Have you ever donated a toy or an item of clothing because it was no longer nice enough to wear? I know I’ve often noticed tension in myself when purging material assets. If something is of high quality, my instinct is first to try and sell it as a profit. It’s only when I know something wouldn’t sell that I immediately think, “I’ll donate this one.”
But this can be such a damaging mindset, Kristen Welch writes.
“It’s time to stop giving our crap to the poor,” she insists.
“I have noticed this mentality permeates the Church as a whole: The poor will be happy with our leftovers. They don’t know any better. The live in Africa or Honduras, they don’t need the latest technology or the best brands like we do. They will appreciate anything we give because something is more than nothing.
Why do we give others-often those in service to the poor or the poor themselves-something we wouldn’t keep or give ourselves?”
Lauren Markoe from Religion News Service reports that Christian generosity has been declining for several decades, and “the trend will not be reversed until pastors challenge congregants to embrace Jesus’ teachings on the poor.”
So is our problem that we’re trapped in our own worldview, and unable to empathize with the very people we’re trying to help? Emily Maust Wood shares her learning curve in the Crosswalk article 6 Things I Learned About Poverty From Being Broke. She admits,
“I didn’t realize, until I was out of cash myself, that I had viewed the poor in such a condescending way. Only when I was forced to consider that people might disapprove of me because I had run out of money did I realize that I’d ingested a lot of lies about people without money.”
Another problem Welch pinpoints is a convicting one: the stronghold of materialism in our consumer culture.
“Perhaps we should look a little deeper into our hearts and wallets when we can say, I don’t have money to give to the poor, but I have a lot of stuff. Maybe we need to buy less stuff, so we have more to give?”
“Though he was a good man, he placed too high a value on things that could be sold, and maybe too little value on the priceless things of this world. And the simple truth is that in order to be followers of Jesus, we have to let go of things, in order to free ourselves to serve only him.”
So where do we go from here? One great stepping stone is the Crosswalk article 5 Ways to Help the Poor (That Really Do Help!) by Aaron Armstrong. One tip is to look for simple, practical ways to serve your community.
“Consider the options around you. Perhaps it’s volunteering with an after-school program in your community, a soup kitchen or clothing pantry (and if there isn’t one in your community, perhaps you could start one through your church). Maybe it’s just as simple as buying a coffee for the man on the street who is asking for change. There are more needs around you than you might realize. Ask God to give you eyes to see and a heart to serve.”
Another excellent resource is Whitney Hopler’s article 12 Ways to Live Well and Spend Less – based on the Ruth Soukup book Living Well, Spending Less: 12 Secrets of the Good Life. One tip which combats materialism at the ground level is: choose to be content.
“You have the power to decide to be content, no matter what circumstances you face right now. Resist the cultural messages you encounter that say you still don’t have whatever it is you need to be fulfilled. Pray for the wisdom you need to identify what truly matters most in life in light of eternity, and then base your priorities on those values. Stop comparing what you have now to what other people have. Avoid whatever fuels discontented feelings in you (such as by unsubscribing from catalogs and staying away from your local mall). Thank God often for the blessings he gives you; then you’ll notice more of them, and contentment will grow in your life.”
Your turn! How can you help the poor and fight materialism in your own life and community? Leave your thoughts below.
Debbie Holloway is the Family Life Editor at Crosswalk.com
Publication date: October 15, 2014