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
Salvation Army has been changing lives out of poverty and
addiction like this for over 140 years after a Methodist minister
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
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 www.CharacterFirst.com.
This is an organization that uses a non-religious presentation
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,
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
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."
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