God Doesn’t Need Your Money

I can’t remember his name, or even exactly where we were, but we were waiting for a ride somewhere in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne when he said it. “God has His own economy.” I never saw that guy again after that day – we spent the entire day playing basketball against some inmates in one of the local prisons and the only thing I remember about him was what he said to me that morning. We were talking about how things were financially tight and I couldn’t see a way forward. There were expenses coming up and I didn’t know how we were going to meet them (I’m not sure how we got to that point in the conversation so quickly) and that’s when he said it. “God has His own economy.”

He went on to explain his understanding of God, how He is not restricted by the things that we are restricted by. He isn’t confined by a low pay packet, or by a pay cycle, or a shortfall. If God wants something to happen, He will find a way to finance it and he can work outside of our understanding and bring money from places we never knew about.

That one phrase from the unknown guy as we stood on the side of the road waiting, challenged the way that I thought about money and the way that I thought about God. Even though it can raise some curly questions, it doesn’t mean that it is not the truth.

I believe that God is all powerful, all knowing and all loving. That is something that I learned as a child and it is something that I have had to wrestle with time and time again as I have grown up and faced all sorts of different issues that come our way as adults. My understanding of what His power, wisdom and love look like have changed over the years, but I still believe those things about God.

It struck me a few years ago that there was an element of arrogance that motivated me to do certain things that I considered “works for God”. This ranged from being part of the local church to giving money to the church and other organisations. One part of the motivation came from a place of responding to God’s goodness and my “works” were an overflow of that. But the arrogant part of my motivation spoke in a soft voice in my head and said, “If you don’t do this for God then no one will and God won’t be able to fulfil His plan.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe that we are all called to something special and that God has prepared some great things for us to do (Ephesians 2:10), but I realised that if I didn’t do the great things that God was calling me to, then God’s plan for the world was not going to fall apart. He wasn’t sitting in heaven watching earth on a TV, like we would watch a football game, shouting at the players as they make mistakes, seeing the game slip away and being helpless to do anything about it, as any spectator is. (Your TV yelling isn’t helping, so stop doing that, for everyone’s sake…)

This type of attitude is the deepest sort of arrogance because it suggests that God is only doing good things in the world wherever I am, or, at a stretch, perhaps He is doing good things with some other people that I think are good. But outside of that parameter He can do nothing. This suggests that He is solely reliant upon us to achieve something and if we have a bad day, then so does He. But God is not a spectator or coach watching the world and making suggestions on what might be a good strategy. He is so involved with His creation that nothing happens without Him being at the centre of it. What that means for us is that God does not require us to do good things in this world. He could feed the poor, negotiate world peace and heal all the sick in a moment. I absolutely believe that (which leads to more of those difficult questions).

The beauty in all of that is that whilst he doesn’t need us to do any of these things, He invites us to be part of it. He wants to use us. To be honest I don’t fully understand why, except that being part of what God is already doing on this planet has become my life’s purpose.

I didn’t wake up 15 years ago and discover poverty, nor did I discover poverty alleviation or the beauty and simplicity of microfinance. This has been happening throughout history and there is a special place in the heart of God for the poor (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 19:21, Galatians 2:10 to name a few). We see throughout history that God has used His people, and quite often He uses people who, by their own admission, wouldn’t be considered “God followers”, to bring about justice in this world. That is actually a gift for us; to know that our involvement in any good work is not necessary but we get to be involved anyway. It is a humbling reality.

It’s not only humbling to be invited to participate in what God is doing, but it is also good for us. We receive the emotional benefits from giving back, and God knows that, so He wants to ensure that we have the opportunity to receive from our giving. His invitation to give and be involved is partly for our own benefit.

Mostly, though, it is about obedience. I have heard that you can tell a person’s priorities by how they spend their time. I have also heard that you can tell their priorities by how they spend their money. I think both are true and they are a real reflection of who we are and what we believe is important in life. God calls us to give to the poor, not because He needs us to, but He wants us to be part of what He is doing, to be obedient, and for us to receive the benefits of giving.

I feel that it can be dangerous for someone who works for a not-for-profit that relies upon donations to function to then say, ‘God doesn’t need your money.’ The fear is that there will be some who will take that as a reason not to give. But upon reflection, if someone responds like that, then they were looking for an excuse anyway and my writing is not for them. The aim of this post is to come to a place where we are open for God to show us what He would like us to give to. God doesn’t need your money…He chooses to use it and us at the same time.

Perhaps He is asking you now to invest your time, money or resources to help families living in poverty transform their lives?

Here are some questions that come up after thinking through the ramifications of God not needing our money…

  • If God has His own economy how can He stand by and watch people suffer and die because they don’t have enough?
  • What does that say about God?
  • What does that say about us?
  • Why was I born in a developed country and the majority of the world wasn’t?

Some of these I don’t have an answer for, some I am working through possible answers but I am keen to hear what you think…

4 Reasons Your Help Isn’t Helping

 

I recently heard a great question – Do you want to go help, or do you want the people to be helped?

That puts things into perspective – and it helps you discover the true motivations for a potential trip to a developing nation. If the trip is more about you than it is about the long term effects you will have, that’s okay. Be honest about that. But also be honest about the risk of damage to the people living in the poorer countries you wish to help.

Here are 4 reasons why the help you want to give to the poor in the developing world is causing more damage…

 

  1. It’s not sustainable…

The worst thing about owning a house is the amount of work required to maintain it, and, depending on how handy you are, it can mean organising the electrician, plumber and roof guy to come and fix things as they happen to deteriorate. This is expensive and time consuming – but the benefit is that if you look after your house, it will look after you and it will not only hold or increase its value over time, but you can live in it safely, without the fear of things falling down around your ears. The greatest threat to a home is poor craftsmanship and water. When it comes to ruining your home, the latter is significantly assisted by the former. So when thinking about travelling overseas to build a house or a school or any sort of building for another people group, the following questions need to be asked and answered…

  • Is it helping? (see 4th reason)
  • Will it last?
  • Who will maintain it?
  • Are they equipped to maintain it?
  • Is maintaining a building the best use of their time?
  • How many local jobs could be created if it was built by the local community?

 

Often what is created is a feel good experiment that doesn’t last. And when it falls into disrepair and needs to be rebuilt, people raise money, fly over and build it again.
Sustainability has become a bit of a catch phrase in development over the years, and for good reason. It is vital in any work that gets done. If we want to see long term change, it needs to be based on sustainability. If none of the locals are receiving training and education as part of the process (and I mean real training and education, from a qualified person, not someone who has watched a few videos on YouTube) then the alleviation of poverty has become solely reliant on those who travel from distant lands as they rescue the poor, powerless, helpless people. If they decide to stop coming, people stop receiving help. In the long run that leaves them worse off than they were before because now they are dependent upon others and have not been given the opportunity to come up with their own solutions.

 

  1. It creates a messiah complex

Everyone wants to be a superhero. Deep down, we like the idea that our life has a lasting impact on those around us and that if we can be the reason that some people are alive now and are living a better life than they were, then ‘my work here is done’. It does our ego good. We love feeling needed. I’ve said many times that we are shaped to do good things for other people, and it is a positive thing to be involved in good works; the Bible implores us as we read in James 1 verse 27,

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

But if we end up thinking that we are the only person in the world who cares, and that through our efforts we alone can fix poverty, then we have become the Messiah to poor people around the world – in our own minds.

And it kind of looks like this – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jx0ZjAXWwQ

Wealth does not automatically equate to wisdom. People don’t need to be rescued. They need to be given the chance to fulfil their potential. Just because we have the means to fund something or to visit a place, it doesn’t mean we should automatically do that.

 

  1. It is damaging to children

Children are the most vulnerable in any community and they are the ones that get hurt the most when we don’t think about what we’re doing. Even those who seek to help children might indeed be harming them and treating them as a commodity. For example, just taking photos of children we meet when we travel to poverty stricken areas can turn their struggle into a tourist attraction which, apart from being unethical and an invasion of privacy, can lead to kids staying away from school to try and earn a few dollars by “selling” their photo. Children are not a commodity. Take photos, but do it respectfully and ethically. Seek permission from a parent before you make them the focus of your photo shoot. The same should be said for randomly picking up and hugging kids too. Let’s face it, if you wouldn’t do it in Australia then you probably shouldn’t be doing it overseas.

It can also stunt the emotional development of children. It’s not healthy for children to have groups of people come for short periods of time and build ‘life-long’ friendships with them, only to have them disappear without a trace and never see them again.

Plus, when it comes to orphanage tourism, children are put at risk of being trafficked to “become” an orphan – in Cambodia the rate of orphans has doubled in recent years and 72% have at least one living parent. Friends International puts it simply, “Your donation to an orphanage doesn’t help orphans, it creates them.”

 

  1. It doesn’t provide what people actually need

Rudd-Gillard-Education-Revolution

I cast my mind back to the Education Revolution from the Rudd government in Australia from 2007-2010. For one part of the program, the Federal Government put aside billions of dollars for schools across the country as a way to equip them with facilities required to ensure quality education levels for all Australian children. There was a catch though; there were restrictions on what the money could be used for, there was a time limit in which the schools had to apply for the grants and then another time limit by when the building needed to be started. Long story short, thousands of schools throughout Australian got brand new undercover multipurpose sporting facilities, usually the size of a small basketball court, which were not well thought out or even essential. But a decision was made at a national level about what was necessary for education. No one bothered to ask the schools, lest the needs of a primary school in Mandurah, Western Australia would be different to that of a secondary school in the inner suburbs of Sydney, New South Wales.

In the same way, when we think about what people living in developing countries need, isn’t it possible that what will benefit them the most is a little different from what we think they need, based on our experience in Australia?  The real question is, what do those who are living in poverty actually need? When we find the answer to this, and find out what is best for them then we look to find a way to initiate lasting change that brings people out of poverty and allows them to reach their full potential. More often than not, the only people who can answer these questions are the very people we are looking to help. And depending on who you talk to within the community, you may get different and sometimes conflicting answers. That is why it is best to communicate to all members within a community – older, younger, families, male, female to get an insight into the needs that they all have. After consultation with the community, come up with a plan which may include elements of sustainable access to clean drinking water (including sanitation and hygiene), better food production, healthcare, education and increasing social capital within the community. Building a school will not achieve all of that. Digging a well won’t do it. Nor will whacking a coat of paint on an orphanage. It may be part of the larger plan but why does it take white faces to do those things?

We think that a nice house is most important but perhaps the greatest need is a hand up – a small loan, an opportunity, some training which will assist in the journey out of poverty. If something has to be earned, if people need to work for it then it will do so much more than a simple charitable gift (although a generous gift is a great start!)

So, with all that being said, it’s important to note that I advocate for broad, extensive and systematic change within governments and communities around the world, to assist in alleviating poverty. I also advocate for helping the person right in front of you, and I believe that these two positions are not mutually exclusive.