How to Eliminate Poverty (Both Nationally & Personally)


October 2005

Dear Ministry Partners,

Poverty is something almost everyone wants to avoid. When I was young, President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty in America. However, after billions of dollars in government programs, there is still plenty of poverty here. Jesus said the poor you will always have with you (Mark 14:7). However, the same scriptures tell us that "Jesus became poor that we might be rich." (2nd Cor. 8:9). We are also told that "God will supply all our needs." (Phil. 4:19). How do we reconcile all of this, and what can we do to eliminate poverty?

First of all, we need to realize that most Americans are way better off than the people in the rest of the world. I remember the young mechanical engineer sitting next to me on a bus in China who was paid only a few hundred dollars a month. He and his wife and child had to live with his parents — as most young couples do in China — while he attempted to save up enough to get their own place to live some day. (And most homes there do not have mechanical heat or air conditioning!) I remember him staring forever at my billfold picture of my four children — he was only allowed one child by the Communist government. While I am middle-class by American standards, I was a millionaire to this Chinese professional. And compared to the starving in Ethiopia or Cambodia, I seem like a billionaire. The Apostle Paul said, "And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content." (1st Tim. 6:7-8). In all honesty, if we have food, clothing, shelter, and the means of gaining monthly income — our basic needs — a person is not in true poverty.

However, there are many people suffering — homeless, hungry, unemployed — even here in America, and certainly worldwide. The causes are numerous, but mainly all go back to a fallen world we live in. In some cases, the cause appears to be outside of the person's control. For example, some people can no longer earn a living because of war or drought or because they lost their health through accident or disease. However, lifestyle choices have often led to the loss of health, and addictions are also a huge cause of poverty which is again a lifestyle choice. And statistically, the fastest path to poverty in America is to get pregnant outside of marriage and become a single mother.

But in the same way that many choices have led to poverty, Godly choices can usually lead a person back out of poverty, need, and lack. The first choice that produces the most change is to ask Jesus Christ to be Savior and Lord. The spiritual poverty inside every person is instantly replaced by a spiritual abundance, hope, and faith. Faith is the first step for people to change their life condition. We cannot say too much about the role of faith in bringing a person out of a downward spiral. I have read authoritative information about how faith-based social programs have about an 80% success rate, while spiritually-sterile government programs have around a 20% success rate. The Salvation Army has been changing lives out of poverty and addiction like this for over 140 years after a Methodist minister named William Booth dedicated himself to ministering the Gospel in London's poverty-stricken East End in 1865.

The second key to ending poverty is for people to accept personal responsibility for their condition and for changing it. It has been said, "Give a person a fish, and you feed him for a day. But if you teach a person to fish, you feed him for a lifetime." Government hand-out programs are usually the even distribution of poverty. There is not enough money available to just "give" the billions of people of the world out of poverty. Even if you somehow took all the revenues of the entire Federal government, and divided it equally to every American each year — it would only be about $7,000 a year per person! Not exactly the path out of poverty.

The next key to eliminate poverty personally or nationally is knowledge (Hosea 4:6, Prov. 11:9). In the secular world, they call this education. But it is more than learning the 3 R's, it is ultimately having spiritual knowledge that delivers a person. A person having an advanced college degree but violating the eternal principles of God's Word will experience the adverse consequences. We have to promote the Word of God. The long war against prayer and the Bible in America have almost bankrupted our nation (unprecedented single parent households, drug & alcohol abuse out of control, over-flowing prisons, 2 trillion dollar national debt, etc.). We have to stop beating the goose that laid the golden eggs. "Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great." This is usually attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville who came to America from France in the 1800's to discover why America was so successful.

This brings us to another key ingredient in eliminating poverty and that is Godly character. We have fallen so far in common good character that organizations have sprung up promoting character. The best I know of is This is an organization that uses a non-religious presentation of Bill Gothard's famous 49 good character qualities (from the Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts). This outstanding Character First program has been adopted by individuals, businesses, city governments, and schools. Good character will be a significant influence to deliver any one — or any nation — from poverty, failure, and lack.

Allow me to also state an obvious but important scriptural ingredient to eliminate poverty — and that is work. It was God who decreed 2nd Thes. 3:10, "If anyone will not work, neither let him eat." It was also God who established the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics (also known as the 2nd Law of Entropy), which in layman's terms says that anything in the universe will deteriorate if energy is not put into it — and this includes a person's career or financial condition. The Bible even says, "Faith without works is dead." (James 2:26). People can trade their time for money with a little effort. If you can't find employment, you can always find work that needs to be done! Just take a lawn mower around looking for tall grass in someone's front yard, and you can instantly stop being broke. One man told how he and his wife looked for wooden privacy fences that were deteriorating, and they would underbid the big fence company prices to replace the boards — his wife held the boards while he hammered the nails.

This brings up a valuable ingredient to eliminate poverty, and that is a free enterprise economic system where people have the ability to initiate paying work when they are unemployed — and free to create employment if they own a business. You first have to have a free country for this to work, so the American model is a prime example. Free enterprise is the Biblical example of economic life as God meant it to be on this planet. Anything that mankind gets involved in will be imperfect, but free enterprise is still better than socialism. An old joke with truth which I heard when smuggling Bibles into Communist countries was, "Capitalism is the uneven distribution of wealth, while Communism is the even distribution of poverty."

Along these lines, you have to have rewards for the diligent. You get more of whatever you reward. Rewards are God's idea. "God is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him." (Heb. 11:6). If we give money to those who don't work, and take away their benefits if they do work, that economic system is doomed. Likewise, high tax rates on the employed will similarly destroy incentive. God's highest tax rate was 10% (1st Samuel 8:10-17). Maybe He knows something?

The answer for everything in life is God's Word. The principles there are eternally true and eternally successful. The more we can structure our own lives according to God's Word, the more we will be lifted away from poverty in every sense. And the more we can structure a nation according to God's Word, the more that nation will be lifted away from poverty.

Promoting God's Word,

Dale & Judi Leander


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