Monday, May 7, 2007

The Happiness of Considering the Poor

Blessed is he who considers the poor;
The LORD will deliver him in time of trouble.
The LORD will preserve him and keep him alive,
And he will be blessed on the earth;
You will not deliver him to the will of his enemies.
(Psalm 41:1-2)
It may seem odd to some people that one can discover happiness by considering the poor. But this points us to an important truth about happiness: You do not find it by seeking it directly; it is the by-product of other things. David, who was called “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14) learned this truth himself, and sang about it in Psalm 41. “Happy is he that considers the poor” (Jewish Publication Society).

To consider the poor does not simply mean to remember how blessed we are because we are not poor ourselves. No, it is much more than that. Young’s Literal Translation puts it this way: “Oh the happiness of him who is acting wisely unto the poor.” It means to act very intentionally toward them and for their benefit. It is considering how we might help those who are unable to help themselves. It is not just good words and thoughts — it is action:
If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? (James 2:15-16)

But whoever has this world’s good, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him (1 John 3:17-19).
God has always had a heart for the poor, the fatherless, the widow, the stranger in the land (we were all in such situations at one time or another). It has to do with what I call the “algebra of love: God is love; love gives and serves (1 John 4:8; John 3:16; Mark 10:45).

God will always back us up when we give to the poor. “He who has pity on the poor lends to the LORD, and He will pay back what he has given” (Proverbs 19:17). We do not need a special leading to remember the poor — he has already given us a standing direction. We will never come up short when we give to the poor; God will always repay us — with interest.

What does the happiness of considering the poor look like? What blessing does it bring? David answers from his own experience:
The LORD will deliver him in time of trouble.
The LORD will preserve him and keep him alive.
And he will be blessed [happy] on the earth;
You will not deliver him to the will of his enemies.
The LORD will strengthen him on his bed of illness;
You will sustain him on his sickbed.
(Psalm 41:1-3)
The prophet Isaiah addressed the same issue with greater detail. This is an extended quote, but well worth the meditation:
Is this not the fast that I have chosen;
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To under the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh?

Then your light shall break forth like the morning,
Your healing shall spring forth speedily,
And your righteousness shall go before you;
The glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
You shall cry, and He will say, “Here I am.

If you take away the yoke from your midst,
The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
If you extend your soul to the hungry
And satisfy the afflicted soul,
Then your light shall dawn in the darkness,
And your darkness shall be as the noonday
The LORD will guide you continually,
And satisfy your soul in drought,
And strengthen your bones;

You shall be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
Those from among you
Shall build the old waste places;
You shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
And you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach,
The Restorer of Streets to Dwell In.
(Isaiah 58:6-12)
There is great happiness to be found in considering the poor to bless them. God is love; love gives and serves. When we give to the poor, we are being like God, and there are many benefits of that.