Let’s be honest, most of us spend a great deal of time focusing on how to improve our lot in life. We think about how we can increase our income, improve our health, and find satisfaction in our relationships. It’s rare that we meditate as much on how we can bless others. Yet, in the passage I read this morning God tells us that blessing others is one of the keys to being blessed.
At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. (Dt. 14:28-29)
I love how God highlights helping the “fatherless and the widows.” Besides traditional widows, in modern terms, we have many single moms and children who no longer have full time fathers in their lives. I believe the church has greatly failed to answer his call to these assist the “least of these” among us. This is a theme that runs throughout the bible; yet it certainly doesn’t seem to be much of a focus in many of our churches today. In my counseling ministry I have seen many single women and their children struggling with poverty. Women who chose to stay at home with their children have suddenly been forced back into the work force after a divorce. Many face constant court battles just to get a small fraction of their previous income in spousal and child support. It can take months to years to get these issues finalized, and I have seen many women give up because the system seems so unfair.
Rather than seeing churches reaching out to assist these modern widows and orphans, too often I have heard the women complain that they feel like second-class citizens because they were unable to save their marriages. Most of the women I have seen in these situations were stay-at-home moms, and did not want divorce. This is not to say the all the fault lies with husbands, but that when these situations occur the women and children are often more negatively impacted financially. In cases of abuse, abusers are masters at using finances to keep their wives at a disadvantage, and in cases of abuse we should be more concerned about the welfare of the individuals than saving a broken covenant. Too often our counsel seems reminiscent of the religious leaders in Jesus’ time who elevated rules over individuals. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen women counseled to return to abusive situations and to try to win their husbands with a quiet and gentle spirit. Unfortunately, such counsel leaves women and children in danger. Regardless of how it occurs, the bottom line is that there are children and mothers who are suffering, and the church needs to come along beside them rather than stand over them in judgment. Sadly, over the years, I have watched scores of women and children move from plenty to needy with very little help from God’s people. They are forced to seek government assistance, which is usually far from adequate. How it breaks my heart!
James 1:27 says that caring for widows and orphans is pure and undefiled religion. It is the sort of religion God accepts and desires. Perhaps we don’t get involved, because the task seems overwhelming. Yet, there are people out there in the trenches, and they tell me fundraising is extremely difficult. How difficult could it be to give a few dollars to ministries who are helping? It seems most Christians prefer to turn a blind eye to this type of need. According to this verse, refusing to see the need will not only hurt the women and children in need, but it will withhold blessings from the church as well. Until his people begin to obey his command to care for widows and orphans, I doubt we will see the revival so many of us say we want. Until we learn to care for those who are suffering and needy, we will not be the church he desires. God’s heart is for justice, and caring for the needs of others. When we rise up and answer that call, we will finally be acting like his people, and then we will bring blessings on ourselves.
“Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter– when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” (Is. 58:5-12)
Lord, help you church rise up to become repairers of broken walls and restorers. Sometimes the task seems overwhelming, but with you all things are possible. Open our eyes and show us how to minister most effectively. Lead us and we will follow. Lord, please wake up your slumbering church to the needs of the fatherless and widows in their midst. Amen