Repost from Facebook Notes September 27, 2015
This present struggle I am in, along with praying about our upcoming plans for a church meeting on vision for next year, has brought a thought from this past year into sharper focus. A touch of this thought is actually a part of a sermon I know I will be writing soon, but it seems I need to explore it more fully here than I will be able to there. And it is this. My heart does not break for the poor, or at least it breaks no more than it does for the rich. It’s actually not supposed to, according to what I have read in Scripture.
This renewed struggle with finances that I find myself in at the moment brings this into sharp focus for me, because it comes at a time of year where the food pantry at our church is at a low ebb. I don’t find that terribly strange, as there are always cycles to such things. But, the pantry at our church has long been a source of puzzlement for me. Sometimes it thrives, particularly near the holidays when we are constantly drawing attention to the needs of the poor in our community. Other times, it runs low for a long period, typically during the early fall months when other activities draw our attention and we kind of forget it’s there. Often as the pantry struggles, I get a sense from those who love it and have kept it going all these years that they are upset because we are somehow failing as a church because we are not feeding the poor.
It always twinges a sense of falsity in me when we preach that, and teach that, and get frustrated with it when we are not visibly fulfilling that command. I think the sense of falsity comes from the idea that it is our mission in our church to do that. I think it was at one point. It may even still be a piece of it. I often get a sense that as beloved as the food pantry is, as helpful as it has been to me sometimes, it is a distraction and an ineffective allocation of resources when it comes to doing God’s work. Worse, I sometimes get the sense it may be a hindrance to some who have come to view it as their due over the years. I get the sense too often that we view those who come with something akin to pity, something worthy of our heart being broken for them simply by virtue of their state of poverty. Hand in hand with that can come a sense of envy of those who have more from those we serve, or guilt from those who have more but are not led to give to this.
Overall, there is this sense of apathy wrapped in the glittery cover of what we think we should be doing. Sort of a thing that can be pointed to that we are all a part of by virtue of being part of the church. A thing where we can say “see my heart breaks for these folks so we serve them,” even though there is little heart-brokenness actually involved outside those closest to the ministry. This sense of going through the motions because we think we should actually permeates a lot of the things the larger Church as a whole does. Our mission says we should make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world. But, you can’t really find a metric for success on making disciples so instead our focus falls on transforming the world. Our evangelical brethren tell us our heart should break for the oppressed, marginalized and poor, usually all in the same breath so it becomes as though they were one thing. Which somewhere along the line translates into the poor are oppressed so there must be an oppressor, and we ourselves because we are not poor should either be heart broken for them or we are probably part of the oppression.
My heart doesn’t break for the poor. It can’t. I doubt strongly it ever will be able to break for the poor in this country. I’m not even sure it will ever be able to break for the poor elsewhere. I am poor. I have been for a long time. Someday I may not be, but that will be by God’s grace, just as my poverty has been by God’s grace. It has been for His purposes. Not as punishment, or a withholding of His goodness. But because I needed it to grow, I needed it to see Him, I needed it to understand things. Blessed are the poor. And we are.
More than that, we as a Church have taken this whole heart breaking for the poor thing to outrageously arrogant proportions. This note was actually in my head last week, the day before the President of the US of all people touched on it sideways. He intimated Scripture was callous toward the poor, that Christ Himself was callous toward the poor. I am kind enough to give him the benefit of the doubt that he did not intend to insult the Savior and Redeemer of man with his quip that we shouldn’t accept the assertion that the poor would always be with us. But, the fact remains, the Church has bought into the same mentality. It wages a war on poverty as surely as the government does. And while Christ commanded us to feed His sheep, and Scripture tells us to feed the hungry and cloth the naked, nowhere in Scripture does it say we should make it our mission to try to prove God wrong in His statement that the poor will always be with us.
We couldn’t even if we wanted to. Poverty is relative. There will always be those that have more than others. And Scripture tells us straight up that wealth is not measured in money, abundance is not measured in food or riches. Paul speaks to the truth that God’s grace is sufficient to every need, and goes on to list the times he was impoverished, as well as the times he was well fed. Poverty, earthly poverty, is a mere circumstance, one of many tools God uses to shape His people. It is not evil in itself. But, currently, our seeking to eradicate it is rising to the level of idolatry just as much as the prosperity gospel is. More, in our singular focus on the poor, not only in our actions but in our preaching and teaching, we are neglecting many who are currently oppressed and in bondage.
In fact, we are neglecting the very people God may have gifted to help the poor and hungry and leaving them in chains. I know several folks that the world would consider rich. Most of the ones I know personally are at peace and their money doesn’t grieve them because they know God and He is first in their lives. They see their money as a tool and for the most part put it at His service. But, I have met many others that the world would call at least well off, and several that the world would call rich. I see in the news and elsewhere hundreds and thousands of people in the course of a month that the world views as wealthy. I watch them, and in truth, my heart does indeed break for them. Because I see past all the worldly wealth, to the truth of their hearts, and their hearts are bound in chains. They are bound in chains of fear of losing what they have amassed. They are bound in chains of pride. They are bound in chains of temptation, addiction, licence and lust. They are killing themselves daily, and the world looks on and cheers their fall.
My heart doesn’t break for the poor. I know them to be blessed and that God will take care of them, He always has. My heart does break for the rich though. Because the Church is called first to make disciples, and we are failing, and leaving so very many bound in chains. Sometimes, we’re even part of the crowd applauding their fall.
Pray always, and glorify the Lord.