Paying Attention to Poverty by Michelle Bauer
“Remember the poor…” is the encouragement that the Apostle Paul received from the Jewish leaders as he shared with them his vision for planting churches throughout the Gentile world. “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.” (Galatians 2:10) This challenge is also meant for us today. As we go about our days, as we make plans and use our resources, we are to “remember the poor” – pay deliberate attention to people suffering in poverty.
At my church, we celebrate Compassion Month every November. While we seek to be compassionate throughout the year, this month is specifically set aside to renew our vision for paying attention to and caring for people who are poor in our community. Join us as we explore the Scriptures to better understand God’s heart for people living in poverty.
“If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8; 10-11)
“Hardhearted” and “tightfisted” are harsh accusations. If you are willing, allow the Holy Spirit a few moments to examine your soul. How did you feel when you read these descriptions? In what ways does your heart need to be softened? What are your fists wrapped tightly around? Ask God to bring you clarity and rest in these areas.
“Lending freely” sounds risky! What fears or concerns do you have about this encouragement? What protections does God offer those who love and care for those in need? In what ways might giving to others have caused you pain in the past? In what ways might receiving from others have caused you pain in the past? Talk to God about those experiences.
When you come across the word “poor,” what immediately comes to mind? In addition to economically, what are some other ways in which we experience poverty? What kind of poverty might figure in your story? Are there narratives that inform your attitude concerning poor people? What distracts your attention from the people you encounter in everyday life who struggle through poverty? In what ways might you be tempted to insulate yourself from impoverished living?
Think about influential people in your life; who has been “openhanded” to you? What effect did that have on your life? Take a moment to imagine God offering you his open hand. What is in it? How do you feel receiving what God gives?
God calls our actions and our attitudes to be right toward people with few resources. Consider this beautiful passage from the prophet Isaiah, later read by Jesus in a synagogue:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations. – Isaiah 61:1-4
In Luke 4, Jesus stands to read at the synagogue and chooses this passage from Isaiah. In what ways did Jesus fulfill this ancient prophecy? Think of some times that Jesus’ ministry illustrated compassion to people who were poor. Ask Jesus to show you his heart for people who have less than you do.
What pieces of “good news” would people living paycheck to paycheck be encouraged to hear? How would you describe your comfort level when interacting with people whose challenges you struggle to grasp? Ask God to provide what you need to be a good friend and advocate.
Why might people fighting poverty be brokenhearted? How do you feel when obstacles are constantly moving your goals farther away? Have you ever had to choose between one essential and another? Did you grow up with enough to eat in the cupboards; were your parents college-educated? What things might you take for granted, and how would awareness of them change your approach to people who have encountered hard times?
In verse 3, Isaiah offers three sets of contrasting images:
Crown of Beauty <——–>Ashes
Oil of Gladness<——–>Mourning
Garment of Praise<——–>Spirit of Despair
Where you are on the continuum between each image? How does it feel to see where you are? In what ways is God helping you to move towards healing and wholeness? Ask God to show you what needs rebuilt in your life. How have the tough situations in your life developed compassion in your soul towards others?
Leave this time trusting that God is compassionate, sees our struggle, and does not leave us abandoned.