When you reap the harvest of your land, you are not to reap to the very edge of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You must not strip your vineyard bare or gather its fallen grapes. Leave them for the poor and the foreign resident; I am the Lord your God. (Lev. 19:9-10) (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
God really cares about people living in poverty. He goes out of His way to make sure their needs are met, and He instructs us to be vehicles for accomplishing that. This is what made the difference to Ruth when she came back home with Naomi. The rich landowner, Boaz, instructed his staff to deliberately drop extra grain for her when they were harvesting the crops. Every day she went home with a large portion of food for herself and her mother in law.
How does this translate for us, who live in a mechanised society and who buy our grain in a plastic bag at the supermarket? Health and Safety officials wouldn’t be pleased if we started scattering spaghetti around on the ground outside the local homeless shelter.
We know the principles; we give God the first fruits of what we earn, believing He will make the remaining 90% stretches to cover all our needs. So far so good! But what of that verse that instructs us not to strip our vineyards bare or reap to the very edges of our fields.
Many of us live to the outside edges of our salaries, with little room to move one way or another. When we see a need, we are so weighed down by financial commitments that we have no room to manoeuvre. Our hearts are saddened or hardened because there’s nothing we can do about the needs we see all around us.
Live simply, so that others may simply live. Mahatma Gandhi – peacemaker
So many of us are in overload as far as our cost of living is concerned. We have so many needs, and those needs cost money. We need that extra special car that will make heads turn. We need a house that suits our status. Our holidays become more exotic and expensive with every salary rise we get. Our credit cards are full and we are only just managing to pay the interest. We live to the limits of our budget, the very edges of our fields … and then we grieve because we see real and desperate needs, poverty in the world around us and we turn away and sigh or cry because we have no way of meeting those needs; we’ve stripped our vineyards bare.
I have friends who have capped their salaries at a certain level at which they can live well. They have two good cars, a nice house and a comfortable lifestyle. They decided that what they had was enough, and they made the decision to give away everything over and above the amount they’d set their life style at. This family has funded a house for orphan children with AIDs in Uganda, as well as a pig farm on that same project. They’ve contributed to specific church needs, salaries and provided equipment for ministries – and that’s only what I happen to know about. They’ve learned the secret of leaving something for the gleaners and providing for the poor, the strangers in the land and the work God is doing around them.
God doesn’t require us to be poor. On the contrary, He gets no glory or pleasure in His people being impoverished. The problem is that we are such creatures of extreme that we legalistically veer erratically from one side of the Christian perspective on finances to the other. It’s either a feast or a famine. We think we should have nothing or everything, but that’s not what God is saying. He wants to bless us beyond our immediate needs, but He doesn’t want us to use all that blessing up on ourselves and our own desires.
Wherever we are on the financial scale, whether we earn a little or a lot, He wants us to make the decision not live to the very edges of what we have. He wants His people to develop a philosophy of life in which we can make sure that we always have enough money uncommitted to allow us to contribute to the needs of others. And that’s not about writing huge cheques to fund the televangelist’s latest venture or giving your last cent to the visiting preacher. It’s about seeing the needs in and out of the church, and making the decision to do like Jesus said – feed the hungry.
When we live a lifestyle that makes provision for the needs of God’s people, He will make sure we have enough for our own needs. Making that decision isn’t easy and it may take time, particularly when you have to extricate yourself from debt and financial commitments in order to do it, but I want to encourage you to talk to the Lord about it. Pray it through; ask Him to give to you so that you can give beyond yourself. We so often ask Him to provide for our needs; why not ask Him to give to you enough so that you can provide for someone else’s needs as well; and then when you get it, stick to your decision.