Poor yet Rich—How Can It Be?
Centuries ago a wise man prayed that he might not become poor. Why such a request? Because he feared that poverty might prompt attitudes and actions that would threaten his relationship with God. This is evident from his words: “Let me devour the food prescribed for me . . . that I may not come to poverty and I actually steal and assail the name of my God.”—PROVERBS 30:8, 9.
DOES this mean that it is impossible for a poor person to serve God faithfully? Hardly! Throughout history countless servants of Jehovah God have maintained integrity to him despite the hardship that poverty brings. In turn, Jehovah loves those who trust in him and provides for them.
Faithful Ones of Old
The apostle Paul himself experienced times of need. (2 Corinthians 6:3, 4) He also described a ‘great cloud’ of faithful pre-Christian witnesses, some of whom “went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, while they were in want . . . They wandered about in deserts and mountains and caves and dens of the earth.”—Hebrews 11:37, 38; 12:1.
One of these faithful ones was the prophet Elijah. During a three-and-a-half-year drought, Jehovah regularly provided food for him. First, God had ravens bring the prophet bread and meat. (1 Kings 17:2-6) Later, Jehovah miraculously sustained the supply of flour and oil from which a widow provided for Elijah. (1 Kings 17:8-16) The food was very basic, but it kept the prophet, the woman, and her son alive.
Jehovah likewise sustained the faithful prophet Jeremiah during hard economic times. Jeremiah survived the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, when people had to “eat bread by weight and in anxious care.” (Ezekiel 4:16) Eventually, the famine in the city became so severe that some women ate the flesh of their own children. (Lamentations 2:20) Even though Jeremiah was in custody because of his fearless preaching, Jehovah saw to it that “a round loaf of bread” was given to him daily “until all the bread was exhausted from the city.”—Jeremiah 37:21.
So Jeremiah, like Elijah, had little to eat. The Scriptures do not tell us what or how often Jeremiah ate after Jerusalem ran out of bread. Yet, we know that Jehovah sustained him and that he survived that terrible time of famine.
Today, poverty exists in every part of the world. According to the United Nations, the greatest concentration of poverty is found in Africa. Stated a UN press release in 1996: “Fully half of all Africans are impoverished.” Despite increasingly harsh economic circumstances, an ever-growing number of Africans are applying Bible principles in life and are faithfully serving God, confident that he will sustain them. Consider some examples from one part of our troubled world.
Michael,a who lives in Nigeria, is a farmer with six children to support. “It is hard to be honest when you don’t have money to care for your family,” he says. “When I am tempted to be dishonest, however, I remind myself of Ephesians 4:28, which says: ‘Let the stealer steal no more, but rather let him do hard work, doing with his hands what is good work.’ So if temptation comes my way, I ask myself, ‘Have I worked for this money?’”
“For example,” adds Michael, “as I was walking along one day, I saw a bag fall off the back of a motorcycle. I was not able to stop the cyclist, so I picked the bag up and found that it was full of money! Using the identification in the bag, I found the owner and returned the bag to him.”
A man in North Africa observed: “Poverty is [like] being stuck in a deep hole, being able to see the light and people freely walking around, but not having the voice to shout for help or a ladder to climb out.” Little wonder that poverty often brings feelings of depression and frustration! Even servants of God may see the riches of others and begin to think that a life of integrity is not worthwhile. (Compare Psalm 73:2-13.) How might such feelings be countered?
Peter, a West African, was retired after 19 years in government service. He now subsists chiefly on a small pension. “When I have periods of discouragement,” states Peter, “I remind myself of what I have read in the Bible and the Watch Tower Society’s publications. This old system is about to pass away, and we are awaiting a better system.
“Also, I think about 1 Peter 5:9, which says: ‘Take your stand against [Satan], solid in the faith, knowing that the same things in the way of sufferings are being accomplished in the entire association of your brothers in the world.’ So I am not the only one who is suffering difficulties. These reminders help me dismiss thoughts that are discouraging and depressing.”
“Besides,” Peter adds, “Jesus performed many miracles when on earth, though he did not make anyone materially rich. Why should I expect him to make me wealthy?”
The Power of Prayer
Drawing close to Jehovah God in prayer is another way to combat negative thinking. When Mary became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1960, her family forsook her. Unmarried and now in her 50’s, she is frail and has very little in a material way. Nevertheless, she is zealous in the Christian ministry.
Mary says: “When I feel discouraged, I go to Jehovah in prayer. I know that no one can help me more than he can. I have learned that when you trust in Jehovah, he helps you. I always call to mind these words of King David, found at Psalm 37:25: ‘A young man I used to be, I have also grown old, and yet I have not seen anyone righteous left entirely, nor his offspring looking for bread.’
“I also draw encouragement from the experiences of older spiritual brothers and sisters that are related in The Watchtower. Jehovah God helped them, so I know he will continue to help me too. He blesses my little job of selling fufu [a cassava meal], and I manage to meet my daily needs. Sometimes when I have hardly any money and I wonder what to do, Jehovah sends someone who gives me a gift and says, ‘Sister, please take this.’ Jehovah has never disappointed me.”
The Value of Bible Study
Jehovah’s Witnesses value the study of God’s Word, the Bible, and the poor among them are no exception. Sixty-year-old John serves as a pioneer (a full-time Kingdom preacher) and a ministerial servant in the congregation. He lives in a ramshackle two-story building shared by 13 families. His room is a section of the first-floor hallway, partitioned off by plywood. In it there are two old chairs and a table piled high with Bible-study aids. He sleeps on a straw mat.
John used to make about a dollar a day selling bread, but when wheat importation was banned, he lost this means of livelihood. He says: “I find things very difficult at times, but I continue pioneering. It is Jehovah who sustains me. I do any work I can find and do not rely on any human to support or feed me, though brothers in the congregation are very helpful. They help me look for work and sometimes give me gifts of money.
“I make time to read the Bible and the Watch Tower Society’s publications. I study in the early hours of the morning when the house is quiet and read later in the night whenever we have electricity. I know I have to keep up with my personal study.”
Training Children for Life
Daniel is a widower who has six children. In 1985 he lost the job he had held for 25 years, but he found work as a storekeeper. “Life is hard for the family economically,” he says. “Now we can eat only once a day. Once, we went without eating for three days. We were only able to drink water to keep going.”
Daniel serves as an elder in the congregation. “I never miss Christian meetings, and I keep busy with theocratic assignments,” he says. “Whenever there is any work to be done around the Kingdom Hall, I make sure that I am present. And when things are tough, I remind myself of Peter’s words to Jesus, recorded at John 6:68: ‘Lord, whom shall we go away to?’ If I stop serving Jehovah, where do I go? Paul’s words that we find at Romans 8:35-39 also fill me with determination because they show that nothing will separate us from the love of God and Christ. This is the attitude I inculcate in my children. I constantly tell them that we must never leave Jehovah.” Daniel’s zeal, combined with a regular family Bible study, has had a positive influence on his children.
A Spirit of Giving
One might think that those who live in extreme poverty would hardly be in a position to contribute financially to promote Kingdom interests. But that is not so. (Compare Luke 21:1-4.) Some Witnesses in Ghana whose main occupation is subsistence farming mark out part of their land to be used to promote the interests of God’s Kingdom. When the produce of that portion of their land is sold, the money is used exclusively for that purpose, which includes making contributions at the local Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Joan, who lives in Central Africa, is a pioneer. To take care of a paralyzed husband and four other dependents, she sells bread. When the congregation she attends needed benches for the Kingdom Hall, Joan’s family decided to donate all the funds they had in the house. That left them with nothing. The next day, however, someone unexpectedly paid a long-standing debt, giving them money that they had given up hope of ever receiving!
Joan is cheerful and does not worry unduly about money. “I explain my situation to Jehovah in prayer, and then I go out in the field ministry. We know that there is little hope for better times in this system of things. Yet, we realize that Jehovah will provide for our needs.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses are identified by their love for one another. (John 13:35) Those having money help their fellow Christians who are in need. Often this comes as a gift and sometimes as help with employment.
Mark, who lives in Congo, suffers from leprosy. It has deformed his toes and fingers. To walk, he therefore relies on crutches. When Mark decided to serve Jehovah, he began to make major changes in his life. Instead of begging for food as he formerly did, he began to grow his own. He also made adobe bricks, which he sold.
Despite his physical disability, Mark continued to work industriously. He eventually bought a piece of land and built a modest house on it. Today, Mark serves as a congregation elder and is well respected in the town where he lives. Now he assists other needy ones.
Of course, in many places work is virtually impossible to find. A Christian elder who serves at one of the Watch Tower Society’s branch offices in Central Africa wrote: “Many brothers here have no work. Some try to create their own jobs, but this is difficult. Many have reasoned that since they are going to suffer no matter what they do, they will make material sacrifices as pioneer ministers. In doing that, many find that they are blessed more abundantly than if they had a job with little or no pay.”
Jehovah Sustains His People
Jesus Christ said of himself: “Foxes have dens and birds of heaven have roosts, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay down his head.” (Luke 9:58) Similarly, the apostle Paul wrote: “Down to this very hour we continue to hunger and also to thirst and to be scantily clothed and to be knocked about and to be homeless.”—1 Corinthians 4:11.
Both Jesus and Paul chose to live a life of limited economic means so that they could more fully pursue their ministry. Many present-day Christians are poor because they have no other choice. Nevertheless, they apply Bible principles in life and zealously seek to serve God. They know that they are dearly loved by Jehovah as they experience the truthfulness of Jesus’ assurance: “Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other [material things] will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:25-33) Moreover, these poor servants of God have evidence that “the blessing of Jehovah—that is what makes rich.”—Proverbs 10:22.
a Substitute names are used in this article.
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Who Are “Doers of the Word”?
ACCORDING to a 1994 Gallup poll, 96 percent of Americans “believe in God or a universal spirit.” There are also “more churches per capita in the United States than in any other nation on Earth,” said U.S.News & World Report. Despite such pious appearances, veteran pollster George Gallup, Jr., says: “The stark fact is, most Americans don’t know what they believe or why.”
Statistics also indicate that there is a large gap between many people’s religious convictions and their actions. For instance, “sociologists note that some of the highest-crime areas of the country also happen to be places where religious belief and practice are strongest,” says writer Jeffery Sheler.
This should not be surprising. Why? Because as far back as the first century, the apostle Paul warned fellow Christians to beware of those who “publicly declare they know God, but [who] disown him by their works.” (Titus 1:16) Additionally, Paul told the young man Timothy that “the last days” would be marked by people “having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power.”—2 Timothy 3:1, 5.
True Christians, however, do their utmost to follow Jesus Christ’s command to “go . . . and make disciples of people of all the nations.” (Matthew 28:19) In this way they “become doers of the word, and not hearers only.”—James 1:22.
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Bible study is valued by people around the world