God tells us in the Bible to help the poor. But He also condemns laziness. How do we help the poor without enabling the lazy?
Two men came to Good Shepherd recently asking for money. One man needed money to get to a job interview at a fast food restaurant. I told him that he was welcome to come here occasionally to work small jobs. He wanted a $10 loan and promised to come back and work when he had the time. The only problem was that he had already been given a $10 loan and had never come back to do any work. “Sorry,” I said. “Work first. Pay off the first loan. Then we’ll talk about more money.” “Oh my,” he complained. “But I NEED the money NOW.” “Sorry,” I said. “That’s life.” Away he went muttering.
The second man was from Mississippi. He had gone to Home Depot to see if he could find any kind of odd job to get enough gas to drive to Springfield where he had a job waiting. They sent him to us. I was just leaving for the hospital to see someone who was dying when he showed up. I told him he just had to wait, but that I was sure I had a couple of hours of work for him. When I got back he was waiting. He never whined or complained. That day Pastor Hemenway and Tim Meister were working on VBS signs. So I sent him to them, and they put him to work. They also had some good talks about what it means to be a Lutheran. He had never heard of the Lutheran church before! When they were done I gave him $20, a bag of groceries, a Small Catechism, and sent him on his way (Tim had already given him a Bible). He was very thankful.
Psalm 41.1 says, “Blessed is he who considers the poor. The LORD will deliver him in the time of trouble.” The word “consider” is interesting. It doesn’t just mean, “give a little thought to.” It means, “have prudence or understanding.” We really need to have “prudence” when it comes to helping the poor in this country. Far too often the poor of this country are poor because of the choices they have made and because of a lifestyle of laziness and flagrancy. In many ways we have a welfare system that has enabled this and has actually done more harm to people than good. But we can’t abandon people just because of they’ve been conditioned to think of themselves as victims. I’m anxious to continue working with that first man. I want to change his mind and show him how much better it is to try, to put forth a little effort, to forego immediate gratification in order to reap long-term benefits.
A very good prayer for all of us is that God would give us both the gift of love for the poor as well as the gift of understanding so that in all our efforts to help we are actually helping and not enabling.