What’s the best way to help the poor?

The problem of the world's poor can often seem overwhelming. Here are some tips to get started.

AP Photo/The Charlotte Observer, Jeff Willhelm
Volunteers Kathy Pfeffer and Peter Mogendorf carry donated furniture in The Bin in Huntersville, N.C. which provides free household items to qualifying families. Clients include battered women and people recently out of drug and alcohol rehab programs.

If you’re a Christian, you can’t help but read the Bible and be overwhelmed by God’s concern for the poor, weak and marginalized in society.

He tells us to be concerned for the widow and the orphan. Jesus himself said in Matthew 25 that, “As you did to one of the least of these, you did to me” meaning that if we gave food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty and clothes to the naked, it’s as if we did it to Jesus!

There are over 2,100 verses that describe God’s love and heart for the poor, weak and infirmed.

As Christians, I don’t think any one of us would deny that we should help the poor – and yet, we oftentimes don’t have a heart for the poor, we don’t care like we should that there are many without proper food, shelter or healthcare.

Why is it that God has such a heart for the disenfranchised and we don’t?

Now don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of us who are doing some great things to help, but what’s the best way to help the poor?

I write this as someone asking these very questions to myself and trying to break through some stereotypes that I have regarding the poor.

For example, should you give money to a homeless person? Should you give money to someone in need only if they deserve the money? Should you provide food, clothing and shelter with strings attached? Should we just give money to organizations and let them handle everything?

My goal with this post is to get us thinking beyond ourselves to try to stir in our hearts (and my heart) a deep love and passion for loving our neighbors as ourselves.

So let’s take a look at a few categories that we may fall in to when we approach helping the poor.

Help Those Who Deserve to Be Helped

Oftentimes, we take an approach to helping the poor that says, “you got yourself into this mess, you need to get yourself out – and then I’ll help you”

In other words, you don’t deserve to be helped because you’ve made some bad choices, or you have dependency problems, therefore I won’t help you until you first help yourself.

Or, this camp will also say, “I’ll only help when things get really, really bad because I want you to suffer the consequences of your poor decisions”

So, essentially, they view the poor as ones who have brought their poverty upon themselves – and only until they prove themselves worthy, or if they are destitute enough, then they can some help.

Here’s the problem with this category – if we are to love our neighbors as ourselves we would surely help ourselves long before we are destitute, and we’d surely help ourselves work through our bad choices long before it gets too bad.

We withhold mercy because we feel the poor needs to prove themselves! What if God gave His mercy that way?

We’d all be in big trouble.

Help Whether They Deserve It or Not

This camp can be just the opposite. They give to the poor no matter what – and they keep giving, sometimes to the same people, and the poor makes no progress.

This camp is only concerned about providing mercy, which is great – but at some point if the poor is not willing to help themselves and are only looking for handouts, then we become an enabler to their problems.

Sometimes churches will get themselves into this situation where they give money to an impoverished person with no strings attached and the same person comes back a week or two later. The church feels bad because this person is in really bad shape and they give more money.

The next thing you know you’ve got more and more people coming to the church to receive aid because word got out that this church gives out money.

Here’s the problem with this category. Providing aid to the poor without any demands of progress will actually result in more negative affects and create bigger dependency problems than if no money is given.

Help by Providing Relief and Development

So, what is the best way to help the poor? The first thing to realize is this – it’s only by God’s grace we are not in that situation. We need to be humble. You didn’t choose your family or the way your parents raised you, or if your parents got divored, or the town where you were brought up. Many of the things that affected who you are as a person was not your choice. Some were, but many were not.

Secondly, I think we need to be discerning. We need to discern what the needs of the poor really are. Initially it’s money, but what is causing the money problems. What’s the root?

If they are having difficulty budgeting and blowing their money on frivolous things, I think we owe it to them to confront that and try to teach them some basic budgeting and money skills.

If they have no money because they can’t hold a job, but the reason they can’t hold a job is because they can’t afford transportation, maybe we need to look into buying a used car for them to help get them on their feet.

We need to be ready to provide relief – money as mercy up front – and development – helping them with life, job, social and money skills.

This is the hardest route to take. It means we have to talk to them and get to know them. It means we have to find out what’s going on and be willing to get a little messy ourselves!

In my opinion, being willing to provide relief and development provides the best chance of survival and progression for the poor, not only physically, but spiritually also.

When you help a poor person in this way and model Christ’s love, they will be more willing to listen to you.

What do you think the best way to help the poor is?

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