that Lazarus was comforted in Abraham's bosom but the rich man woke up in hell.
The rich man cried to Abraham for only a drop of water to be given him, but there was no hope. His eternal fate had been secured. Abraham said to the rich man, that in his lifetime he received good things, while Lazarus received evil things. And now Lazarus would be comforted, but he would be tormented.
I could say a lot of things about this story, but the point I want to make here is this; the problem was not that the man was rich, the problem was that he was selfish and he ignored the vulnerable, helpless man who was laid at his gate.
The Bible tell us that the rich man fared sumptuously every day. In other words, he had ample opportunity to be generous and save a life but he refused to do so.
The problem was not his riches, it was his resistance.
God is not so much concerned with what we possess as he is with what we do with those possessions.
I want to encourage you to look right outside your "gate". Be generous and don't refuse to help your neighbor as they cry out in need.
A few years ago we owned a nice home. It was not fancy compared to many homes in the United States but is was a nice home on three acres of land in the country.
As the Lord began to deal with our hearts about working on the foreign mission field, we felt impressed to sell that house and downgrade. So we did. We now live in a very modest, smaller home.
With the income we have, we could afford a much larger house. We could comfort ourselves more and still be within the standard ratio of what you should spend on a home. But we have chosen, for now, to live a simpler life.
We do not feel compelled to have the best cars or the best toys. We have decided that we do not need to spend up to our income. But rather, we will live below our means so that we can have the ability to fulfill our ministry without being tied down to things.
I would hate to know that there were so many needs around the world and I was only laying up treasures for myself here on this earth. Please don't hear what I am not saying. I am not saying that having possessions is wrong. I am saying that we have chose to limit them, so that they don't limit us.
There is a story in the Bible about a man whose fields yielded so much fruit that he ran out of room to store it all. So he decided that the best solution to his dilemma was to tear down his current barns and build newer, bigger barns.
That way, he could take it easy and have no worries. But God said unto him "thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou has provided?"
Then the Bible says that everyone who lays up treasures up for himself and is not rich toward God is in the same boat. Again, the problem was not his increase, the problem was his investment. He invested everything he had been blessed with back into himself.
He could have opted for Heavenly treasure, but he chose the riches of this present world instead.
Though he was rich, he made a poor choice.
As I stated in the beginning, I don't claim to have all the answers. I believe anyone who does claim to have all of this figured out is either filled with pride or inexperienced. Maybe they have not yet walked among the slums of a big city in a developing country and felt the pain of single mothers who are trying their hardest to provide for their babies in the midst of abject poverty.
Or maybe they have never sat under an overpass and listened to a grown man cry because life as he once knew it crumbled and he didn't know how to prevent it.
Or maybe they have never visited a widow who suffered alone in a nursing home with no one to come visit.
So how can we enjoy the blessings of God without feeling guilty? I'm not exactly sure, but I do know that we should be very thankful, be very generous and live a life of simplicity so that we are not the only one benefiting from the many blessings that God has sent our way.
My favorite Bible verse might fit good here. "He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack; but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse." Proverbs 28:27