If you've been reading the Monitor's series "An End to Poverty" this week, you'll be well aware of the very real possibility that deep, desperate poverty is not as intractable as it seems. In fact, poverty really could come to an end.
But to truly end poverty, more than money and humanitarian efforts are needed. Rather, what's needed is a change in thought – the acceptance that poverty can end – accompanied by the will to do it. And effective, productive prayer is the best way to help forward that change.
Mary Baker Eddy, who founded this newspaper, had ample experience with poverty in her own life. In those days before safety nets such as Social Security and welfare, poverty was no abstraction. And in her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," she wrote starkly, "If we turn away from the poor, we are not ready to receive the reward of Him who blesses the poor" (p. 8).
Mrs. Eddy used Jesus' life as a model for her own, and she also studied his teachings in order to better understand God, the One who blesses the poor. If you look at the gospel accounts of Jesus' life, you see a man who was equally at ease in a wealthy home and among the poor and needy. He refused to accept limitation, even when he had to feed 5,000 people with physical resources far fewer than what was needed. Yet, over and above this, one is struck by his compassion for the helpless, the sick, the outcast, the neglected.
One wonders how he would respond to the Monitor series note that extreme poverty strikes the young so severely that "every year four million more children won't make it to their fifth birthday" ("A first step for the global poor – shatter six myths," March 10). Jesus told his disciples, "Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 19:14).
If children were that important to the master Christian, then it's worth our while to pray specifically for the welfare of the world's children, that divine Love knows each one and provides for them all. And that Christ – the spiritual message of God's love that Jesus lived and articulated so well – can speak to the hearts of local, national, and international leaders and help them commit to ending extreme poverty with a special effort on behalf of the world's children.
It can also speak in our hearts and thus affect our actions toward the children in our homes and neighborhoods, toward community organizations and leaders. To take seriously Jesus' words "of such is the kingdom of heaven" means to think and pray much more deeply about the world's children, and thus rise spiritually to their defense before the world's neglect.
Apathy, greed, passivity, stolidity, and selfishness have no standing before Christ-like love. Nor do they have any excuses. When Jesus' disciples tried to keep children away from him, he rebuked them because he understood how precious even one child's innocence and purity are. If we look around at the world, which seems sunk in materialism, sensuality, and a host of impurities – from polluted rivers to poisoned air and food – the importance of honoring childlike qualities and the children who express them becomes even more apparent.
Any person reading this column can take a few minutes each day to pray for the world's children, to affirm that they don't need to live in slavery and poverty, but that the nations of the world can join forces to provide useful help for countries in need. And that those countries can express wisdom and honesty in using those provisions.
Our prayers can also affirm that no one can lose the childlike qualities that God has given us – the purity, love, and joy. Prayer of this type may inspire us to take individual actions on behalf of children, but whether or not it does, we can trust this prayer to be effective and to forward the progress of all God's children – young and old alike.