Blessed to Bless … especially the poor
The Bible is full of examples and teaching to bless the poor in particular. One example is Prov 14:31: “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honours God.”
So how do we bless those who are poor or needy? It might seem obvious. Give money or time and attention (or all three). Share. But whatever our political opinions and our own experience of life it is not long before some questions arise.
Is it only the ‘deserving poor’ who should get help? And what do we mean by ‘deserving’? Should we give money when asked by beggars or only through recognised charities or when there is some confirmation and recommendation from a reliable source?
One guide in thinking about these questions is that at All Nations our policy is not to give our money at or outside the premises but to signpost people to the many agencies in Wolverhampton that offer help. Another is the example of how food banks operate.
There has been a dramatic increase in the number of people helped by food banks in the UK over the last five years and many of us in All Nations support The Well (formerly Wolverhampton Food Bank). Last week the Frontline Generation mission team spent two days helping in the warehouse. Like most of the over 2,000 food banks in the UK, The Well uses a referral system – different parts of the local authority, churches, doctors, hospitals, schools (and many other community organisations) can refer people who are in crisis.
Why have food banks increased so much? Prof Jon May, of Queen Mary University of London and chair of the Independent Food Aid Network, wrote recently “There are now food banks in almost every community, from the East End of London to the Cotswolds. The spread of food banks maps growing problems of poverty across the UK, but also the growing drive among many thousands of people across the country to try and do something about those problems”.
Why do people need them? There has been some political controversy, with some suggesting there are undeserving scroungers among the beneficiaries. The Trussell Trust, an umbrella organisation for about 500 food banks, commissioned research by Oxford University:
https://www.trusselltrust.org/2017/06/29/cutting-edge-research-provides-unparalleled-detail-uk-poverty/ Among the key findings are that two out of five beneficiaries are in crisis because of a delay in receiving benefits which in turn is usually due to a delay in processing a change in circumstances. For many on zero hour contracts or other fluctuating earnings there is a change every week! Half of the beneficiaries went without heating for at least four days at a time it was needed and 16% had no income at all in the previous month.
The picture that emerges is that there may be failed asylum seekers and others with no right to welfare benefits among them but an increasing number of beneficiaries are ordinary people in vulnerable and low paid work. Typically they have a sudden change in income or expenses and, with no reserves, cannot buy necessaries. If they are not ‘deserving’ then who is?
I know this short piece does not answer those difficult questions. But I suggest we should train our hearts to be quick to show love and compassion and train our minds to avoid being judgmental. Food banks show us how to be compassionate and (usually) to focus the help on those who need it, so that our simple hearted good will is not often abused.
If we are going to bless the needy there will be times we give to people who are not needy and miss those who are. The answer is not to get cold and ‘discerning’ but to ask God for wisdom and grace to bless because we have been blessed with so much!
There is a bigger picture too. We have recently concluded a series on Money Matters and no doubt most of us in All Nations have been stirred to be good stewards. This includes being stirred to plan well, to give to the work of the church where we are planted and to bless those around us, whoever they are. Maybe the question of who deserves help needs to be put into this context. Everyone needs a touch of God’s grace – and “grace” means undeserved love!
We are “Blessed to Bless.”