Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes, with the princes of his people. He settles the childless woman in her home as a happy mother of children. (Psalm 113:5-9)
The Privilege of Poverty?
Five years ago this week, my wife Heidi and I had the great privilege of visiting the town of Assisi, Italy as part of our truly remarkable 30th anniversary trip to that beautiful country. Of all of the towns we visited that fall, Assisi stands apart as the most reverent, relaxing and inspiring. The town’s motto, “Pax et Bonum” (Latin for “peace and goodness”), was evident everywhere we went. This legacy is due in large part to Assisi’s most famous saint, Francis, the founder of the Franciscan Order and namesake of the Catholic Church’s current pontiff.
But the town claims another equally impressive saint, St. Clare of San Damiano. Clare was a follower of Francis, and she embraced wholeheartedly the call to simple living and radical discipleship. It was at Clare’s request that women were given access to the Order, and it was at her insistence in September, 1228 that Pope Gregory IX issued an papal edict known as The Privilege of Poverty that gave women the right to refuse financial support from their families and renounce material possessions, “so as to devote themselves entirely to Christ.”
There has been a great deal of talk in our culture lately about privilege—the privilege of birth, the privilege of wealth, the privilege of race or gender, all of them important conversations—but I don’t recall the last time I heard anyone discussing the privilege of poverty!
In Psalm 113, the psalmist begins, predictably, by declaring the depth and breadth of God’s glory. The Lord is to be praised always, “now and forevermore” (vs. 2); everywhere, “from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets” (vs. 3); and by everyone, “all the nations” (vs. 4). The writer then asks a rhetorical question, “Who is like the Lord our God?” (vs. 5) In other words, why is this God deserving of that kind of unending, ubiquitous, unanimous praise? The answer is surprising:
“He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes, with the princes of his people. He settles the childless woman in her home as a happy mother of children.” (Psalm 113:7-9)
Our God is praiseworthy, not because of what he has done for the best and brightest, but because of what he does for the lowest and the least! In our times of deepest need, sorrow, fear, or loneliness…God is there. The biggest obstacle to receiving the kind of peace and goodness Jesus offers isn’t our poverty or hardship, it’s more often our affluence and comfort. Perhaps that’s why the Apostle James could write, “When it seems as though you are facing nothing but difficulties, see it as an invaluable opportunity to experience the greatest joy that you can!” (James 1:2, TPT) Our difficulties are an “invaluable opportunity,” perhaps even a “privilege.”
When Jesus walked this earth, he was continually bringing hope to the most hopeless, and offering help to the most helpless. If that’s where you are at today, consider it an opportunity to lean into faith and lean on God. But Jesus also offered that kind of opportunity to the people who seemed to have it made. On one occasion, a rich and successful young man asked Jesus how he could inherit eternal life. He felt like something was missing in his life. “One thing you lack,” Jesus told him. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21-22)
So, if your life feels like a train wreck right now, the best thing you can do is turn to Jesus. He is the one who raises the poor and needy from the ashes…the one who offers us life and invites us into his family. And if you are wondering why your life seems empty right now, even though it looks like you’ve got it made–turn to Jesus. Maybe it’s time to shift your priorities, to use that blessing to bless others, to follow Jesus in faith. There is no greater privilege. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life…he is the Living Water for your soul…stay thirsty for him!
Song for Today: “What the Lord Has Done in Me” (Robin Mark)