Saturday, July 10, 2010

Smooth in the Day of Adversity

Happy is one who cares for the poor;
The LORD will save him in a day of adversity.
(Psalm 41:1 HCSB)
These are days of adversity for many people in the global economy. Many have lost their jobs, their homes, their savings and their retirements. And that is on top of all the many more who never had any of those things to begin with. While some continue to prosper, there are many who are “hanging by a thread.” These are ones the Bible calls “the poor.” The Hebrew word derives from a root that literally means to dangle, to hang down low. Though they may seem to have no help, God has not forgotten them. He is mindful of them and wants us to be mindful, too. God wants us to share His heart for the poor.
David understood this. “Happy is the one who cares for the poor,” he says. The NKJV says, “Blessed is he who considers the poor.” Young’s Literal Translation has, “O the happiness of him who is acting wisely unto the poor.” This speaks of a depth of joy, a joy that partakes of God’s own pleasure. When we share in His heart for the poor, we also share in His joy when they are helped.

It is an abiding joy, not a happiness that quickly fades away. Likewise, our concern for the poor is to be more than an afterthought or a sporadic, momentary act. The word for “care” means to give attention to, to look upon with insight, to have wisdom and understanding concerning the poor. It is a consistent mindfulness, a recognition that we are connected to the poor. They are not so different from us after all. They are experiencing a time of trouble, and we could one day find ourselves in a similar situation.

God makes a connection between how we treat the poor in their day of adversity and how we will fare in ours. He gives this promise to the one who cares for the poor: “The LORD will save him in a day of adversity.” Whenever a time of trouble comes upon us, God will save us, deliver us, rescue us. The Hebrew word speaks of smoothness, slipperiness, like one who slips out of a tight spot or escapes a snare. When we give to the poor and help smooth their way, God will likewise smooth our way and slip us through our time of trouble.

When we give of our resources and ourselves to help the poor, we are “laying up treasure in heaven.” That is how Jews of the Old Testament era understood it; we see that from some of the ancient apocryphal writings:
Lay up your treasure according to the commandments of the Most High, and it will profit you more than gold. Store up almsgiving in your treasury, and it will rescue you from every disaster. (Sirach 29:11-12 NRSV)

Give alms from your possession, and do not let your eye begrudge the gift when you make it. Do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor, and the face of God will not be turned away from you. If you have many possessions, make your gift from them in proportion; if few, do not be afraid to give according to the little you have. So you will be laying up a good treasure for yourself against the day of necessity. (Tobit 4:7-10 NRSV)
We find this also in the New Testament, where both Jesus and Paul speak of being generous with one’s resources.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matthew 6:19-20)

Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come.(1 Timothy 6:17-19)
Our open-handedness to the poor becomes treasure we lay up for ourselves in heaven. Not for the next life, as many think, but to be released as needed for this life. Psalm 41:2 says that those who are mindful of the poor will be blessed “in the earth.” The generosity we show is laid up as treasure in heaven for the sake of earth, so that the will of God may be done on earth as it is in heaven. God’s desire is to smooth the way for both the prosperous and the poor in the day of adversity.