Proverbs is a great Biblical book with an abundance of practical wisdom for living a godly life. While it has several contributors, Solomon is credited with gathering most of the wisdom found in this rich book about a 1000 years before the birth of Christ.
Proverbs teaches us the difference between living a godly life and living one that is not. It instructs us in what is good and evil, right and wrong, truth and folly. It teaches us about those who have and those who have not.
Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him. Proverbs 14:31
The Bible teaches us that to mistreat the poor is an offense to the Lord. God made us all, rich and poor alike. In reading the Bible, we learn that poverty is antithetical to God’s intent for us. Within its contents, God’s Word defines how we, as Christians, should respond to the poor. It instructs us to treat the poor with compassion and give them special consideration. Poverty is defined as lacking material possessions or wealth.
Once a month, a group of us from church travel downtown to the Union Gospel Mission men’s shelter to conduct chapel services for the 200-300 homeless men visiting there. Union Gospel is one of many organizations helping the homeless in Dallas, including the Bridge and Dallas Life.
Their reasons for being there are as varied as the places they come from. There are those that have been displaced by natural storms, like hurricanes and tornadoes, and self-inflicted storms like crime or addiction. We meet men struggling with mental illness or diminished learning abilities. We pray with men overcome by illness and befallen with medical bills they could not afford to pay. We have the privilege of lifting the spirits of Veterans who answered when their Country called but upon returning found no one welcoming them home.
Did you know that 1 out of every 10 homeless people are Veterans who have served their country valiantly? According to a 2012 study, Prevalence and Risk of Homelessness Among US Veterans, Veterans are more likely to experience homelessness than their civilian counterparts because they have often have difficulty adjusting to daily life, lack a strong social support network, have skills that don’t transfer easily into non-military employment, and/or suffer from debilitating traumatic brain injuries.
We may find ourselves with preconceived perceptions of the poor and the homeless trying to survive in our midst. Perhaps we think it’s their fault. Maybe, somehow, we have managed to convince ourselves that these folks living disadvantaged in the land of opportunity in abundance are deserving of their plight. We may not realize the extent of the problem. Many of us living in Dallas are unaware of the Tent City under I-45. It’s been there a long time. We just don’t see it as we scurry through our day. Perhaps it is just easier to turn a blind eye to others who are suffering. After all, we are busy with problems of our own.
Here are some facts and numbers, from the National Alliance to End Homelessness:
- In January 2015, 564,708 people were homeless on a given night in the United States.
- Of that number, 206,286 were people in families, and 358,422 were individuals.
- About 15 percent of the homeless population – 83,170 – are considered “chronically homeless” individuals.
To be clear, Scripture differentiates between the slothful and those overcome by life’s difficulties. It tells us that some are slothful and thereby find themselves lacking. More often than not, we see people doing marvelous things in light of their condition or situation. We are all familiar with the poor widow who gave all she had although she herself did not have much. We know that Jesus himself left the riches of His throne to live life on Earth without a place to lay his head.
If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Deuteronomy 15:7-8
God’s Word doesn’t really give us the option of choosing to help those who we think deserve it versus those who don’t. Scripture simply instructs us to help those in need. We are to show compassion to the poor among us. We are to pray for them, to help them, and to show them the same love that God has shown us.
Over the years of going down to the Mission on the 4th Friday of each month, I’ve found myself blessed more often than not. When the men sing together with one united voice it’s truly remarkable. They sound like the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. In my time I’ve ministered, preached, worshipped, and prayed with men whose situation simply crushes my heart. I’ve also found myself having to do the same with men whose situation angers me because of what they have done. Yes, some of them have done horrible things. Most, have not. But God doesn’t give me the option of choosing which one of them to serve. Through the privilege of serving the least of these, the Lord has grown my own capacity to forgive, to demonstrate grace, and show mercy. Through these men, He has grown my prayer life and understanding of the incredible thing He has done for me through His Son, Jesus Christ, giving me the gift of grace I surely did not deserve.
At the end of the day, it’s less about why my brothers are there than whose they are. Like me, they are created in the image of God. But for God’s grace, there go I. So we go–encouraging them, sharing a word from the Lord with them, singing a song of praise and worship alongside them–offering them a respite from their situation, however brief and temporary, so that maybe one day, they too can do the same for someone else after the Lord has delivered them from their despair.
Scripture tells us that we will always have the poor among us. While we may not ever solve the problem of homelessness and poverty entirely in our lifetime, we can make a difference. How we treat people, particularly those lacking in the things we take for granted, matters to God.
As a Christian, if it matters to God, than it has to matter to you and me.
May His light continue to shine upon you…