To Whom Much is Given
Christmas had just passed. Friends and family surrounded me. Laughter engulfed me. Happiness followed me. I go to a wonderful college. I don’t have to worry about being hungry or cold (at least not for long). I look back on 2014, and it was one of the best years ever. My heart is full.
But then I think of those who have no family and who found no joy last year. Sorrow engulfs them. There are people who can’t even afford to send their children to primary school. There are those who are hungry and cold. Their hearts are hurting.
How can such strong pain and joy exist at the same time?
A similar story is often told when people return from short-term mission trips. Us Americans return back and tell our friends that we gained “perspective.” We’ve never seen people so poor, yet so joyful. The Christians we visited worshipped in a way that we’ve never before experienced. The poor were so willing to share the little resources they had. They were even more willing to give away their time for others. That’s what I saw. That’s what many of my friends have seen.
Yet I can’t shake off the feelings of guilt when a friend who I met on one of my trips asks me for money. I can’t forget the images of dirty, barefoot children. I see the worn shacks, street waste, bloated stomachs, and hollow eyes. I still remember desperate children pulling on my clothes and reaching for bubbles as I attempt to climb inside the van… and drive… away.
Why does God choose to give some people immense wealth while others live in extreme poverty? And why should I be so blessed?
Today, we use the word “blessed” lightly and in only certain connotations. I see so many Instagram posts filled with smiles and friends that end with #blessed. But, since when are we only blessed because we have good things? We are blessed because of what Jesus did on the cross. We are made holy by Christ’s resurrection.
I don’t think I’m any more blessed than the families in Africa who aren’t sure where their next meal is coming from. They have to rely on God for sustenance; I just reach for the fridge or walk to the cafeteria. There are so many options for eating that I’m discontent. I am surrounded by so much stuff that I end up stressed and overwhelmed. I even long for a simpler life, where things do not tie me down.
It’s no coincidence that Americans come back from mission trips in awe of the worship they experienced and the faith they witnessed. Jesus talked about this exact thing in His “Sermon on the Mount.”
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are — no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.” -Matthew 5:3-6 (MSG)
God spreads out His blessings on His children. The poor financially are rich in faith. God gives them an extra measure of Himself. There’s a reason we typically only hear of miracles in destitute situations. The Christians in third-world countries are in tune with the Holy Spirit because they are free from distraction and at the end of their own strength.
The Christians I worshipped with in Liberia and Costa Rica worshipped powerfully because they have experienced the power of God in their everyday lives. They rely on Him for food, shelter, and health. They are dependent on God for their needs, every morning. They pray passionately not only because they believe, but also because they can’t do anything else. They eat up God’s Word not only because it fills the empty places in their lives, but also because they don’t have thousands of other resources to “supplement” their faith. They live in real community — loving one another and pouring out for each other. Yes, perhaps they are poor in material wealth, but they understand the heart of the Gospel better than I ever will.
That doesn’t mean that I should call blessings equal and ignore their pain.
“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” -Luke 12:48 (NIV)
God has given my family and I much. As a result, He expects much. He demands a heart of compassion and generosity. When I look around at the world and see great, inexplicable poverty, my response should be, what can I do to help?
I can’t end poverty. I can’t feed all the hungry children. I can’t provide shelter or education for the world’s populace. That is the result of sin in the world. Yet I know what the Bible requires of me: “to look after widows and orphans in their distress” (James 1:27, NIV).
That could be giving of my time, money, or talent. And it’s not only overseas either. There are plenty of hurting and impoverished people in my city and even in my dorm on campus. I’m praying for eyes to see the need and a heart of generosity to respond in 2015. I will be obeying God, and just maybe, I can alleviate some of the pain.
There’s one last way that we can look at the poverty in the world. The gap between the rich and the poor can seem so heartbreaking and overwhelming. Despite all the ways we look at the discrepancy, sometimes all we can do is cry out, “Why?” And as simple as it is, this should be our response: I don’t know why children starve in Africa, but I believe that you are still God. God is still in control. He is still God. And sometimes, that knowledge is all we have left, but it is enough.
// image via Tumblr (original source unknown)