Poverty is complex. How we address poverty is tricky. To wildly over-simplify things, we can think of poverty in two categories:
- generational poverty—poverty that you see around much of the majority world; poverty that you are born into and never seem to get out of, and
- situational poverty—poverty that comes from an outside event, like a natural disaster or a health crisis.
The causes of each are different and so, naturally, the solutions are different. For now we will just look at the first—generational poverty.
Imagine a poor rural village in the majority world. What do you think are the best ways to help them? For years I would have said give resources and train them in the basic life skills that they are missing. Today I would argue that one of the most important things that we can do to address poverty is pray. Why? Well there are a few reasons.
First, we believe the root of poverty is beliefs. Both the beliefs of those who are poor and the beliefs of the rest of us. The poor are often caught in a web of lies that tell them that they have no value, they can’t change the future, they just need to accept their lot in life. Their hope, if there is any, is an outside organization or their government turning up and helping them. Even for Christians, their belief is often that God’s concern is only about ‘spiritual’ things—things like attending church or evangelism. There is little understanding that God cares about health, the environment or the way they parent. You can go to a village that is majority Christian and find their health practices are worse than the areas with fewer Christians. They believe that following the health practices taught by government or development workers is irrelevant because they are Christians so they need to focus on the higher, more important things. Beliefs like this lead to sickness and poverty.
However, it’s not just the beliefs of the poor that leave them in poverty, it’s the beliefs of those around them. Some believe the poor are ‘stupid’ or ‘unimportant’ because they have not attended high school. Some exploit the poor because they don’t see them as equally valuable to themselves. Some justify all sorts of corruption because of their belief that they should only look out for themselves. Even amongst those who serve the poorest, wrong beliefs can end up doing harm. For example, when we see poverty as a lack of material things, we tend to provide those things, and end up reinforcing the lie that they cannot change things themselves. We fail to affirm the gifts and talents God has given them or His power to transform. Other times we get overwhelmed by the needs of the vulnerable or blame them for their situation, using words like ‘lazy’ or ‘ignorant’.
If we want to address poverty, there needs to be a change in beliefs. For that we need prayer—it takes a miracle. It takes God turning up. The good news is, we can all play a part! You can be part of the solution to poverty by doing something like committing the first five minutes of your commute to work to praying for truth to reign around the world. Join our prayer team here.
There is another reason, one I barely understand, why I think prayer is so important. In every case that I have seen where a community truly moved out of poverty (and I’ve seen hundreds!), there are always stories of God, stories of miracles.
A few weeks ago I was in Myanmar. The local program leader there shared that, early in TCT training, churches drew maps of what they dreamed their village could be like in the future—it’s a way to help them realize that the future could be different. They then worked toward achieving the things on their maps, always praying that God would help them. The program leader shared that the churches had seen God turn up and provide everything from a school to an airport! (These people have big dreams.) In one area where the government was especially hostile to the people, they were praying for a cell tower so they could have mobile phone coverage. Now the government has built towers nearby—a miraculous answer to prayer!
Without fail we have seen God’s faithfulness to His promise, “If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). Sometimes He causes the ground to grow more bountiful crops and sometimes He uses a hostile government. But every time, as God’s people seek to obey Him and pray, they see the most remarkable answers. We can join them in praying that God will supply all their needs.
If we want to address poverty, we need a movement of prayer from all corners of the globe. As we challenge the poorest to be praying, we want to encourage you to join them in prayer. We are all part of the same body—it’s a simple way for us to stand together with those around the world.
** Each month we provide a prayer guide for the month on a different topic. This month it is poverty. You can download the guide on our prayer page or sign up to receive by email the monthly prayer update.