Faith,  Long Reads

Seek First To Serve: You’ll Always Have The Poor

Reading Time: 7 minutes

“For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me.” Matt 26:11 NASB.

While He was visiting Simon the leper, an unnamed woman came and poured out an expensive perfume on His head.

Jesus declared that this woman would forever be part of His story, as she had prepared his body for burial. Her anointing was prophetic, pointing to his identity as Messiah, Christ the Anointed One.

Interestingly, this is the only time Jesus is anointed in the book of Matthew. The disciples were outraged – Judas in particular.

“For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.” Matt 26:9 NASB.

I’ve always been fascinated by that, because it seems like an odd thing for Jesus to declare as an absolute: We’ll always have poor people.

First of all, He could have been a lot more positive and optimistic in addressing the challenge of poverty and inequality.

He doesn’t say, “Work really hard and you can eliminate all poverty.” He says instead, “The poor you’ll have with you always.” 

I take that to mean that in this world, there will always be some kind of hierarchy. There’ll always be some people who have more and some people with less. “To whom much is given much is required”, and Jesus told parables where people were given various quantities of talents.

That’s where the economics of Jubilee and all of that can come into play, but I think it’s also a call to deal with injustice.

Jesus Cares About the Poor

Jesus didn’t trivialize the needs of the poor. The previous chapter, Matt 26, makes it abundantly clear that this is one of the things on which we will be judged. Jesus wants us to clothe and to set free and to feed the world. He wants us to address issues of inequality, poverty and lack.

“Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ Matt 26:37-39 NASB

Therefore, service to the poor is very important to Jesus. I’ve come to understand His response as a matter of priority, not a matter of neglecting the needy. Our priority is to seek God, spend time with Him, hear Him and pour ourselves out as an offering before God.

So, the lesson here is not to be purely driven by good deeds and forget the One whom we are serving. Instead, we must be driven by faith and seek God first.

 

Not Saved by Good Works

Goodness is a latent desire of the human heart. When God made the world He blessed everything, declaring it “good.” (Genesis 1:31) Webster’s 1913 defines good as

GOOD: Possessing desirable qualities; promoting success, welfare, or happiness; Possessing moral excellence or virtue.

Goodness is inherently desirable. Thus, it is all the more necessary to shy away from saving ourselves by our good deeds. Doing good works can earn us a pat on the back, and recognition, and significance.

It’s easy to get caught up chasing being known as a “good” person, instead of chasing the One who is the source of all goodness.

Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, James 1:17 not from our own “goodness”.

There are few better ways to gain brownie points than to serve those most needing our good deeds… We can end us using the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked to meet our own selfish desires for significance.

 

Good or God?

Unfortunately, as Christian women we’re often been indoctrinated that our role is to constantly pursue good deeds.

We should always be “good“. That means saying yes to everything, and doing more and more good works, rack up the points.

We want to avoid criticism and being told, “What do you mean, you can’t help? What kind of Christian are you?” We’re often exhausted, doing our best to keep earning enough righteousness and godliness.

I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. 1 Timothy 2:9-10 NIV

But they should be recognized instead by their beautiful deeds of kindness, suitable as one who worships God. 1Tim 2:10 TPT

While doing good is biblical, what actually comes first is seeking God.

Therefore, our priority is to hear Him and then determine whether this is the right time to worship extravagantly… Or whether it’s the right to serve the poor, the lost, the imprisoned and the hungry.

Like Martha, we can wear ourselves out with busy work, distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. Unable to discern the right timing to put all the obligations away and spend time with Jesus, whom she would not always have with her.

“but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:42 NASB

“Could it be the problem he saw Martha struggling with was about being distracted with the burdens of expectations that kept her from developing a closer relationship with him?” says Charis Psallo in her blog post.

 

A Time For Everything

Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. Isaiah 55:6 NASB

Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Luke 13:24 NASB

There is a time for everything, and there will come a time where it is too late to call upon God.

Now, in this moment we have a window of opportunity where we can love and serve and call upon God.

We can follow the example of Jesus, who, even though he was God – would often go off by Himself to pray.

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
Luke 5:16 NIV

If you’re so busy that you are not spending time with God, then you might want to reexamine your priorities. Some things will always be there…your job, your bills, etc aren’t going away.

I don’t remember who said this phrase, but I loved it… “We will never get the same opportunity to serve God as we have on this side of eternity.” Choosing to Love

In this lifetime, we get to choose to serve Him. We get to sacrifice and pour out our love. If you’ve ever been in a relationship, you know how touching it is when your partner could choose to busy doing something else, and yet they set that time aside, and intentionally choose to spend time with you. We get to do that in our relationship with God on this side of eternity.

So, at the end of time, after the reign of death has been abolished and God creates a new heaven and a new earth, we will be perfected because Heaven is perfection. At that time, we will worship out of our perfected nature.

Waste Time on God

Many years ago I had the opportunity to attend a conference where Heidi Baker from Iris Ministries was speaking. A classic session with Heidi involved her speaking for 30 mins, prior to which she prostrated on the ground, leading the room in prayer and worship.

It was… different, and there was a mixed bag of responses from the conference delegates after that. It can be confronting when you’re there to “hear the word of God” and all Heidi does on stage is bow down, and cry out to God …for 90 straight minutes.

She prayed, asking God to use her and to open the hearts of everyone in the room to make time and to make way for God to move in their lives; to lay their lives down in worship and surrender.

When she finally spoke, her heart’s desire was this: That Jesus followers would learn to “waste time on God”.

That pierced me right to the heart.

I was guilty of feeling like spending too much time with God wasn’t “productive time”. At the height of running a thriving business, my mantra was “Go”.

Over the years as the business grew, my work hours had grown longer.  I had slowly transitioned from spending 2 hours a day on bible reading and journaling to 10 minutes on a good day.

I enjoyed my work, but it came at the high cost of sacrificing time with God in the pursuit of maximizing productivity.

Waste time on God

Contrasting my productivity with hers, however, I wondered what my life would look like if I did “waste more time on God”. Although her calling is different from mine, she was fruitful as she worked as a missionary to the unreached. Was I?

Fruitful In Our Spheres of Influence

Above all, what would our lives look like, in our spheres on influence, if we wasted time on God?

What if we became fruitful Christians – as mothers and school teachers, biologists and housewives, customer support reps and financial advisors, entrepreneurs and engineers, doctors and students, and everything else in between?

Would we be kinder? More patient? Would we be bold enough to pray for people who are hurting? Would we see more miracles and healing take place? Would we be sought out as people who speak wisdom and truth in love?

Wasting time on God demands a very practical outworking, because faith without works is dead. James 2:17

The Old Testament says something similar about having the poor always with us in the land:

“For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.'”
Deuteronomy 15:11 (NASB)

Isaiah 58:4-12 (NASB) shows us God’s heart. In His own words, He describes what it means to fast and to seek Him – and a lot of it is to do with taking care of those less fortunate.

It’s not just about seeking Him in visible ways, being seen to be doing good deeds. It’s not just about looking good and presentable on the surface, presenting for all intents and purposes a polished Christian demeanor while sweeping all the dirt under the carpet.

Seeking & Serving Go Hand In Hand

Ultimately, prioritizing time with God doesn’t preclude taking care of material needs.

As we manage our time and priorities, let’s make it a point to seek God first, without neglecting to serve.

Let’s not get caught up defining our identity by the good deeds we do.

Faith must be accompanied by works. At the same time, the works themselves must be done in faith. And faith comes by hearing the Word of God.

Spending time with God must be a priority if our service to the poor and needy is to have any eternal significance.

“For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me.”
Mark 14:7 (NASB)

 

 

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB and from the Amplified Bible. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

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