july 18

When is the Work Finished?


Have you ever started a project that seemed to never end? You start out with such excitement and satisfaction, ready to give it all you have. With a dream in mind you are motivated and driven to do it. But then reality sets in. This is going to be a long tedious process. Maybe you see little progress and soon you become disillusioned, fatigued or just plain unmotivated. Sometimes you just keep going because you have a no quit spirit and other times you just finally give up and move on. I know I have been there.

As a person that likes to dream about big things but sometimes gets twisted up and turned around in the details I am guilty of starting things that never get finished well.

What about in a relationship? Have you ever reached out to someone with the hope of helping to steer them towards Jesus but then after several months or visits ended tired and frustrated?

It’s actually quite common. Especially when we work with the poor. Whether individually or corporately as a church, many of us are guilty of reaching out and not finishing the job well.

The question I am asking today is this:

When is the work finished?

How do we know that what we started out to do is actually completed?

In Chapter 6 of “Generous Justice” Tim Keller talks about a verse that struck me as significant to this idea.

Psalms 41:1 says, “Blessed is the man who considers the poor.”

Keller goes on to say that the Hebrew word translated as “considers” means to give sustained attention to a subject and then to act wisely and successfully with regard to it. If written another way one could paraphrase the verse to read:

Blessed is the man who gives sustained attention to the poor and acts wisely and successfully with regard to them.

There are three elements to this verse that initially spoke to me – sustained attention, acting wisely and acting successfully. I want to take a few minutes to look at each of the three.

In our partnerships with the poor how can we live out Psalms 41:1 and finish the job well?

Sustained Attention

What does it mean to give sustained attention to the poor? I think I know what it doesn’t mean.

  • Meet one time, pray for them and never see them again.
  • Smile, give them a piece of bread and consider the work done.
  • Hear their plight, give them advice and tell them to call again in a few weeks if things don’t turn out better.

Now it doesn’t mean that there aren’t appropriate times to do just those things, but when talking about sustained attention I think it means more than just that. The word sustained speaks to longevity and consistency.

I think a key element of partnering with the poor involves relationship. It involves getting to know them beyond charity and into sacrifice. Being willing to make a commitment that has no foreseeable end. Isn’t that what a relationship is? I usually don’t start a friendship with a person having the anticipation or expectation that it will end after a month, or 2 visits, or whenever I get tired of them. That’s not how sustained relationships work. The same can be said for our relationships with the poor.

When you start to reach out and get to know the poor are you willing to make this a sustained relationship? One that involves intentionality, sacrifice and unknowns? In order for your partnership with the poor to be successful and end well you have to be willing to build sustained long-term relationships.

Act Wisely

Blessed is the man who gives sustained attention to the poor and acts wisely and successfully with regard to them.

What does it mean to act wisely in regards to the poor? Many things could be said, but two specific thoughts come to mind.

1) Knowing the true needs of the poor and not guessing.

It is easy for us to guess what the poor need but sometimes their needs are far different than what we expect. In order to fully understand their needs churches and Christians should do much more persistent listening. Taking the time to ask the right questions, talk to the right people, and simply listen to their thoughts. It’s easy to assume we know best what they need. However, the better approach is to let them tell you.

2) Take a wholistic approach

God has created humans as whole beings. The poor may seem deprived in one certain area (physical for example) but don’t assume that by meeting their physical needs you will help them overcome their situation. Doing justice and evangelizing to the poor are inseparable. As Mr. Keller reiterates in this chapter: 1) The gospel produces a concern for the poor and 2) that the deeds of doing justice bring credibility for preaching the gospel. (pg 140) These two elements work in congruence to each other. Acting wisely means understanding that each of us needs God’s grace in every area of our lives.

As we seek to help and love the poor let’s take the time to hear their needs and recognize their struggles in every area of life. Let’s respect them by acting wisely.

Act Successfully

Blessed is the man who gives sustained attention to the poor and acts wisely and successfully with regard to them.

To act successfully harkens back to the question I raised to begin. When do we know the work is finished?

To begin I’ll say I don’t think the work is ever fully finished. We all are a continued work in progress needing God’s grace each day. And often if you engage in a deep relationship with a person, in this case a person in poverty, most likely it’s a friendship that will last a lifetime. However, I think we can simply say our work is not finished until the situation is changed. Until a person is on a healthy path physically, spiritually, socially and mentally our work is not finished. If by God’s grace our work with a person in poverty results in wholistic healthiness than I think we can praise God for his goodness and call our partnership in their lives a success.

Recognizing that transformation is through God and God alone is key to any successful work with the poor. Jesus came to reconcile us back to himself and outside of a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit that reconciliation can’t be achieved through human means. But God calls us to participate in this process by being agents of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:15-18) Seeking to love others and speak justice, purpose and hope into the lives of others.

Acting successfully means not giving up before the job is done. Not becoming distracted by other things and continually allowing God the time and space to change hearts and lives.

As Christians let’s finish well. Seeking to love the poor is more than a short-term project waiting for a quick fix. It takes sustained attention, wise choices and sticking with the task until it is completed.

Image courtesy of macattck / Flickr.com

About John

John Warden, our Director of Mission Initiatives, provides oversight and training for the TCT - Local program. John has had the opportunity to work with Christians around the world in elements of worldview, poverty, outreach and wholistic ministry. Join us in this initiative to reach and love the world around us for God’s glory.

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