Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
James 1:27 NIV
The wonderful thing about aligning ourselves with the poor is that, if we dive in with all our heart, our misperceptions about helping others begin to fall away. We have to do some serious reflection, realize how blind and careless we've been, and then make a choice to move forward.
I know I needed to make a choice. Once I'd seen poverty for myself, once I'd been with the poor, all the walls between the epic problems of the world and myself were torn down. Disease, dirty water, war, and slavery now had a face.
When a problem becomes a face- that changes everything.
If you're struggling with the tension of having so much, if you are overwhelmed by the suffering of the world, if you find yourself washed over with guilt in light of what your children have and other children have not, I want you to know that I understand. And I want you to be set free from it.
Guilt is a start, but if we remain there, it becomes a cancer. It paralyzes us from doing anything that will promote change and it keeps us in the dark. It's a tool straight from the enemy of God, and a highly effective one at that. If satan can keep all the well-intentioned Christians nicely separate from the poor, feeling terrible about the world's poverty, yet never engaging in it, then this gets the job done.
We stay where we are comfortable, we send shoe boxes of toys and pray half-hearted prayers, but we are not ever transformed. We are not ever cut in half with grief. Not guilt, but grief; a deep grieving that drives us straight into the heart of God.
No pair of Toms, no care package for refugees, no monetary donation can do it. God has wired us for human connection. We have to get our hands dirty if we want to get well, if we want real change. If we want to be a solution to the world's brokenness, we need to get broken first. Everything else will come tumbling after. It wrecks everything we've built for ourselves, and it is beautiful.
This is what Jesus means for us when he says the poor will always be with us (Matt. 26:11.) He implies that those who are following him will live organically and daily immersed with the least of these.
You won't just care for the poor across the world. You'll start to see the poor everywhere. You'll find them in your city, and you won't be able to stay away. You'll start hanging around your city's "poorest" library so you can run into them, you'll make friends with immigrants and refugees and never be satisfied to ignore them again. You may even start to prefer the poor. Really.
You'll find that you're no longer struggling with fruitless tension, because you're in it now. You're engaged, doing. You will realize that you don't need to do everything, but instead can concentrate on bringing rightness to the things placed right in front of you, right where you live.
The weight of the world is on God's shoulders and he never means for you to bear it. You can cast off that anxiety and clothe yourself in love, let justice and righteousness flow through every simple moment of your life. Heaven meets earth and earth meets heaven and it happens right here, right now, right where you are.
Loving the poor becomes a practical compelling. In light of how much you love your own children, you will have no choice but to pour out your life for the ones who are left alone and vulnerable. I would fight to the death for my own children, and God means for me to fight for the life of every child. It's right, and living this life will work righteousness into your family like nothing else.
So we'll keep going, pressing in to what God cares about over and over again right here in our own city, in our own home. We won't be perfect and we don't need to be. We'll empty our savings account again and again on behalf of the poor because living and sharing the truth of the Gospel is worth it.
Has my family done away with tension? Not at all. We're getting to know it, embracing it. We're letting it seep in to the fabric of who we are. It bears good fruit in our own hearts, and in God's world. Jesus Christ has never burned clearer or brighter in our lives because of it. If we're blessed, we'll preserve it jealously, and this holy tension will be our constant companion for the rest of our lives.
If you are overwhelmed and you don't know where to start, if what I've said resonates with you but you don't know where to begin, email me or find me on Facebook. Don't read this and then walk away. Break out of the guilt-cycle and reach out, even if we've never met. I'd love to talk with you about it, to pray with you and help you move forward. I mean it.