Caring for the poor isn’t easy—but it also doesn’t need to be overwhelming, at least when we recognize poverty from a biblical point of view. I explained in an earlier article that when we begin to see poverty the way the Bible does, we begin to see it as offering a number of practical opportunities to worship Jesus.
But how we will worship—how our concern will be expressed—will differ from one person to another. The expression of our concern neither reflects nor establishes our holiness before God. Our responsibility is only to serve in the way in which we feel compelled. With that in mind, here are five things you can do to help the poor that really do help:
1. Begin in the church and move from there.So, practically, this means a couple of things: service starts within our local congregations. “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” James wrote (James 2:15-16). If we a need is known in the church, we are actually obligated to meet it. Remember, the early church, motivated by their love of Christ and the grace God had shown them, lived an open-handed lifestyle, sharing all they had with one another (Acts 2:44-45).
I remember a number of years ago, my family was in pretty dire straits. We were drowning, financially, not because we had a lot of debt; we simply had very little income and too many expenses. One day, after church, one of the elders of our church came up to me and quietly handed me an envelope with more than enough money to help us meet a few significant needs that month. That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about—it’s not showy acts; it’s recognizing needs and meeting them.
2. Look for simple, practical ways to serve. Consider the options around you. Perhaps it’s volunteering with an after-school program in your community, a soup kitchen or clothing pantry (and if there isn’t one in your community, perhaps you could start one through your church). Maybe it’s just as simple as buying a coffee for the man on the street who is asking for change. There are more needs around you than you might realize. Ask God to give you eyes to see and a heart to serve.
3. Work with experts you can trust. There are many different organizations working to alleviate the suffering of the poor, both locally and globally. But not all organizations are created equal. Do your homework—read whatever information an organization has made available to you and review its finances to ensure the money entrusted to it is being stewarded well. CharityNavigator.orgis a helpful resource for identifying trustworthy organizations.
4. Remember that spiritual problems require spiritual solutions. Because poverty is fundamentally a spiritual issue, we would be wise to work with organizations that recognize this truth. Look for organizations that are committed to the local church and are faithfully proclaiming the gospel, even as they minister to the physical and relational needs of the poor. One the best I know of serving the global poor in this way is Compassion International.
5. Pray and trust God for the results. Our responsibility is not to end poverty, but to minister to those who are suffering while we are here. The day is coming that Jesus will return; and on that day, He will wipe every tear from every eye. Sin, sadness, death… all of these will be gone. Poverty will be no more (Revelation 21:4). Therefore, do what you can, pray, and trust God for the results.
Aaron Armstrong is the author of Awaiting a Savior: the Gospel, the New Creation and the End of Poverty, and Contend: Defending the Faith in a Fallen World. He is a writer for an international Christian ministry, serves as an itinerant preacher throughout southern Ontario, and blogs daily at Blogging Theologically.