The biggest change on the path from a destructive thief to a generous giver is to see yourself as a person that has. You can be poor in material goods and still be a person that has a lot and you can own a lot and still have a needy perspective on your life.
In 2017 we spent about 10 weeks in Albania. We worked with local churches, did prison ministry and played football with young lads and shared our testimonies. Not far from our homebase there was a great Gelateria. The ice cream there was delicious and cheap for us as Swiss. But one day Josua, our son, wanted to have pastries instead of ice cream and that was a bit more costly. Therefore I hesitated in the first instance, but then told myself to be generous like God had been generous to us in the past weeks.
We sat down as a family, each of us with a different kind of delicacy in front of us. We shared and passed the sweets around when I saw a bill flying next to us. Josua had seen it simultaneously. I jumped up and got it. It was 500 Albanian Lek which was exactly the amount of money we had spent extra on pastries instead of ice cream. I was in awe and just so thankful for that gift from Pappa God, when the next moment I saw a poor, Roma kid standing, just behind the plant pot that had stopped the bill from flying further. He was just waiting there to receive donations from the visitors of the Gelateria.
I thought by myself: “Why did God not let the bill fly further to the kid in need? He must have needed it much more than we do.” A scripture came to my mind that I had been wrestling with for a while:
“For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”
I always found that such a mean verse. Jesus tells a story about servants that had received possessions from the Master. Some were able to increase what they had received but one had just buried it in the ground to protect it. The Master takes it away from that one and gives it to one that had been able to increase it the most. And then Jesus says this challenging phrase.
The truth is that we all have something and be it only our hands or minds. We all have been given tools, talents to work with; language, a warming smile, strong arms, quick legs,… If we see that truth we are people that have, if not we are people that have not. At that time in Albania we were people that had, even though we were very tight on money. We saw what we had been given and Sue and I were generously using it to bring some joy to our son. When we received that extra money we knew exactly that it was an extra gift from God to bless us. We were given more and this caused thankfulness in us.
For the begging boy it might have been just some money that he would have expected from a client of the Gelateria anyway. Not caring if it comes by the wind or the rich guy in the shop. I don`t know. I don’t see into his heart. Only God does. But the fact that he was begging showed a mindset.
Rich or poor? There’s no objective scale to measure poverty. We can try to compare our wealth with the people in our neighbourhood, country, the world… But two neighbours can have very similar possessions; one sees himself as poor, the other doesn’t. It is primarily a state of mind.
I really don`t want to belittle the suffering caused by the lack of material goods. And it would be totally out of place to just point to a destructive mindset when hearing a heartbreaking story of an individual suffering in poverty. And I don`t want to belittle the suffering of a materialistically wealthy person suffering from emotional pain caused by lack of healthy relationships, which I heard a story just recently. On a bigger picture view I do believe that poverty is caused by a destructive mindset held by an individual, or a region, or a country.
In Deuteronomy 15,4 God says to his people that there will be no poor among them anymore. But will that ever be possible? Will there not always be people that compare themselves with others and feel poor? Just seven verses further God then says: “I am commanding you to open wide your hand to your brother and to the poor and needy in your land.”
God himself therefore still expects poor people among them. Following God`s command to give to the needy is as much for the one who gives as to the one in need, because it lifts him out of poverty into a position of a giver.
In Proverbs 30, 8+9 the writer says: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the bread that is my portion. Otherwise, I may have too much and deny You, saying, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, profaning the name of my God.” Riches can lead to superiority and poverty to stealing which profanes the name of YHWH.
But Jesus can teach us to live on both ends of the scale and still be content as Paul says:
“I am not saying this out of need, for I have learned to be content regardless of my circumstances. I know how to live humbly, and I know how to abound. I am accustomed to any and every situation—to being filled and being hungry, to having plenty and having need. I have strength for all things in the One strengthening me.”
Jesus comes from Bethlehem, the “house of bread” and he says in John 6,33+35: ”For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”…“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never hunger, and whoever believes in Me will never thirst.”
Everything starts in the spiritual and then comes into being into the physical. First is the idea, the information and then the deed, the creation. First we eat from the bread of life: Jesus, showing us how to live, gives us food for our spirits. Then the physical food will come too.