On the privilege of being poor

I heard a statement once that true wealth is never having to say no to guacamole at Chipotle. I hear that, because I really love guacamole, but wow–it’s pricey.

It’s easy to be wealthy in America. Granted, the definition of wealth varies from culture to culture, neighborhood to neighborhood, family to family. Wealth can either mean that you have a lot of financial assets at your disposal, or it can mean that you have been blessed with the intangibles of life–health, family, friends, faith, etc.

In my experience, most “good Christians” will say they’re wealthy because of all the blessings God has given them, and that is absolutely true. But for a moment, let’s just get real about this. Because money is real, and the struggles we all face with money are real. So shouldn’t we talk about it?

Little white flower in a Colorado field, Happy Meadows Campground, west of Colorado Springs, CO

Little white flower in a Colorado field, Happy Meadows Campground, west of Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are James 1:9-10.

Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field.

I read this passage over and over again the other night, mainly because it just made me smile. The way God sees things is so different from the way we see things. And this passage isn’t talking about being rich in blessings. This is unashamedly talking about finances.

If you don’t have as much money as someone else, be happy. I’m not sure the phrase “boast about” is the best translation. According to the Amplified Version, someone who is in “humble circumstances” should “glory in his high position.” That doesn’t mean you go around bragging about being poor. That’s just silly. But what you are supposed to do is to recognize that God’s trusted you with an awful lot.

It’s hard to even say that you’re poor when God’s given you so much already, but when you don’t have as much money as other people, you have to have more faith. And, honestly, faith isn’t something that everybody has in equal measure. So if you’ve got more faith than finances, you should understand that it’s an honor to live that lifestyle.

But likewise, if you are one of those folks who have a lot of money, you’re not wrong. It’s not bad to have money. It only becomes a problem when you love your money more than you fear God. If you’ve got a lot of money, you should be thankful at how God is humbling you. Because even if you’ve worked your tail off to earn your wealth, you have to be humble enough to accept that it all belongs to God anyway.

In my life, as well as in the lives of most people I know, the part about glorying in my high position in spite of humble circumstances bit is more relevant. I am not wealthy, financially speaking, and–yes–I do sometimes say no to guacamole at Chipotle. But I was okay with that because I’m rich in other ways. I have eternal life guaranteed. I have friends and family who love me unconditionally (which is priceless, because I’m so not worthy of love). I have free, open access to the throne room of God, who created the Universe, and He’s given me permission to ask Him for the desires of my heart. That’s huge!

But I’d never thought of a lack of finances as an honor. That’s what this verse is saying. Isn’t it funny how we silly little humans twist God’s perfect plans all up until they’re unrecognizable?

Don’t misunderstand. We shouldn’t aspire to be poor. That’s not the point. If we aspire to anything, it should be to glorify God. That’s the one thing both poor and rich have in common–recognizing God as the source of true wealth.

So don’t be discouraged if you’re poor. God doesn’t have it out for you. It’s actually the other way around. Being poor is a privilege. Not having the same financial status as others gives you an opportunity to show your faith and share your faith with others.

It’s not easy. But faith never is.

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Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

How do you live for God’s glory?

I like practical advice. When I ask a question, I’d like a straightforward answer. Life doesn’t have to be complicated, and faith doesn’t have to be confusing. Unfortunately, so many times that’s what it becomes.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m so thankful to have grown up in the Church (capital C … because the Church is something bigger than a building), but we do have our own language. Don’t we?

What I find ironic about religious jargon is that most church people can’t even define it. It just sounds good when said out loud. And those phrases that sound good said out loud rapidly become catchphrases we Christians spout off, but do we ever really think about what they mean?

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 10:31.

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Is it just me or does “do all for the glory of God” sound a little foggy? Maybe it’s because we don’t talk that way. Somehow this powerful little statement became a widely used phrase that you hear everywhere in religious situations.

For the glory of God this. For the glory of God that. And obviously it’s important, because it’s in the Bible. But what does it mean? If that’s what God wants from us, then I want to do it. But how do I do it?

Well, first of all, we need to break the phrase down and identify what it’s actually talking about. What is glory? If you look it up in the dictionary, in most cases it will say that glory is something people give people they want to honor or praise or worship.

I was curious, so I did a little word study over at BibleHub.com. I don’t speak Greek, so I could have it wrong. But from what I can tell, the original Greek word used (δόξα) literally means “what evokes good opinion, i.e. that something has inherent, intrinsic worth.”

Have you ever thought about it that way? Saying that you want to live in a way that brings glory to God is a florid, dramatic statement in my opinion. Maybe that’s just because I know so many extroverts, but even the word glory makes me think of people with their arms spread wide, shouting to the sky. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But can I really drink a cup of coffee to the glory of God?

Today’s verse says to do everything for God’s glory, so how would drinking a cup of coffee fit into that?

Thinking about it from this other perspective might clear it up a bit. As Christ-followers, we are to live the kind of life that gives people a good opinion about God.

How does drinking coffee fit into that? Well, for one, we can do it. That’s a huge blessing for me, and it’s probably an even bigger blessing for the people around me, especially in the mornings.

Because of God’s covenant with us through Jesus, we don’t live under a set of laws. We’re under grace, which means that God will grant us salvation through Christ free of charge, with no expectation, because we couldn’t afford it anyway. So we can eat meat. We can eat vegetables. We can drink coffee and Coke and–gasp!–yes, even alcohol!

There’s nothing we can do that will separate us from God’s love. There’s nothing a Christ-follower can do that will cause God to reject him or her. The only unpardonable sin is refusing to accept Jesus in the first place.

But that still doesn’t answer the question. How do I live for God’s glory? What do I have to do to live a life that will give people a good opinion of God?

Like I said before, I like practicality. And it doesn’t get much more practical than this: Find out what God wants you to do and do it.

That’s it.

There’s no magic formula. There’s no special chant. There’s no secret handshake. You read the Bible or seek Christian counsel to learn how God says to live, and then you live that way. And when someone asks you why, you tell them you make your choices because of what God says is right.

That’s what it comes down to. Choices. Everyone has choices. We face choices every day, ranging from what color socks to wear or what career path to take or whether to speed on the way in to work or not. The question isn’t how do you live life for God’s glory. The question is how does God want me to live?

Love God. Love people. Do what God says is right.