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Opening our eyes to the poor



Helping others begins with identifying with them

By Chip Hardwick | Presbyterians Today

Psalm 40:1–11 is a lectionary text for Jan. 19, the second Sunday after Epiphany.

Which Harry Potter character are you? Which famous clown are you? Which “Friends” character are you?

Quizzes like this abound on the internet, claiming to tell us who we identify with most in pop culture. And they’re not just on the internet. I remember a rogue questionnaire — “Which Princeton Theological Seminary professor are you?” — that a couple of seniors with too much time on their hands wrote.

While I’m not sure how my preferring glazed donuts contributes to being most like Ronald McDonald, the fact is that we often connect with some characters better than others. Whether it’s our life circumstances, physical appearance or the personality to which we aspire, some shoes just fit more comfortably.

It happens when we read Scripture, too. Think about it: Is it easier for you to identify with the father, younger brother or older son in the story of the prodigal son?

Where we see ourselves in the story often reveals what we understand God’s call to be. Yet when we are willing to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, we will see a different way to join Christ’s mission.

Psalm 40:1–11 gives us the opportunity to place ourselves in a couple of different places to understand how God might be calling us to respond to eradicating poverty. This psalm seems to be a full-throated, joyous song of praise, with the author filled with gratitude for God’s work. There are incomparable wondrous deeds that have been multiplied and glad news of deliverance to be proclaimed.

Now let’s place ourselves in the first two verses as a family who had been stuck in systemic poverty. The psalmist describes our gratitude because God has heard our cry. The Lord has drawn us up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and made our steps secure. The psalm gives no hints how God accomplished this rescue, but let’s imagine. Could it be that people mired in a bog of poverty might have their steps in life made more secure via access to better education, job training and mentoring, and legislation confronting systemic racism?

Now let’s return to our own place in life, rather than that of the family in “desolate” (verse 2) poverty. While those of us reading this magazine come from many financial backgrounds, it is safe to say that most of us are not impoverished. That means when we identify with the psalmist who says, “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart” in verse 8, we can imagine the Holy Spirit working through us, nudging us to follow God’s law by addressing poverty in our communities. By joining Jesus’ work to free others from the pain of poverty, we can join the psalmist as he tells God that we “have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness.”

We don’t need internet quizzes to tell us who we are. We are children of God, and as such we need to look beyond who we think we are or want to be and insert ourselves into the story of poverty that’s growing in our nation.

Pray that the Holy Spirit will inspire a unique ministry for you, your family or your church, so that the impoverished in your community can experience God using you to answer the closing prayer of the psalmist: Do not, O Lord, withhold your mercy from me; let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe forever.

As you share steadfast love and faithfulness, perhaps you’ll realize that the One with whom you’re identifying the most in this passage is our God, who puts a new song in our mouths.

Chip Hardwick is interim associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest, Illinois.

Discussion Questions

  • Is it difficult for you to identify with people in your community struggling with poverty?
  • How does it feel to identify primarily with our justice-seeking and prayer-answering God in a passage like this?
  • What approach to addressing poverty would give you delight as you do God’s will?

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