For each of my nearly 39 years of life, I have been deeply involved in the church, not just on Sundays, but Wednesdays and midweek events and other bible studies. I’ve endured studies like “The Treasure Principle” by Randy Alcorn and sat under the heavy conviction of Francis Chan’s amazing passion for the poor. I’ve read countless blogs, books and bible passages, all pleading with Christians to remember those in poverty and not build up treasures for ourselves on earth. I sob during the final scene in “Schindler’s list” where Nazi, Oscar Schindler, weeps before the 1,100 Jews his covert efforts saved during the Holocaust as he agonizes over how many more he could have saved had he given even more of himself. So compelling.
And I just want to sell everything. I feel so horrible about myself and my non-leaky, heated and air conditioned, “safe” and comfy home. I feel badly about my minivan with air bags and DVD player, our home theater room in the basement, my six flags season passes, and my travel plans. I want to get rid of it all and wallow in self-imposed poverty.
But then I’m reminded of where I part ways with those who preach that sort of lifestyle when I consider the faces of those I’ve seen on my many journeys into impoverished areas of the world. What I’ve seen time and time again are those who are dehumanized not by lack of charity from rich nations or neighbors, but from their inability to find work. They endure and then die from every form of undernourishment because there genuinely isn’t work to be found. Thanks largely to extensive histories of government oppression, there is no money circulating through their economy. There is no Six Flags or minivan dealership, best buy, roofing or air conditioning repair shops to work for so they can provide for their families.
If we all feel so compelled to sell everything, buy nothing but the basic necessities to stay alive, and give all that we have away, none of us would have anything left with which to help others. You see, my husband has been blessed not only with the skills and abilities to have a very successful career in the non-necessary, arguably frivolous, sector of our society, business software, but he has also been blessed to live in an economy that affords him the opportunity to use what he has been blessed with to provide not only for our family, but for countless other families who benefit from the money we spend. Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I find nothing more fulfilling than time spent in a developing world slum. . . Nothing, that is, except teaching my kids to celebrate the guy who came to clean our carpets by baking a plate of brownies, loading him up with gratitude, and promising to pray for him and his family. When my house is full of family guys and gals who are pumped to have our business so they can care for their own families, I think, “This is what those who judge me for living in a 3,500 square foot house with granite counter tops are missing. They are missing the granite counter-top guys daughter’s medical bills and the furniture gal’s college fund.”
This isn’t to say that we spend wildly without considering charity by any means. However, this is where my title gains meaning. Rather than viewing all money spent as purely capitalism, and all money given as pure charity, maybe we can permute (mix up) the two a bit by seeking wisdom in all that we spend and do. Thanks to large companies that purchase and provide wholly unnecessary software products to their users and clients, my husband makes a living where he and I are able give many times the national average away purely as charity to organizations that invest in the lives of the poor and disadvantaged. We also travel to impoverished (spiritually, economically, psychologically) areas of the world and this year even allowed our 12 year old daughter to travel to rural Kenya to minister in an AIDS orphanage. Our home has the proverbial open door for hundreds of visitors who have entered seeking a place to rest or even stay. We could live well above the means we live at now if we turned completely into ourselves, but during my own times of stressful financial hardships I sought the Lord for two things: First, that he would help us climb out of the financial pit we were in, and second, that I would be someone who could both hire people like the members of my family and give like those who so generously gave to me. God heard my prayers and he has graciously answered them.
Where I find balance is in surrender. If ever I’m tempted to seek more for myself out of selfishness, I surrender all that I have to the Lord. If he wants me to sell everything and live in poverty, I will. I also seek his wisdom and his prompting over my purchases. If I’m buying a new a pair of shoes for myself, I just might buy two. Buying two helps those in the store keep and excel at their jobs and the extra pair helps the size 7, single-mom I’m giving them to.
We need to be cautious of doing anything out of selfish pride, greed, or even safety. We must not seek comfort without great concern for the comfort of others. We must use our whole lives and all that we’ve been blessed with to bless others regardless of what that means to us personally. We must not cling to anything of this world as though it is our salvation. Our salvation is in Jesus alone. What Jesus does ask of us is to serve others as though we are serving him, that they might see him in us and be drawn to him as a result.
Let’s not forget to consider the fact that blind charity, however well-intentioned, is often awful for the poor. Helping the poor is way more than throwing money at a problem. It’s investment in lives. It’s a long-term commitment that involves assisting them to find all forms of health so that they can achieve financial stability. We can’t act on the emotional impulse we have after a convicting bible study or sermon. Much wisdom must be sought from the Lord and from those we trust before we act.
So when we read compelling proverbs like this version of Matthew 25 by Richard Stearns, “For I was hungry, while you had all you needed. I was thirsty, but you drank bottled water. I was a stranger, and you wanted me deported. I needed clothes, but you needed more clothes. I was sick, and you point out the behaviors that led to my sickness. I was in prison, and you said I was getting what I deserved,” we can also remember those who provide for their families with their work at the fancy restaurants, the water bottle plants, the government deportation offices, the strip mall boutiques, the mental health facilities and the nations prisons, judges and attorneys, who are able to turn around and help others with what they have been blessed with. I understand all of those institutions have intrinsic problems, but let’s also deal with those issues with wisdom, care and concern for all those who can be effected by blind charity or rash judgments.
I am open to thoughtful, sincere, kindhearted counterpoints to my thought process, being comfortable with the knowledge that I yet have much to learn.