'“Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. ' Exodus 23:6
'“For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what is left. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove. ' Exodus 23:10-11
How do we balance helping the poor and taking care of our families?
I am a firm believer in helping the poor, the homeless, the needy. I have spent almost my entire life being in that demographic. When I was a teenager I would sneak off to the large city nearby and talk to, feed, and make friends with the homeless there every weekend. I would bring sandwiches and fruit, water bottles, and small snacks. I was young, living in the tiny dining room of my grandparent's home when my mother remarried and left me behind. While we did not have much and I had next to nothing, I knew that I had enough to share with those who had even less than I did.
The way I see it is that God provides for us, and from what He gives to us we have enough to take a piece and give to those who have even less. I also believe that the "materially wealthy" have been given much so that they can help that balance; they have plenty to care for their family, and also to make a huge impact for those who do not have enough.
'And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” ' 2 Corinthians 9:8-9
Why should we help the poor and needy?
A few years ago I made the decision to start tithing for the very first time. I set up automatic donations to my church in the tiny amount I felt God put on my heart. I was a single mother, juggling the weight of caring for my very young child on my own, working like a dog to support us, barely having enough food for myself (always putting enough food on the table for my child first), and struggling immensely to pay the bills. It was rough. I knew, though, that when I decided to give my life to God fully that God had given me enough and that I also had enough to give some back to Him. When we give back to God, He takes that and uses it to care for the poor, the needy, the less fortunate. He also blesses those who give.
'But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”' Mark 12:42-44
Ever since I trusted God wholeheartedly to provide for me while I continue to give from the small material wealth I have to give, God has blessed me immeasurably. He has provided me the ability to leave my job, stay home to care for my child, and continues to provide for me every day. Every time I worry that the money will run out, or I won't be able to afford the next "need" God reminds me what He has already done for me, what He has already delivered me from, and He never fails to provide for me and my daughter everything that we need - while I continue to faithfully give back to God from what He provides.
No matter how little we have, there is always something we can give. If not money, time. If not time, items. Clean out the closet you have been piling junk into and donate those sweaters you haven't worn in six years to a shelter. Help organize a food drive or a backpack drive for kids who can't afford school supplies, warm jackets to foster families, host a fundraiser for organizations that help fight sex trafficking, homelessness, mental illness, etc etc etc. There is always something that you can give, and God blesses those who give to Him and to those in need with a generous heart.
How has God delivered you from the wilderness?
'“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him. If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you. ' Exodus 23:20-22
I was raised by a family that called themselves Christian but never lived it out. I knew in my gut that this was not right, and I ended up drifting very far from God - pushing myself away from Him for many years. I specifically disobeyed God. I did not understand God or really know Him, or know that I could know Him. I was lost, wandering in my own wilderness, looking everywhere but to Him. I sinned greatly and made myself a very rough path. I complained to God and asked Him why I was suffering so much. I begged God to save me, to help me, to take me out of the misery - but I did not want to do what He asked me to do. Looking back, it seems like every time I heard God whisper to me "do this" I did the opposite and then wondered why the results were so tragic.
When I was 17, I finally started to understand that I needed to do something different. I knew I was filthy of sin, I was broken, and I could not do it on my own. I wanted so badly for God to make me clean. Unfortunately, I was more tempted by life, by lust, by sin than I chose to resist. I gave in again and found myself in another very wrong, painful, harmful situation. I had asked God to cleanse me, and He did, and then I turned my back on His commands again and I know that what I received was God teaching me that His path is the only right path and that when I choose my own way it will never be right.
I remember the exact millisecond that I heard God speak to me. I remember hearing Him tell me loud and clear "Trust me. End this suffering. Just trust me. We can do this." I remember it. I remember standing my ground, having strength fill me in an instant that I know was not my own. I remember every single thing that happened after that moment, and recognize God's hands in all of it. I remember when God ultimately delivered me from my wilderness, and ever since that moment I have worked diligently to run away from sin, to follow His commands, to go against the societal norms, and to be what He calls me to be no matter the cost. I strive to trust Him no matter the risk. He delivered me from the darkness, from the loneliness, from being lost. He delivered me to Himself and I will never leave Him again.
'But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land. ' Exodus 23:29-30
God is with us as we wander our wilderness. Just like the Israelites, we will complain, we will choose not to listen all the time, we will try to make our own way - but when we fail He is right there with us still. He sends His angels ahead of us to guard our path. It won't be instant. It takes time to learn to trust and listen to Him. Thankfully, though, we have a very patient and merciful God.