A Generous Life—Marginally Speaking


“God really cares about people living in systemic poverty. He goes out of His way to make sure their needs are met, and He constantly challenges His people to be the vehicles He uses to make it so.”
She arrived in the new land, a childless widow with an ageing, dependent relative. It wasn’t that she even wanted to be there, but she did want to take care of the mother-in-law she loved and whom she knew would be even worse off without her. But for all her caring their situation was even more precarious than before—they were poverty-stricken immigrants with no visible means of support.

She found a job of sorts on the farm of a relative of Naomi’s, following the grain harvesters with her apron held up as a basket, waiting and searching for whatever leftovers might fall on the ground. It was backbreaking work, but not as bad as the harassment from the labourers she had to walk behind. She kept reminding herself she couldn’t afford to give up, couldn’t even tell them to get lost, or there’d be no dinner for Naomi or herself tonight.

Suddenly, her situation changed. Boaz had seen her at work and heard her story. He spoke to her kindly, encouraging her to stay so she could be cared for. The same harvesters who had grabbed at her clothes and humiliated her with their suggestive comments were now deliberately dropping large amounts of grain right near to her. Not only that, but they left her alone to get on with her work. She was working shorter hours with more results. The other workers were looking at her and whispering.

We all know the end of the story. They got married and lived happily ever after. I don’t think Boaz ever suspected that his kindness toward this despised refugee would result in him being an ancestor of Jesus Christ. He was just a wealthy man doing what he knew God had commanded all godly people to do—use wealth wisely and kindly to look after those who live on the margins.

The margins are a tough place to live. Ask anyone who resides there.

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 systemic poverty. He goes out of His way to make sure their needs are met, and He constantly challenges His people to be the vehicles He uses to make it so. It is we who often get mixed up about it. One side of the world queues up for hundreds of metres and multiple hours waiting desperately to be the first to own the latest iPhone, while on the other side of the world they’re queuing in even longer lines, desperate for a bag of rice to feed their family. What’s wrong with this picture?

We know the principles; we give God the first fruits of what we earn, believing He will make the remaining 90% stretch to cover all our needs. So far so good! But what about this verse that instructs us not to strip our vineyards bare or reap to the very edges of our fields. How does it translate for we who live in a mechanised society and who carry our grain in a plastic bag from the supermarket? Health and Safety wouldn’t be happy about us scattering spaghetti around outside the local homeless shelter, women’s refuge, or the home of our neighbour who lost her job.

But there’s an even bigger problem, which is that many of us live right up to the outside edges of our income, with little room to be moved to generosity. We see a need but we are already so weighed down by our financial commitments to the god of consumerism that we have no room to manoeuvre. As a result, our hearts become increasingly 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

So many of us are in overload as far as our cost of living is concerned. We have many, many needs, and those needs cost money. We need that awesome car that will make heads turn. We need a house to suit our status. Our holidays become more exotic and expensive with every salary rise. Our credit cards are maxed out and we can only just manage 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—the deep, grinding poverty of the world around us—and we turn away and sigh, or cry or walk on by because we have no way of helping. We’ve stripped our vineyards bare.

I have friends who made a decision to cap their salaries. They have two good cars, a nice house and a comfortable lifestyle. They realised they had enough, and made the decision to give away everything over and above the amount they’d set for themselves to live on. This family has funded a house for orphan children with AIDs in Uganda, as well as numerous other projects on that same site. They’ve contributed to specific church needs and provided funding and equipment for ministries—and that’s only what I happen to know about from an insider position. They’ve learned the secret of leaving something for the gleaners, providing for the poor and the strangers in the land and contributing to the Kingdom work God is doing around them.

God doesn’t require us to be poor in order to please Him. He gets no glory or pleasure in His people being impoverished, but we are such extreme creatures that we legalistically veer erratically from one side of the Christian perspective on finances to the other. For many people, 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 above and beyond our immediate needs, but He doesn’t want us to use all that blessing up on ourselves and our own stuff.

Wherever we are on the financial scale, whether we earn a little or a lot, He asks us—like He asked Boaz—to stop wishing we could give more.  To actually make the decision not live to the very edges of what we earn. Leviticus instructs us to develop a philosophy of life that ensures we always have enough money uncommitted to allow us to contribute to the needs of others. And by that I don’t mean writing cheques to fund the painting of the televangelist’s plane or giving your last cent to the visiting preacher. It’s about seeing the needs met in and out of the church, and making the decision to follow Jesus’ example.

He’d been preaching all day in the wilderness and the disciples were urging Him to send the crowds away to get food.

But Jesus answered: ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.
Matthew 14:16

They were like deer caught in the headlights at the very thought of how they could possibly provide for these thousands of people. They knew it was beyond them to feed anyone, let alone everyone. And then He did a miracle with a kid’s packed lunch. Somewhere that night a mother rejoiced that she’d got up early that morning to make lunch for her boy—because the best miracles emerge from the most mundane things of everyday life.

When we live a lifestyle that makes provision for God’s needs (because that’s what giving is), He will make sure we have enough for our own needs too. It’s not an easy decision. It may take time to extricate yourself from the debt and financial commitments that have been strangling your ability to give, but I encourage you to think about it.

We so often ask God to provide for our needs, why not ask Him to give you enough for you to provide for someone else’s needs as well as your own? And then when you get it, don’t forget what you were going to do with it.

The margins are a tough place to live. Ask anyone who resides there.

{ To read the story of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz in the Old Testament book of Ruth, click here. }