This week's Bible Study - January 25, 2015
Ready to Help the Poor
Quotes of the Week:
"You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you."
This may apply more for men than women, but what is the first question that you are likely to ask another adult that you don't know? Typically, it is something along the lines of "What do you do?" or "Where do you work?" Once we hear their occupation (or lack thereof), are we liable to treat them differently? If you ask and someone says that they are the head of neurology at some prestigious hospital, might you treat them differently than the ones who clean the offices at night? Unfortunately, one of the 'bins' that we place people in is how successful they are financially. It would seem that we get drawn towards money and consumerism in some sort of way. If you watch much TV, you may start to believe that everyone 'has to have' what the commercials are trying to sell us.
Our society makes it look like everyone is financially set, but we know that isn't true. We hear that the majority of the world is in poverty. The poorest 10% in the US have more than the top 10% in many other countries. There are many reasons that much of the world is in poverty. There is overpopulation (too few resources and too little space for too many people). There are places where the right jobs are not available and there is little to no opportunity. In many places, there is insufficient access to education. In other places, there is political corruption and huge inequalities. We could talk a lot about others in different parts of the world, but our focus should be here. Even in our own society, there are many reasons why people are poor. Some of the above reasons are also true here, but largely the poor have no idea how to get out of the state that they are in. Or, perhaps they only see the bar too high, as they have neither the money nor the drive nor the time to get a better education and in many places, there may very well be little opportunity for good jobs.
Money or the lack of money is often a problem for people, whether they are poor or rich. The rich may have issues because they have a hard time sleeping, lest they start to lose their money. The poor can only see how much money they don't have. You will find money patterns are often the same, no matter how much or how little a person makes. Some spend all that they bring in (and then some) and find themselves in a situation where they are only paying late fees and charges, while watching their interest rates on credit cards go up and their credit score go down. Others have had failing health and were not prepared for the situation in which they could no longer work. Some people have grown so reliant on assistance that they don't know how to live in any other manner. There are some that don't understand their situation - they think that since they still have checks in the checkbook, they must still have money. Many don't set financial goals and even if they did, they have little idea of how to get there. Some people blame others - the government, family who didn't give them enough, their boss who doesn't appreciate all that they do, the economy that won't seem to settle long enough for them to get a chance. Some people add justification to why they are in a bad financial situation, often blaming others. Some are just waiting to make it rich. They play the lotteries every week, because they heard about a guy who had done for his entire life finally won the 'big one'. There are many reasons why people are poor. The question that comes up to each of us is whether or not we should have any responsibility for the poor around us.
This passage begins with "If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites". Certainly there were poor among them. While we should be seeking to help those who need help in different parts of the world, what are we doing at home and among those around us? Often, churches will find it very easy to collect clothes or toys or something else that is needed to help overseas. Do we think about those who live in the shadows of our churches and our homes (or perhaps within the church)? We are called to not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Thankfully, there are some churches that truly do reach out to the community, but the real question involves what you and I do. We've all been there, haven't we? We look at someone who is having a hard time and we just assume that they really haven't put forth an effort, so why would we give to them? Are we being hardhearted and tightfisted with what we have been given?
When things are going well, many of us tend to forget about the needs of others. Sometimes, when we find success in our jobs, we begin to assume that we got there because of our superior intellect. However, even if God has gifted you with intelligence, do you not realize that it was God who gifted it? Everything we are and everything we have has been given to us by God. We shouldn't think that this means that God is with us when things are going swell and against us when they begin to get rotten. We need to realize that our ability to live and breathe - we owe it all to Him. In the past few months, I have been having speech issues. You never really realize how blessed you are, simply to be able to talk. And, when you start looking into causes and you see the complexity of the human body and the somewhat archaic tests that we undergo to find the root of the problem, you realize that even being able to speak is indeed a gift that we have been given and take for granted.
When we realize that our mere lives are a gift from God and that we are gifted in many different ways, we should not be tightfisted. We should be openhanded and freely lend to those whatever they need. I'm sure there are times when we choose to simply give to others, but God's intent is that we help one another out and when we ourselves have been helped out, we should be willing to repay. Often, people have been helped out in a pinch, but once the pinch is relaxed, they tend to forget all that has been done for them. We need to realize that God wants us to help one another out, but not to foster a sense of entitlement or to become taken for granted.
The Israelites had a system that revolved around the number seven. God created the world in six days and on the seventh, He rested. In the beginning laws that were given in the wilderness after leaving Egypt, God's commands to the Israelites was that a slave was to be freed after seven years. The land was to be farmed for six years, and in the seventh, it was to not be planted, so that it could recover. There was also a command that the Israelites had to cancel debts every seven years. We'd like to think that would be true today, wouldn't we? I know how many people today would handle that. They would charge and charge and charge until the end of the sixth year, knowing that in the seventh year, their debts would be forgiven. I suppose if this were true of us, we would be the one guilty of harboring wicked thoughts, as the verse says.
In giving, they were told to not be looking to use the seventh year of canceling debts to another's detriment. I am sure that some people would refuse to give near the seventh year, so that they would more likely get their 'investment' back. Others would likely give as soon as possible following the seventh year, to obtain maximum interest. If you are only looking to give to someone else, based on when they are going to be able to repay you, you are really not helping them out, but instead you are only looking at giving as a financial investment.
In their society, the people had to help one another out. They didn't have the resources to make their situation better in the short term, and God's plan was that those who were able to provide could provide for those in need. Given that this was God's plan, those who were in need but were passed over by those who could help could appeal to the Lord against them, and the potential 'giver' would be found guilty of sin. We need to realize that this is not our society. There are many people who have created their own situation. You can't expect to spend twice as much as you make, and then have someone else come and bail you out. You can't make a decision to go to an Ivy League school and expect a parent or family member to pay for you, just because that is where you want to go. We see some people that have such a feeling of entitlement that they believe that they should be provided for, no matter where they go or what they do or even how they treat others. There are others who have believe that they are entitled point where they are slow to ever say thank you for what has been given. Certainly, we should help those in need out. But, none of us should become the bankroll for someone to make their own decisions and be expected to provide.
Throughout the Bible, we are told give generously with a cheerful heart. When we give, we are not to give grudgingly, just because we are supposed to give. Have you ever thought about how we often give of ourselves to God in this manner? We know He desires such and such, and we do it only because He said so, but we would rather be doing something else. We need to realize that God desires out heart and attitude more than our actions. Are you giving generously?
We read the principle that says when we give; the Lord will bless us and all we do. Some people like to use that word blessing, as if anything good that happens to them is a sign of God's blessing. The principle is that the Lord will bless us in all our work and in everything we put our hands to. While this is true in many respects, this is not why we give. We don't give to get in return. Once again, it is about our heart and our attitude and less about the money.
We read that there will always be poor people, so we need to be openhanded to help those who are need and poor in our land. As you go throughout this week, pay attention to those around you. Perhaps you can make a choice to help someone out and provide for a need. Often, in larger cities, you will see people on the sides of the road asking for money. I don't know if there is any way to tell if they are legit or not, but if God compels you to give, give. You can only do what you can do. We aren't called to stop and help every person that is asking for a handout, but when God puts it on your heart, help. Perhaps, more importantly, we should be looking around us, in our neighborhoods, our work places and in other areas we go. Are there people that you know that are struggling and is there a way that you can help? We often miss the blessings that we could receive if we just chose to give.
We should all remind ourselves of the many ways that God has blessed us. Often, we are blessed in financial ways, in order to bless others. It requires a mindset to be open and look at the needs around us, and identify what we could do to help. Realize that there are people that are in need of help, and if God is prompting you to help them out, do so. There are many ways that you can give through organizations, but often the best way to give is to give personally. When you meet a need, you will find a blessing in doing so.
There are others who seem to be perpetually in need. For one reason or another, they have run into financial problems and can't afford to pay for necessities. If you are one of these people, what are you doing about it? For some, getting a new job or perhaps a second job would help. For others, perhaps they need to watch their spending and set a budget. There are many irresponsible examples of dealing with money, and the answer is not always that somebody needs to come behind and fix the messes. You can't expect the government or a family member or the church to step in and clean up your mess, if you aren't willing to make changes on your own.
Yes, we need to look to give to help the poor and needy. But, we also need to look at our own habits when we are the needy, and identify if we are only making our situation worse, based on the choices we make, what good is that? Take responsibility for what you can, and when you've done all you can do, trust in God to help you through whatever means He chooses.