Throughout the Scriptures it’s consistently clear that disciples should care for the poor. We’re called to help, and if possible to lift people and their families out of poverty. And yet Jesus also said that those who are poor have a special understanding of faith. God has a bias towards them, because they grasp things about God’s kingdom that the rich don’t. In the same way we’re invited to become like little children in our understanding of faith, we’re also invited to become like poor people, with Jesus saying, in Luke 6:20 ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.’

If I’m totally honest I’ve struggled to really understand all this. How come people in poverty are blessed? And what do I have to learn about God’s kingdom from poor people? So I’ve been asking the Lord to teach me.

I’ve been learning as I’ve been observing the cost of living crisis unfold in our nation, and how it’s affecting those on low incomes. I’ve been learning as I’ve been reading the Bible, especially texts about money and giving. I’ve been learning as I’ve tried to understand the philosophy behind our church’s new CAP Debt Centre. I’ve been learning from Liz, who lives with us and has a special concern for people in need. It feels like I’m learning in all sorts of ways. And I’m still learning. 

I had a thought over the weekend that I’ve never really considered before. In Matthew 6 when Jesus teaches about spiritual disciplines, he highlights three basic disciplines: giving, praying and fasting. This is what all discipless are called to do. Whether you’re rich or poor. Black of white. Male or female. Young or old. We’re all called to these. This is basic discipleship 101. Here’s the thought: the poor understand these three disciplines better than the rich.

1. Giving

Take giving. When rich people give, they usually give out of their excess. So it’s rarely stretching. But when the poor give it’s more costly, because they have little to start with. The poor are pleased to give and bless others, knowing that it puts them at risk. Indeed it’s a much bigger step of faith for them. They have to really trust that the Lord will look after them. This is surely one of the reasons why Jesus commends the giving of the poor widow in Luke 21:1-4, saying she gave more than the others. Because she gave everything she had. She was generous to God. And became especially dependent on him.

I visited Burundi about eight years ago, which is one of the poorest nations in the world. About seven of us from the UK went, and one Sunday we went to a local village church in the countryside. There were perhaps about eighty people there. The worship was very vibrant, and the people were very poor. At the end, they clubbed together and bought us, their guests, cokes and fantas to drink. These were costly gifts, given as a thank you for coming. I felt uncomfortable, and wanted to give them back. But I was told in no uncertain terms from one of our party that I must accept the gift, as they wanted to honour and bless us through their giving.

It seems to me that the poor understand the joy of costly giving. And they realise that costly giving is actually really good. It blesses others. And makes the giver dependent on God.

2) Praying.

Take praying. Rich people have less material needs to pray for than poor people. Sometimes rich people even forget to pray, because everything in their life seems fine. But poor people rarely do that, because they have all sorts of needs, all the time. They’re often living from day to day, not knowing where their next meal is coming from, or how they will clothe their children, or how they’ll fix something if it breaks. So they pray. Regularly. Daily. Hourly. They’re asking the Lord to help them. Again and again and again. They’re dependent on God for everything and they learn that God really does provide and will look after them.

That’s why in Luke 18 when Jesus gives an example of a good persistent person of prayer, who does he choose? A widow – someone who was poor.

3) Fasting.

Take fasting. A lot of rich people have never fasted. They don’t see the point. And they also don’t like the feeling of being hungry, for they associate it with being ill because that’s the only time their stomachs are empty. But poor people totally understand praying from an empty stomach because that’s how they often pray – feeling hungry. They know what it is to turn hunger pangs into prayer pangs as they hunger for God.

So the poor understand these disciplines. They come much more naturally to them. Because they’re meant to be disciplines of dependence. This is why Heidi Baker, who works with some of the poorest people in Mozambique says this: ‘What is it about the poor that literally brings the kingdom of God in a way that the well-fed don’t?  It has to do with hunger.  It has to do with need.  They know they need God. They’re hungry and thirsty. The Lord wants to cause even the rich, even the middle-class, to be poor in spirit and know that they are in need of Him.’

It seems that the Lord wants to make us weak, so we rely on him. St Paul understood something of this, saying in 2 Corinthians 12:10: ‘That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’

What does this mean for us, as we go into 2023? Here are three suggestions.

(a) When circumstance are difficult, or finances tight, don’t be despondent! These are wonderful opportunities for God to make you strong and dependent in faith.

(b) In this cost of living crisis, when many of us find we have less to live on, trust God, and keep giving (as well as) praying and fasting. The world tells us to tighten our belts and stop doing these things. Don’t do that. Instead, do them more!

(c) Learn from the poor. Sit with them. Talk with them. Watch them. Spend time with them. Take note too that in many churches the Lord is bringing us refugees and those who have little material wealth. One reason is so we can help them. But another is so we learn from them.

There is much to learn: about need and dependence; about daily trusting in God, and about hunger. Maybe Carol & John Arnott are right when they say: ‘you get what you hunger for.’