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The Riches of Poverty

posted Apr 9, 2010, 12:58 AM by Edward Jue   [ updated Apr 9, 2010, 1:02 AM ]
April 2010

Willard devotes chapter ten on the topic of poverty. In it, he clarifies some of the Christians’ misconception toward poverty and riches. Although he does not condemned those who takes the vow of poverty, Willard states clearly that it is a mistake to consider “material goods outside of holiness.”1 The Christian’s discipline shall focus on the “possessing, using, and trusting in riches.”2 I especially enjoy his statement regarding the liberty from being possessed by our possessions.
“Poverty as a general practice cannot solve humankind’s bondage to wealth. Freedom from possessions is not an outward thing as much as an inward one. It is something that can come from the inward vision of faith alone. This is the point of Bonhoeffer’s remark that ‘to be without desire is a mark of poverty.’ But to abandon the goods of this world to the enemies of God is to fail the responsibilities we are given at creation to have dominion to rule over all life forms above the plants (Gen. 1:26).”3
Willard calls us into a life of poverty not in the sense that we have to give up everything we have outwardly, but instead detach ourselves from these things inwardly, having wise management over them, but not depending on them to satisfy us.

As I read these words, I painted a clearer picture for me regarding my own life of poverty. Although I do not remember much about my life before the death of my father when I was three, I have learned that my father was a dentist and was the sole bread winner for both my immediate and extended family. Even thought we were not rich by any measure, we were considered to be well-off because of my father’s bright prospect. However, after my father’s death, I remembered having needed to take breaks from elementary school to work because my grandparents could not pay from my schooling. Despite these difficulties, I never considered myself “poor.” That might have to do partly of my ignorance of the wealth of material goods existed outside of my little village. However, my childhood experience did not generate in me a love or dependence for the material goods. It was only when I came to the United States was I exposed to the overpowering consumer culture. Yet, God grabbed hold of my life early on and had never kept my eyes off the riches in His kingdom.

Therefore, it was not a struggle for me when I have to leave my marketing job to work at church for less than half of what I was making. I have no doubt that God provides and I do not care about how my friends and family members look at me. Although they think I am wasting my time on a job that has no future and no promotion, they cannot see the returns being generated in God’s kingdom. When my fiancé’s parents despise me for not having money to fix my 1995 Mercedes Benz, which my dad gave me, and instead have to drive a God given 1983 Toyota that has problems every month, I praise the Lord because He grants me a car not only to serve the people whom He places in my path, but also opportunities to learn about car mechanics. Like what Willard writes about “Poverty is not simplicity,” my life is not simple, but I just learn how to “put all demands that come…in ‘their place’ and deal [with them] harmoniously, peacefully, and confidently with complexities of life that them incomprehensible to others.”4

However, Willard’s writing about poverty also remains me that obtaining this inward life of poverty is more than just being able to detach myself from the material goods; it also includes wise management of the resources given by God. Since I had never had much resource to manage, I do not know whether I would still have the same liberty from possession if I were to have a lot of financial wealth. I have no doubt that the attainment of inward poverty life is much harder for people that has a great deal of worldly possession. The temptation to exercise the wealth and the power that comes with it to satisfy ones’ desire would be much greater than what I have experienced.

May be it is because God knows that I cannot handle wealth, so He has thus far spare me from this struggle. Nevertheless, Willard’s writing has challenged me to re-evaluate two things. First is my way of using God’s resource. Due to my kingdom focus mindset, sometimes, I have overlooked the management of world resources that God have given me. How can I use them as a good steward for the benefit of God’s kingdom on this earth? Secondly, I need to reevaluate my attitude toward the affluent. I cannot deny that I have prejudiced against the affluent because I despise their worldly view and attachment to the temporal goods. Yet, as Willard mentions there is no advantage of the materially poor over the materially rich and God does not bless one and cursed the other. Going back to Willard’s point that material goods are not outside of holiness, I have to remind myself not to merely look at how much one possess, but really how that person use and trust it.

This understanding will help me as I prepare to begin a new family with my fiancé. As we pull our resources together, we have to learn how to live a life of inward poverty while being a steward of God’s provision. Furthermore, Elisa and I can incorporate into our current ministries among the college students the value of inward poverty and clarifies their misconception of poverty as giving up all their possession. In the long run, I pray that God will change me, so that I can cultivate a love for the affluent, and so that I can share with them the heavenly riches for an inward life of poverty.

1 Richard J. Foster, The Spirit of the Disciplines, (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991), 203
2 Ibid., 194
3 Ibid., 202
4 Ibid., 204-05