Wednesday, October 31, 2012
On Being Poor
By Micky Wolf
“The poor you will always have with you; but you will not always have me.”
Really, Jesus? Now that seems to be a real downer.
When it comes to money, it is not difficult to recall the years my husband and I were painfully aware of the limits of our own financial resources. Our children were toddlers and the country was mired in the deep recession of the 1980s. We certainly felt we had more in common with the poor than the rich. We also had a lot of company. While he had a job, like many others, we struggled from paycheck to paycheck. And that was in the midst of making responsible choices with the money we did have. We did our best to trust in God, yet there were definitely days when we wondered if we were truly secure in His arms.
Most Christians are aware of the Lord’s exhortation to care for the poor, especially the widowed and the orphaned who may be among the poorest of the poor. However, it seems there is much more to Jesus’ statement “the poor you will always have with you” than a passing reference to the reality of material poverty in our world.
Who are the poor?
You. Me. Apart from a lack of money and material possessions, poor is also defined as less than adequate, of inferior quality, or small in worth. Casting poorness in this light, we see something very different—maybe most of us are poor and just don’t realize it. I don’t know about you but I’ve lost count of the times I felt less than adequate, of being of inferior quality [certainly in gazing into the mirror] and of being small in worth.
But here’s the catch: when our thoughts and feelings are centered on self or what others think, rather than contemplating and living an active life in the manner and likeness of Christ, we may very well discover, eventually, that we are putting our faith, confidence and trust in the things of this world, rather than those of God the Father, who breathed each of us into existence.
On the other hand, when we recognize our poorness as a treasure through which God can transform us into greater Christ-likeness, we begin to let go of our desire to be in charge, of ascribing to independence as a virtue rather than seeing it for what it really is—an obstacle and hindrance to loving and serving God and others. We more fully surrender our will to God, in all things. In this light, understanding self as less than adequate, inferior, or small in worth, becomes a very good thing. We begin to live in true humility. Being truly humble, we graciously accept our total dependence upon God for all that we have, all that we are, and all that we have to give. [Philippians 4:19]
Am I poor?
The question might also be stated—when have I not been poor?
You and I can probably cite numerous examples from the past—maybe even in the present moment—when we lacked money or material possessions. But take it to the larger picture. Ever experience an uncomfortable sense of being poor in having meaningful friendships? Of having a strong and loving marriage? Of being part of a caring family or affirming community of like-minded souls?
Or how about those times when we are vaguely aware our attitudes and behaviors lack compassion? Tenderness? Thoughtfulness of the other person or people in our life? And what about those occasions when we our choice is to keep a firm grasp on not only our financial resources—but our time, talents or gifts as well—because we believe they are inferior or less than adequate?
When we decide to limit being poor to simply not having money or material resources, we miss the real import of what Jesus is speaking to us through this Scripture. We reduce His wisdom and exhortation to one of a human standard rather than one infused with Godly insight.
If not Him, who?
We know Jesus had to physically depart from this world. And most of us know it was necessary in order to allow the Holy Spirit to come among us and live within us—to empower us to be as Jesus to one another. While we may understand this precept intellectually, allowing it to fully inhabit our attitudes, behaviors, emotions, and actions is something that takes time to grow and mature. In the meantime, what if, to that end, it is through our poorness God works in uniting us with one another, and ultimately, in joining our hearts with the heart of Jesus?
Not having a lot of money—whatever a lot means—is only one aspect of being poor. That each of us, in any moment, is in need of God, a Savior, and the Holy Spirit to help us be and do all that we have been created for, is truly the other side of the coin.
Here’s the real challenge: understanding and accepting our poorness as a door through which we can invite God to enter into our hearts, bestowing all the love, healing and hope He desires to so generously give to us. However, that is only the beginning—in gratitude and thanksgiving for His most generous gifts, we are to turn to one another and share from these unending riches. Sometimes a coat. A meal. A safe place to rest. But more importantly—acceptance and unconditional love.
“The poor you will always have with you” will be true until Christ returns. Thank God. Otherwise, we would likely have little impetus to get beyond our own desires, needs and wants.
When have I been poor in finances? How does that feel?
Am I aware of being poor in other ways? How does that feel?
Am I open to my poorness being used of God to serve others?
Will I open myself to God and allow Him to show me the true meaning of being poor?