Proverbs 31:20She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.

Who are the poor?

Those who are unable to care for themselves because they lack the basic necessities of life. These are: food, shelter, clothing and work, which is the means to provide these things.

  1. The poor have little or nothing to eat and therefore cannot work, or do not have work, so they cannot eat. One half of the world's population is chronically hungry. This is not just a stomach-ache before lunch; it is a lifestyle.
  2. There is also a problem of water supply in many developing nations, where the water is little more than mud and is badly contaminated.
  3. With hunger and poor water go disease, especially where there is very little medical provision in the form of doctors, medicine, or research into the diseases that come with poverty.
  4. Refugees make up a large part of the number of poor. They live in squalid conditions through no fault of their own. Often many families live together in one tiny space, making it impossible to have a family relationship.

Why are they poor?

  1. The poorThere is plenty of food to go round in the world; the problem is unequal distribution. The western nations consume three-quarters of the world's consumption of protein every year and yet only have about one tenth of the world's population. A large proportion of people in western nations are overweight and there is a significant number of deaths attributed to factors connected with over-eating. A relatively small amount of grain would be sufficient to feed the malnourished. This could be found by diverting about half of what is currently given to beef cattle. Thereby, the consumption of meat in western nations would reduce but there would be food for the hungry.
  2. The predominant use of energy in the form of oil, gas and electricity enables a very small proportion of the world's population to generate the wealth needed to keep up its fast-moving lifestyle.
  3. Selfishness causes many to be poor as western nations hoard resources without consideration for the needs of others. There are more hungry people in the world today than ever before, because of failed crops, war, a lack of education and pure greed.

What can I do?

It is our responsibility as Christians, knowing how our Lord cared so much for the poor, to reach out our hands and care for the poor around us. We can also take an interest in organisations that are doing work in the world at large and allow our hearts to be touched by the need. Of course, Jesus came to announce the good news that we can be free from sickness and poverty through our relationship with Father.

  1. God always has a plan. In the Old Testament, He legislated for the year of "Jubilee" every fifty years when "slaves" (indentured servants or debtors) were to be set free and property that had been pawned was to be returned. God also wanted to remind the people of Israel of who owned the land in which they lived. (See Leviticus 25:10-24.) Every seven years, there was supposed to be a "sabbatical year" when fields were left fallow. During harvesting, poorer people were specifically allowed to pick up pieces that had been overlooked or dropped - a practice known as "gleaning". Thus, there were to be no poor in Israel. (Deuteronomy 15:4) God also stipulated that priests (and those who assisted them in maintaining regular worship and teaching people about God Himself) were to be supported through a "tithe" (tenth) given by everyone from their individual resources.
  2. It helps if we inderstand God's concern for human suffering and have a biblical view of the poor. God saw the needs of human beings and gave up what He valued most Himself: Jesus.
  3. We can change our personal attitude towards the poor. If we are born again spiritually, the power of selfishness has been broken in our lives and we have a whole new set of personal, social and economic standards set by the God's word. (Isaiah 58:7-12) As God's Spirit begins to change our thinking, we recognise that we are only stewards for our Master of all that we have and we become willing to part with any of it as He desires. (Matthew 19:21) After all, who provided it in the first place? (Deuteronomy 15:10-11)
  4. We must be united as Christians so that we can convince the non-spiritual world that Jesus came from the Father. (John 17:20-23) Jesus was always moved with compassion. He and the poor were inseparable.

Jesus' example

In the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus shows us how to deal with the enormous need of the hungry. We can see five distinct principles that guide us.

  1. Be moved with compassion. (Matthew 14:14)
  2. Break the need down into manageable groups. (Mark 6:39)
  3. Start just where you are with what you have. (Don't worry about what you do not have.) (Mark 6:38)
  4. Always remember that Jesus takes it personally when we feed the hungry. (Matthew 25:40)
  5. Jesus always multiplies what we give to Him. (Matthew 14:20)

The record of the "Acts of the Apostles" tells of ordinary people who were completely available to each other. Their sharing was voluntary, according to a need that they could provide, even to selling their possessions. (See Acts chapters 3, 4 and 5.) It is not about giving “only if I am so rich that it won't hurt”. It is about getting our thinking straight biblically and realising that nothing that we have is our own; we are simply holding it in trust for God. As with the widow's mite (Luke 21:1-4), God sees our hearts and what sees what we hold onto. We need to let it all go and allow God to be in charge of our purses and possessions.

God challenges churches today that He considers to be "lukewarm": those who are endlessly busy and consider themselves to be rich, wealthy and in need of nothing. God sees such people as they truly are in their spirits: wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked. He gives us all an opportunity to repent, change our minds and attitudes to the point that we share His heart for the people who He sees as important. When we see things from His perspective, even if it costs us everything, then we will be truly wealthy by God’s standard. That is when we shall be truly enthusiastic and "burning with zeal". (Revelation 3:14-22 - Amplified version)

Common excuses for not helping the poor and needy

  • They don't deserve help. They got themselves into poverty and they can get themselves out of it.
  • God's call to help the poor applies to another time, not the present day.
  • I don't know any people like this.
  • I have my own needs.
  • Any money I give will be wasted, stolen or spent; the poor will never see it.
  • I may become a victim myself.
  • I don't know where to start and I don't have time to get involved in this.
  • My small contribution won't make any difference in the wider scheme of things.

Where do I begin?

Caring in the churchWe can start by being better informed. To get there, we can:

  • Receive monthly magazines from Missionary organisations.
  • Read a book on the subject. (Recommended: "Rich Christians in an age of Hunger" by R. J. Sider)
  • Visit our nearest Salvation Army centre.
  • Consider visiting our local prison.
  • Look out for any refugees in our area.
  • Visit some missionaries, if possible.
  • We can reach out just where we are and ask God to stretch our capacity for love in our hearts for every precious soul that He puts across our path.

Practical options

  • Start by showing God how serious you are by supporting care ministries through prayer and, in a practical way, by giving clothes and food joyfully from what you have.
  • Be committed and consistent. If there is nothing in your area, consider converting a spare room into a collection spot and encourage your friends to give. Then ask God to send you people who have needs. (2 Corinthians 9:10-11)

God has made it His business to care, so what is His business is our business. This makes it our responsibility to care and to reach out to every need within our circle of influence. In turn, it will allow God to stretch us through getting more and more involved, farther and farther afield.

Suggested prayer: "O God, you are the God of the poor. I am your “joyful woman”. Show me what to do and I will do it."

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