The Problem of Poverty Needs More Than Prayer

By Mark A. Taylor

Ben Merold was talking about church growth when he made the statement. But I couldn’t help remembering his words as we prepared this week’s issue about poverty.

“You can’t guide a vehicle that isn’t moving,” he told the crowd at the Energizing Smaller Churches Network Conference in Manhattan, Kansas in March. “Do something get started on a project while you’re praying for God to show you his will. That’s the best way to discover what he wants your church to do.”

We see truth in his advice for our individual lives as well. Are you deciding whom to marry or whether, which college to attend, what career to pursue, or how to spend your retirement? Get moving. Pursue some options. In your activity, God will give you direction. You won’t find a job if you never leave your prayer closet. You won’t win the world to Christ if you never talk with someone unconverted.

And you won’t “look after orphans and widows in their distress” or “love your neighbor as yourself” (James 1: 27; 2:8) just by praying or talking or reading about them. Solutions to the world’s poverty rest in our decisions to act.

Many American Christians already harbor hidden guilt about their affluence. When presented with an easy way to meet a well publicized need, they give generously. Many spend vacation time and personal funds to go on short term missions trips. And Christians aren’t the only ones questioning corporate greed and exorbitant CEO salaries.

Yet some feel powerless to make much of a difference. Overwhelmed by the world’s needs and separated from the world’s power brokers, some Christians shrug their shoulders and just retreat into their own comfortable routine.

This is playing into the devil’s hands. We can do something. We can find a missionary feeding the hungry and help him feed more. We can discover oppression of the poor in our own community and give days or dollars to relieve it. We can tutor. We can donate clothes and furniture. We can volunteer in clinics or kitchens or food pantries. We can teach classes. We can try one of the action steps suggested in this week’s issue and next.

And with each attempt we can pray. God will guide and give strength as we combine action with prayers. But if we only pray for the poor without working to help solve their problems, our prayers will do little to help. Their needs and God’s concern for them are too great for us to let that happen.

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