The heart of God for the poor and marginalized is clear throughout scripture. Every Christian is called to love the refugee (Deut. 10:19, ESV) and care for the orphan and the widow (James 1:27, ESV) or any defenseless or vulnerable person they may encounter. As God’s representatives on earth Christians are to follow Jesus in His campaign to set the captives free from the evils of human exploitation, addictions, and systemic injustices. They are to help the brokenhearted experience healing and renewal (Luke 4:18, ESV) and remind them of their great dignity and worth given to them by God (Genesis 1:26, ESV).
The Bible is clear from cover to cover: God’s people are to love those on the margins because God Himself loves them. Yet there are many barriers holding us back. Why do we find ourselves not engaging the marginalized? What keeps us from loving them and seeing them restored? While we could list numerous reasons here are 3 that tend to be most prevalent.
1. We Lack Eyes to See
What do you see when someone on the side of the road asks you for money? Do you see a lazy con artist? Someone to take advantage of you? An addict? An annoyance to your schedule? A person in need? In the gospels Jesus shows us that what we see changes everything about how we respond. Let us look at 3 texts to help us see what Jesus sees.
Matthew 9:36 (ESV)- “When he saw the crowd he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Luke 7:13 (ESV)- “And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘do not weep.’”
Luke 10:33 (ESV)- “But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had had compassion.”
We notice immediately that in all of these passages there is a type of “seeing” that is going on. It is one that sees the difficult and broken state someone is in and responds with compassion. This compassion always fuels what comes next— an action of restoration, healing, and help. In Matthew 9, Jesus is then led to pray for more laborers to help the lost. In Luke 7, Jesus is led to miraculously heal a widow’s son. Finally in Luke 10, it is the way the Samaritan (an enemy of the Jews) saw that Jewish man on the side of the road that led him to give all of his resources to care for him. True sight of a person’s state leads to great compassion. The reason we can move from seeing to acts of compassion is because we begin to see people the same way God sees them.
I was at a conference recently where a band was leading worship. This was no ordinary band. The lead singer and his bandmates were people who were experiencing homelessness. One particular song had a chorus that repeated over and over the wonderings of anyone without a home,
“do you see me? When you walk out on the street, do you see me? When you pass me by each day do you see me?”
It was difficult to hold back tears. At the end of the day those experiencing brokenness are still people. People just like you and me. People that want to be seen, valued, and recognized as being worthy of dignity and respect.
2. Our view of Local Mission is Too Narrow
What does local mission mean? To start, we need to think about what the problem truly is that we are trying to solve. Many of us would rightly say that local mission means we are meeting the needs of the broken. After all, Jesus wants us to feed a person if they are hungry or care for a person who is sick. But it is interesting how we talk about local mission versus international mission. Most of us think about sharing the good news of Jesus and making disciples in the international context. But when it comes to local mission we tend to only talk of meeting physical needs. In local mission we tend to emphasize demonstrating the gospel through deeds, while in international mission we tend to emphasize declaring the gospel through our words.
What if we talked about mission everywhere as a balance of declaring and demonstrating the gospel in word and deed? How would our strategies change if our focus was to holistically disciple and seek the flourishing of individuals and systems? When we only meet physical needs we don’t engage relationally with those experiencing poverty. However, if our goal was discipleship everything would change. Discipleship demands close and continual relational proximity. It means getting to know and spend time with the people and environments that society tends to ignore. This would have to mean less service projects and more relational activity.
3. We Are Not Sure How to Do This
Even if we have eyes to see the broken, and desire to spend time relationally with those who are in need we must wrestle with the practical question: Where do I start? Here are some questions to consider.
1. What are you passionate about? What stirs your heart?
What brokenness do you see that stirs in you a desire to show compassion? That is a great place to start! It will not be the same for everyone. Some will be drawn to the orphan, while others will have compassion on the refugee. If you do not know what stirs you, try getting involved in different places to see what moves you. It’s ok to work with different organizations and ministries to identify where God stirs you to compassion.
2. When are you available?
This is where our motivations meet reality. We live in a culture of being pressed for time. Many of us have God-given responsibilities that eat most of our time. Take a look at your calendar and see what is open. Giving up time to love marginalized groups consistently will be costly, but in the end worth it.
For those of you who have no availability during your current season, start by giving financially to an organization that is helping those experiencing brokenness. We tend to keep an eye on the things that require our time or resources. Giving financially could be a great first step to grow your heart for the broken.
3. What hobbies/skills do you have?
There are ways to love the poor with things that God has given you for seeking the flourishing of others. For instance, there are many refugee nonprofits in need of skilled translators. Some need licensed medical professionals while others need business developers or marketers to help their ministry or nonprofit reach more people. The skills and expertise God has given you in the marketplace can absolutely be leveraged for the good of marginalized communities or the organizations focused on caring for them.
4. Where can I get involved?
For some this is the easiest question to answer. You might know a great organization or church that is doing amazing work. For many of us though, we don't know where to go. It can be a nightmare to google “help the poor” and try to find something. We want to help. If you create a free account, you can go to https://www.forthecity.org/volunteer and get started by searching for a place near you.
As we grow in aligning our heart with the heart of God, we will begin to see those experiencing poverty as more like us than different from us— and we will have compassion. When we take the time to befriend the broken, our schedules and regular rhythms begin to change as we pursue long term relationships. As God has loved us, so we love those at the margins. The next time someone on the side of the road asks you for money, maybe take a step toward them and say hello.