poverty

A Simple Prayer—Just 2 Things

I’ve asked you for two things.

Don’t keep them from me before I die:

Keep vanity and lies far away from me.

Don’t give me either poverty or riches.

Feed me ⌊only⌋ the food I need,

or I may feel satisfied and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’

or I may become poor and steal

and give the name of my God a bad reputation. (Proverbs 30:7-9 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 30:1-9 GW)


A futile pursuit

We want everything. But we can’t have it all. It’s not humanly possible. It also leads to self-destruction and emptiness.

Scores and scores of people in every generation find this out the hard way. Either they lose everyone of real value in their life or lose what they pursued, or both.

This is the primary message of King Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes. He literally had it all—wealth, women (way too many), wisdom, and worldwide fame. But the theme throughout Ecclesiastes is—

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. (Eccl 1:2)

Other Bible versions use a different word for vanitymeaningless, futile, absolutely pointless—to describe the pursuit of everything this world has to offer.

The book of Proverbs, as with other books in the Bible, is written in a memorable way—so people can memorize and retain general truths. This was vital for people who didn’t have the privilege to read and write. They were oral learners.

This is why numbering and lists are prominent along with repetitive phrases. Contrasts and comparisons are used to make helpful distinctions. And, of course, lots of figurative language is used to describe conceptual and spiritual truths in more familiar images and pictures.

[For more insight on this, download my free Study Guide for Proverbs]

Just 2 things

These three verses are expressed as a prayer requesting two things—the first request is related to character and the second concerns day to day life.

Integrity of character is at the heart of the first request–the removal of what’s not true.

When the writer says keep vanity…far away from me, it speaks of self-deception—the fertile soil where arrogance and foolishness grow.

The request isn’t restricted to the lies we believe or tell ourselves, it’s an appeal for protection from the lies and deception of others. If we want integrity of character, we need to guard our hearts from what is not true—whatever its source.

The second request of this prayer focuses on contentment in daily life—something most everyone longs for but is so often elusive.

The author asks for God’s provision somewhere between two extremes—poverty or riches—then explains why.

The concern is that having too much in the way of riches may lead to ignoring the Lord—I may feel satisfied and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’

Another way to put it is, “I’ve got all I need and more. Who needs the Lord?”

Keep in mind—the intended audience for these proverbs were people whose identity was tied to their relationship with God.

The concern with being poor and not having enough is it may lead to stealing, which would dishonor God.

The author realizes how our life example—how we act and what we do in daily life—reflects on the Lord, too.

It’s a simple prayer, just two things are requested. The question is—Is it your and my prayer?

Reflection—

Integrity of character—inside our heart and mind, as well as how we live in the real world—will always honor the Lord.

Prayer Focus—

If you believe the world needs more truth and less lying, and a sense of contentment that honors God—make this your daily prayer.

©Word-Strong_2019


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Combatting Compassion Fatigue

Whoever has pity on the poor lends to the Lord,

and he will repay him for his good deed. (Proverbs 19:17 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 19:15-29 GW)


“Bad news travels fast” is an old saying and the internet enables bad news to travel faster than the speed of thought. The converse of this is good news is under-reported or ignored. A simple example is how quick gossip and rumors spread that subdue or suppress the truth.

Hearing bad or disturbing news over and over can wear a person out and numb us to the needs of others. The effect of hearing of relief efforts and needs following disasters can bring what’s called compassion fatigue.

Here’s a hard reality—poverty and neediness is a human condition not just an economic problem. That’s not to say those living in poverty brought it upon themselves. That’s just not true. But it’s not possible to solve the problem of poverty and need with money. It’s deeper than that.

Photo by  Fancycrave  on  Unsplash

Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash

As Jesus said, “You will always have the poor with you….” (Mark 14:7 GW) Jesus wasn’t being cold-hearted about the issue of poverty but realistic.

As Mother Teresa once said about the overwhelming needs of the poor—If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.

Thousands and thousands of missionaries and relief workers understand this. They know the task is to do what needs to be done the best you can—one day at a time.

It’s not about solving a global problem but caring for and engaging with people.

I have a few personal heroes—everyday heroes who are living testimonies of doing the best they can with the needs in front of them every day. They do what they do because of compassion fueled by the love of God in their hearts.

A good friend of mine goes into parts of the world the US State Department says are too dangerous for travel. He and his organization go into war-torn and disaster devastated regions after the big non-profit agencies have come and gone.

They focus on education and community development. It’s difficult and time-consuming work. It’s the long view of relief work and is restorative and preventative.

A young woman I know, through a long-time friend, goes into war-torn areas like the Congo (DRC), Tanzania, Brazil and Ukraine to work with women who’ve endured loss, rape, and violence. With the help of her church, she established a ministry of empowerment and restoration.

She teaches them basic self-defense combined with the hope of the Gospel. I’m amazed with her heart and boldness and life-giving vision.

Another long-time friend and pastor developed an international ministry for those impacted by HIV–AIDS. It’s a ministry that extends mercy and grace in tangible and sustainable ways with the hope of the Gospel. It grew out of a response to needs of people in his church in the US.

Each one of my personal heroes aren’t just showing compassion to the poor, they are in a partnership with the Lord. They are confident in the Lord and His call on their lives. Confident in God’s faithfulness and grace, as He honors their hearts and ministry.

And if you want to help any of them and their ministries, just click on the links above. I can personally and highly recommend each of them and their ministries!

Reflection—

Do you see giving to the poor as “lending to the Lord,” as a partnership with Him by caring for others? When we have a heart to see people as the Lord sees them, we’ll be moved to care for them as He would.

Prayer Focus—

Pray for God to open your eyes to the needs of people in your life and sphere of influence. Ask God to help you see beyond yourself to enter into partnership with Him in reaching out to others with His mercy and grace.

©Word-Strong_2018


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Rich and Satisfied

Photo by  Alfonso Ninguno  on  Unsplash

One person spends freely and yet grows richer,

while another holds back what he owes and yet grows poorer.

A generous person will be made rich,

and whoever satisfies others will himself be satisfied.

People will curse the one who hoards grain,

but a blessing will be upon the head of the one who sells it. (Proverbs 11:24-26 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 11:20-31 GW)


"It's not about you!" You've likely heard this expression, maybe even said it. It's become a favorite put-down said when a person doesn't want to answer someone or explain something.

The trouble is—we live in a world of "me." It's common for people to ask, "What's in it for me?" Millions of selfies and personal opinions flood various social media daily.

The focus on getting rich and being satisfied is an American obsession. It occupies most every free moment we're awake, including daydreams at work, and perhaps even our dreams at night.

Yet, the idea of growing rich and being satisfied in these few verses of Proverbs is based on unselfishness. It's the opposite of what you might think and is expressed in contrasting and complementary statements.

The first of these three verses make this clear. Here it is from another Bible version—

One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. (Prov 11:24 ESV)

As Jesus told His followers when He sent them out for ministry—"Freely you have received; freely give" (Matt 10:8 NIV). 

This is so contrary to a self-centered idea of getting rich. In the wording of Proverbs being rich or prosperous speaks of far more than material wealth (see link below or here — Proverbs Study Guide).

Many Americans who travel to poorer nations see the generosity and hospitality of people living in poverty and marvel at it. Why? The concept of contentment and happiness is often tied to material possessions.

Can a person be generous and still become prosperous? Yes, especially in God's economy. If the focus is on wealth and prosperity, it's a setup for disappointment and discontent.

Many wealthy people give away great amounts of their wealth for the benefit of others. It's called philanthropy. Of course, there are plenty of wealthy people who hold on to all to their wealth and possessions tightly and whose lives are empty and lacking satisfaction.

The obvious focus in these verses is on others, not self. This is the point. It's not a formula or scheme. It's an attitude of the heart.

Want to be rich and satisfied? First, figure out what is motivating you. Also, are you thinking short-term or long-term?

If you run after personal riches and satisfaction, you might find it in the short-run but you'll end up poor and dissatisfied in the end. But if your concern is for others, God will honor it. 

The Lord values those who care and value others. And His blessing isn't restricted by time—the present and future are all the same to Him. He often honors us with temporary wealth and satisfaction when we don't hold on to it too tightly in this life.

The key to richness and satisfaction that honors God and is a lasting blessing to us personally is unselfishness—when we are considerate of others not just ourselves.

Reflection—

Running after personal riches and satisfaction in the short-run leads to a personal poverty and dissatisfaction in the end. But concern for others honors God who in turn will honor us for our unselfishness.

Prayer Focus—

Ask God for a heart that seeks what honors God and for an unselfish attitude of heart daily. As you seek God for this, look for the opportunities God brings into your life where you can give freely and to enjoy what satisfies in the truest sense.

 

©Word-Strong_2018


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Time, Fairness, and Wisdom

"It's not fair!" How many times have moms and dads heard this from their children? It's the usual preface to a complaint related to some disciplinary restriction or denial of a request.

It can be both comical and annoying when a child says it. But when an adult says it, there's usually another meaning, which boils down to—things should be done my way, or seen from my viewpoint.

Why Do We Bother?

Photo credit: lightstock.com

Optical illusions are fascinating. From the illusionary designs of MC Escher to those squiggly line prints with some hidden image. Illusions can also be frustrating. You look and look and look, but just can't figure it out.

How about the classic lost in the desert movie? Someone with tattered clothing and dying of thirst crawls through the sand towards a mirage thinking it's water. Of course, it's only heat waves that appear as rippling water.

The endless cycle of everyday life can seem illusory. As if, no hope exists of any break or improvement in the monotony of the mundane. That's when we need to see beyond the illusion.

Scripture

There is a tragedy that I have seen under the sun. It is a terrible one for mortals. God gives one person riches, wealth, and honor so that he doesn’t lack anything he wants. Yet, God doesn’t give him the power to enjoy any of them. Instead, a stranger enjoys them. This is pointless and is a painful tragedy. [vss 1-2]

Suppose a rich person wasn’t satisfied with good things [while he was alive] and didn’t even get an honorable burial [after he died]. Suppose he had a hundred children and lived for many years. No matter how long he would have lived, it [still] would have been better for him to have been born dead. A stillborn baby arrives in a pointless birth and goes out into the darkness. The darkness then hides its name. Though it has never seen the sun or known anything, the baby finds more rest than the rich person. Even if the rich person lives two thousand years without experiencing anything good—don’t we all go to the same place? [vss 3-6]

Everything that people work so hard for goes into their mouths, but their appetite is never satisfied. What advantage does a wise person have over a fool? What advantage does a poor person have in knowing how to face life? It is better to look at what is in front of you than to go looking for what you want. Even this is pointless. [It’s like] trying to catch the wind. [vss 7-9]

Whatever has happened [in the past] already has a name. Mortals are already known for what they are. Mortals cannot argue with the one who is stronger than they. The more words there are, the more pointless they become. What advantage do mortals gain from this? Who knows what may be good for mortals while they are alive, during the brief, pointless days they live? Mortals pass by like a shadow. Who will tell them about their future under the sun? [vss 10-12]

(Ecclesiastes 6:1-12 GW) [Context– Ecclesiastes 6]

Key phrase— Better to look at what is in front of you than... looking for what you want

[bctt tweet="Better to look at what is in front of you than... looking for what you want"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

What is seen and lamented upon as a tragedy?

What common pursuit seems to elude people living on the earth?

What seems to be like "trying to catch the wind"? Why do you think this expression is used so often in Ecclesiastes?

In all that's said about "pointless" talk, who do you think is stronger than us "mortals"?

Reflection...

One of the difficulties in reading through Ecclesiastes is how it reinforces a sense of hopelessness to life. Many people throughout the world struggle with hopelessness. Some take their own lives because they lack hope.

Yet, throughout refugee camps and impoverished or oppressed areas people can be found who hang tenaciously on a hope that things will get better. These are people who have little to nothing to hold in their hands, and who don't know if they will eat much in a given day.

It is often affluent people who struggle most with depression and suicidal thoughts. Why?

Every person wants meaning in life, even those most cynical among us. We need hope more than things. We want significance in life rather than fame and fortune.

When we find ourselves lost in the illusion of hopelessness, it's time to look to the One above it all—God.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again to consider and answer the following questions

What one thing seems to lead to a sense of hopelessness in your life?

How do you cope with the routine of life? Do you like it or struggle with it?

What are ways you find solace and hope within the mundane routines in life?

How do you see beyond hopelessness and cynicism, or are you able to do so?