“For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.”
Matthew 26:11

There are some problems in our world that strike us as so monumental that we are tempted to give up before we even start. Poverty is certainly one of those challenges.

According to World Vision’s website, some 719 million people, about 9.2% of the world’s population, live on $2.15 a day. More than 24% of the world’s population, or roughly 1.9 billion people, live in fragile contexts, defined by dire circumstances and impoverished conditions. Within the United States, over 37 million people were living in poverty in 2021; children accounted for 11.1 million of those. Encountered on this scale, poverty is overwhelming and can easily cause us to say, “What can I do in the face of such enormous need?”

Perhaps this is why many Christians, upon reading Jesus’ words in Matthew 26:11, say, “See, even Jesus knows that you can’t overcome poverty.” This verse, found in the story of Jesus being anointed by a woman with a jar of costly ointment, seems to condone a lackadaisical attitude toward the poor. But when Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you,” he was referring to Deuteronomy 15:11, “There will always be poor people in the land.” The rest of that verse says, “Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.” Jesus was not advocating that we ignore the poor, but instead was expressing gratitude for the woman’s generous gift and reminding his followers of their ever-present duty toward the poor.

So how do we keep from being stricken with “compassion fatigue,” an ailment that impacts those who seek to be open handed but find their hands weary from continually giving? Here are a few of my favorite strategies:

  • Give strategically – pick an area of need and focus on it; for example, at the Conejo Church we have chosen to focus a number of our mission and local efforts to bless and care for children.
  • Give personally as well as financially – it’s fine to write a check for a worthy cause; but find ways to get personally involved as well, whether through Habitat for Humanity, a local Many Mansions project, Manna Food Bank, or tutoring with Conejo Academy.
  • Think globally, act locally – a wise teacher once told me, “Remember, the world already has a Messiah and he isn’t you!” Your job is not to save the world; but God does call you to be a difference-maker where you can.
  • Ask yourself, if everyone did what I did for the poor, would the world be a better or worse place? Remember this wisdom from the Talmud: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
Andy Wall
Author: Andy Wall