Permission to speak freely?
Ministry to the poor has been a difficult road for me to navigate, both personally and for the church. I've experienced and seen our church experience both the blessings and the frustrations of being involved with serving the needy. Sometimes, it seems we have a profound impact, other times it feels like we have just been duped and used. Despite the ups and downs, it's worth it.
A few perspectives about serving the poor.
- We should realize we are all poor. Whenever we fall into "us" and "them" we have lost our footing, or perhaps we have put our footing somewhere it doesn't belong. Before God, none of us stands righteous on our own, none of us is able to accomplish anything of any good without Him. Whether we realize it or not, we are all poor in the presence of God. This should give us a great sense of humility. We are not the ones to bestow anything, God has and does all the bestowing. If we are involved in giving, we are merely passing on a gift that has already been given. Proverbs 22:2 (NIV) Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is the Maker of them all.
- We should realize we are all rich. Nearly all Americans live better than about 95% of the rest of the world's population. If we think we have nothing to give, we couldn't be more wrong. Luke 21:3-4 (NIV) “I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
- We should realize everyone has something to give. When you enter into a relationship assuming you are the giver and the other is the receiver, a number of unfortunate results may happen from this well intended, but ill advised approach. First, you become unknowingly arrogant and people feel it. It feels to them as though you are making yourself superior, perceiving them as having nothing to offer. The relationship becomes paternalistic and it will often cause resentment and may cause dependence. Proverbs 28:11 (NIV) A rich man may be wise in his own eyes, but a poor man who has discernment sees through him. A pastor friend of mine said one time "Love is a two way street with a one way ethic." Our love should be Christ-like, no matter how we are treated, that's the "one way part." But a relationship is always a two way street, we must anticipate receiving in the process. Acts 20:35 (NIV) The Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” Yes, it's more blessed to give, but it is still a blessing to receive. Be ready to receive and learn from anyone you are serving.
- We should realize that "flash in the pan" service to the poor may make us feel good, but doesn't often result in transformation. This one is a little touchy. I will say that most any service is good service and that sometimes just pitching in to help the cause is intrinsically valuable on its own, even if you have no opportunity for relationship. But for real transformation to happen, it almost always takes an investment of relationship. What I've done myself and seen so many do, is to give in the moment, but not be willing to engage in relationship. I would walk away, puffed up and feeling good from doing a good deed. I grew tired of that though and realized that without love, which is primarily expressed in relationship, I could give all I have to the poor and it would be of no use (1 Cor 13:3). I decided it would be better to love a few deeply than to offer a few token trinkets of love to many. This has been a harder row to hoe. It's filled with hopes, frustration, victories, and disappointments, yet I remain convinced that this is the primary way transformation will happen. The Good Samaritan returned to the inn to further assist the broken man on the road (Luke 10:35). Who are you returning too? Who have you invited over for dinner? Proverbs 22:9 (NIV) A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor. If you cannot or will not be involved with the poor relationally, then do all you can to support someone who is.
I think this is so true, we place too much value on what we see with our eyes (the limits of mankind), and not enough on what we ought to see with eyes of faith (the power of the Holy Spirit). This is a profound thought and will forever change how I approach situations, not only among the poor, but among those around my table every night, among the middle and upper class, among those in my church, among those in my neighborhood, among everyone I interact with in the future.
Anticipating what's missing,