Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Best Kind of Poverty

I picked some springtime from the perimeter of a neighbor's garden the other day. Chicago's gloom and grey made me do it. Just one sunny day can make a gal lose her propriety. But that token of springtime ministered to eyes tired from emails and compressing clouds. My fingers twirled the green stem and the hope of warmer days made this cold soul sing. 

Then came groceries. 
I left my petals on the dash of the car with intent, in hopes that passers-by could see and feel the goodness of fresh life while I shopped. After all, don't urbanites need green things to remind them that concrete isn't the product of photosynthesis?

Forty minutes later, I returned to the car with arms full of brown bags just to discover that my 6 happy petals had withered up and died from the heat of the sun. And the Spirit of God said, "Look and learn."
The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business. James 1:9-11
I thanked God for the brown bag full of nutrients, for the job that brought the paycheck that bought good things. And the next time I started to say "I need", my tongue stopped short. Instead of looking around to compare my grocery cart with someone else’s, I looked up and was reminded of the Giver of all that I possess in closets, cupboards and soul. Having enough can make me forgetful.

Moses' statement, “But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth,” was for the Israelites as much as it was for me. Remember your God when you have the clarity of mind to explain something complicated, when you have the health to trump up three flights of stairs, when you have the cash to fix the inconvenience of a flat tire. 
Remember his provision and care when you’re in the high position of need and repent when you’re in the low position of greed.

What does James mean when he says that there is a blessing to be had in humble circumstances? What good can come from a bank account glaring red, in beloved sons living contrary to upbringings, when marriages trudge through a minefield or hope is paralyzed from a dreaded diagnosis? These are life’s daggers that cause us to wrestle with despair. This is where we find ourselves in that dark pit asking questions of our Giver. And that’s when the pain of humility causes us to call out our emptiness. This is where the blessedness comes in. This is where the mighty arm of the Lord reaches down, deep into our darkness to carry out the rescue. The posture of brokenness is what God esteems in us and it’s what He uses to save us.

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Happy am I when I recognize my impoverished soul and the only God who can make it rich. Blessed are those who manage to trust that God is good when it seems like He is gone. Happy are those who barely make it, but somehow withstand life’s lambasting because loving Him hard gifts us a crown of life.

In the warmth of sun and prosperity, when I'm tempted to say, "I'm rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing." Oh God, let me remember that riches, like beauty are only skin-deep and will never be capable of satisfying the eternal soul. In the despair of cold grey, let me twirl the stem of truth around my mind and try hard to remember that, “In God’s economy, emptying comes before filling, confession before forgiveness, and poverty before riches.”
This is the secret of happiness: Poverty

1) Billy Graham, The Secret of Happiness, 1st ed. (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc 1955), 11