What Can I Do About Poverty?

When we look at the needs of the poor and the vast number of organizations seeking to meet those needs, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. In order to help you as you evaluate how you can best serve the poor, I want to offer you the following practical reminders.

Not all Christians are called to serve the poor in the same way or to the same extent.

While every believer is called to show concern for the poor, the practical expressions of that concern will differ from one person to another. Some of us are called to immerse ourselves fully in ministries of mercy; others, less so. Our investment in mercy ministry neither establishes nor reflects our holiness, dedication to the Lord, or sensitivity to God’s Spirit. Be faithful in serving where God has called you.

You are not called to meet every need.

You can only meet the needs God has given you an ability to address. Remember, it’s not a question of doing “enough.” We are called to live open-handed lives, willing to give of our time and treasure as the Lord directs.

Don’t allow selfishness to masquerade as humility.

If God makes you aware of a need that seems to be a little outside your skill set or your comfort zone, it may still be that he wants you to stretch, in his grace, and try to meet that need. When we are weak, God is strong, and those whom we serve can often sense if we are serving in our own strength, or in the grace that God provides.

Look for simple, practical ways to serve.

Regardless of where you live, there are more needs around you than you realize. Some needs are best met through your participation in an existing organization, but many others can be met by your own simple acts of mercy. Ask God to give you eyes to see and a heart to serve.

Work with experts you can trust.

There are many individuals and organizations working to alleviate the suffering of the poor, whether locally or globally. Their expertise is rare and invaluable. Do your homework—read whatever material is available on their work and carefully review their finances to ensure they are good stewards of the money entrusted to them. CharityNavigator.org is an extremely helpful resource for identifying trustworthy charitable organizations.

Spiritual problems require spiritual solutions.

If the root of poverty is sin, man-made solutions won’t bring end it. Christ will be the one to end poverty, first spiritually and finally materially in the new creation. Therefore, look to organizations that are committed to the Church and are faithfully proclaiming the gospel in word, even as they minister to the physical and relational needs of the poor.

Trust God for the results.

Remember, your job is not to end poverty, but to minister to those who are suffering. Do what you can and prayerfully trust God for the results.

—from Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation and the End of Poverty, pp. 100-101

  • CR Tolbert

    Aaron,

    First, congratulations on the birth of your son. As a father of four, everyday is an opportunity to learn what blessings from God our children are.

    This post is excellent. After reading books like Radical, which I’ve read twice, you can fall into an overwhelming pit of guilt and despair because there is so much poverty and so little time, energy and resources. Although I know that David Platt didn’t write Radical to beat Christians over the head, I found myself feeling like a pretty pathetic excuse for a Christian because I wasn’t doing some of the things that he spoke of in the book. After wrestling with it for a while, I came to realize your 1st, 2nd and 4th points. While I know we cannot sit around and do nothing, God hasn’t called us to end poverty but to take the life-giving Gospel to the rich and poor alike, all while meeting the physical needs that we can meet. That realization was very refreshing.

    God bless you, Brother!

  • tjhoiland

    Aaron, thanks for these reminders. I haven’t read your book yet, but hope to lay my hands on it one of these days. I appreciate that your pointers are practical enough to be helpful, but open-ended enough to be realistic and applicable for different people with different gifts and opportunities in a variety of very different contexts.

    I’m curious to hear more of your thoughts on the sixth point: “If the root of poverty is sin, man-made solutions won’t bring end it.” I eagerly anticipate the day that Christ makes all things new, and I believe that ending poverty will be part of that. It’s not something we’ll do in our own strength, certainly, though as stewards of his gifts we can do more than we think. And I do believe that poverty and sin are related. Many times the poor make sinful and self-destructive decisions, and that can’t be ignored. As you say, organizations that understand the spiritual dynamics underpinning poverty deserve our support. But as I’m sure you know, some of the most desperately poor people in the world are also fully committed disciples of Jesus who demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit in remarkable ways. If sin is the cause of their poverty, could it be the sin of others? Could it even be, in some ways, our own sin? What would it look like, in your opinion, to repent of that kind of sin (whether of commission or omission) and to speak honestly about it with the poor we serve?

    Once again, I appreciate your pointers, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to dialogue.

    Tim

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      Hey Tim, a huge part of the book is all about explaining that point :) 

      Here’s the gist:

      1. God made a world in which poverty was not possible (pre-fall)—there was no need, work was not toil, the earth gave of its fruits without struggle.

      2. Adam’s sin resulted in poverty becoming the default setting of the world—the curse offered serious economic and relational consequences that are still playing out to this day. Work is toil and often amounts to nothing. We constantly strive to take advantage of one another, etc.  

      So when I say that the root of poverty is sin, I’m pointing back to that starting point, first and foremost. Some people experience poverty because of their own folly (which is what is spoken of most frequently in Proverbs), others do so because others have sinned against them, and others still do so simply because they live in a fallen world that awaits redemption.

      As for the rest of your question, it’s a complicated one. In some ways you could say that our own sin plays a role in that everyone’s does—we’re all equally condemned in Adam and all equally culpable in rebellion against God. So in that sense, the consequences of that are absolutely our fault. 

       However, we must be careful about trying to draw straight lines where few exist when talking about one person’s poverty vs. one person’s wealth (or lack of poverty, depending on your perspective). 

      If we can point to something specific actions against particular people in each of our lives, we can address those, certainly. But we have to be careful that we don’t load people up with burdens they cannot bear in assuming that it is our responsibility to care for every need that exists. Does that make sense?

      • tjhoiland

        I suppose I’ll just need to read the book, won’t I? :-)

        I like your distinctions, generally, and am grateful you’re wrestling through them and sharing with us your thoughts.

        • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

          That’d probably be ideal :) Glad to have the conversation—thanks for engaging on it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/trillia.newbell Trillia Newbell

    This was incredibly encouraging! It’s actually the first simple and yet profound writing I’ve seen on this. I’m with Tolbert, most often I feel so overwhelmed I barely know where to begin. or so incredibly guilty. Thanks for your thoughtful post!

  • Pingback: This Week’s Brief | Josh Turansky