One cannot say enough about the importance of prayer in the life of a Christian. Prayer is commanded and described in the Bible. There are, in the Bible, many examples of God’s people at prayer, and it was something Jesus himself did on a regular basis. What can be more important for us than to be given the opportunity to talk to God himself?
Yet, there is something Jesus talks about six times as much as prayer. Certainly then, this other subject must also be very important to God. What is this other subject? Money– your money and how you spend it. There are many verses in the Bible about money. We are warned that money can become more important to us than God, becoming that which we love and trust in above anything else. We are told that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. We are told to be careful about being too greedy, and letting our greed lead to all sorts of other sins and wickedness. We are told in one of the commandments not to steal money, or anything else, from anyone. We are told to be content with what we have, and not be jealous and covet what God has given to another. And we are told about how the wrong use of money and the wrong attitude towards money can lead to much grief and sadness. The Bible says a great deal about money.
There is one other important thing that God says in the Bible about money, and God says this more than anything else on the subject. What God says most of all about our money is that we should share it. First of all, the Bible reminds us in many ways and places that everything is from God and belongs to God. “He owns the cattle on a thousand hills,” is the way that the Psalmist puts it. The cattle on the hills, the trees on the hills, the hills themselves, along with the valleys and the fields and everything in the fields and all who work in the fields. It all belongs to God, and we get to use what we have for a little while. It is entrusted to us. We are, says Jesus in the parables, stewards of what God has given us. Stewards are managers of what belongs to another, to God. God says we may use what we need, and then, ought to be willing to share the rest, giving freely to the Lord’s work and to those in need.
It is often said, “If you want to feed someone for a day, give him a fish; but if you want to feed him for a lifetime, teach him how to fish.” That’s true. Long term relief work is much better than just handing out food all the time. Simple as that. But I have also seen that quote adjusted and lengthened in order to reflect the complexities of long term relief work. For example: “If you want to feed someone for a day, give him a fish; but if you want to feed him for a lifetime, teach him how to fish, and help him get a rod and reel, and give him access to the pond, and teach him how (if he starts catching lots of fish) he can package and market those fish so that even more people can be fed and he can get on an even firmer financial footing, etc.” You get the idea.
It doesn’t help to teach a person how to care for animals if he has no animals and no way to get even a single one to begin with. It doesn’t help to teach someone how to run a business to support their family if they cannot even get the $50.00 start up funds that they need. Borrowing money in many of these countries is an expensive, dangerous, and unreliable process. Therefore, some charitable organizations provide ‘microloans.’ These loans, though small by our standards ($50-100), are enough to help hard working men and women get started and work their way into a business, and become able to feed their family. This is one example of not only teaching someone to fish, but also giving them access to the stream of business and free enterprise. There are many wrong ways to help the poor, but there are also many very good ways, ways very much in line with how the Bible says we should help. We must not only be willing to be generous with what God has given us, but we also need to use our head.
You see, the same Bible that talks a lot about helping the poor, also has much to say about working for your own food. And just as the Bible warns against the dangers of greed, it also warns against the dangers of idleness. And just as God in the Bible warns against too high a regard for money, God also warns against too high a regard for leisure. And just as the Bible says it is foolish to think you can make yourself totally secure without God, it also warns against not planning for the future at all. Therefore, as Christians help the poor, we must be careful that we do not help in such ways as to encourage dependence and idleness. The best Christian aid work is that which works hard at giving people the opportunity to work hard to help themselves.
We must not forget what a blessing it is to be born in this country, with such an abundance of opportunities placed before us. It is certainly true that there are many who are poor by their own actions and choices, but we must not in our position of blessing and privilege forget the billions who are poor because they’ve never had the opportunities we take for granted. We should be grateful if we are among those who are able to give, and not among those who need the help. As Jesus said, we are stewards of what God has given us to use, managers of what still belongs to him. And do remember that whatever it is that we have, one day we will have to let it all go. It will all then be turned over to someone else to manage; again, only for a little while. It is for us to be faithful right now with what we have been given for the brief time that we are allowed to have it.
II Thessalonians 3:10-13 — Even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.
Proverbs 19:17 — He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and the Lord will reward him for what he has done.
Proverbs 21:13 — If a man shuts his ears to the cries of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.
Proverbs 28:19– He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.
Almighty God, all that we possess is from Your loving hand. Give us grace that we may honor You with all we own, always remembering the account we must one day give to Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.