Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack, “he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Mk 10: 21
My wife of 36 years and I were spending a weekend at a medical educational meeting. One of our real pleasures on such excursions is to eat at fine restaurants and view the bay or the mountains as we enjoy really good food. I have neglected her a lot over my many years of practice and it feels good to provide for her extravagant experiences that we can share. At the same time, in the same real world, I realize that the dollars I spend for the wife I love might be life saving dollars in places like Haiti, where thousands have died and hundreds of thousands are homeless.
Jesus spoke about money far more than he spoke about many topics that we stress in our faith, such as sexual fidelity and personal evangelism. The Scriptures portray a special place in God’s heart for the poor and down trodden. As Christian doctors we walk through life with a continuous tension between using our money to bless those we love, and using it to help those in great need. My observation has been that Christian doctors seem to reside somewhere along a continuum. Some reject their responsibility to the poor and almost exclusively use their money for those they love. Others minimize the importance of caring for their families and almost exclusively use their money to care for those in greater need. Most of us reside somewhere along the continuum between the two.
How do we decide where we should live and give along that line? It’s not easy. I suspect that the more our hearts and money reach out to the underserved, the closer we are to God’s heart: not only because we help the poor He loves, but also because we are more likely to trust Him with other aspects of our lives when we don’t depend on our own financial capabilities to gain what we want in life. At the same time, I believe I honor God when I share wonderful dinners with my wife and spend time with my children on family vacations and provide them all with a comfortable home. I pray I am right in this. What guidelines can we use to walk through life with God, with money and without a constant anxiety caused by choosing between our families and the underserved? Let me list a few:
1. Accept as God-given my dual responsibility to care for my family and to care for the poor.
2. Since my natural drift will be toward my family, when I plan to spend on my family, I should consistently hold up the poor in my decision making.
3. Regularly ask God, “How can I give sacrificially to the underserved?”
4. Divide my family expenditures between “luxuries” and “necessities”. Consider a covenant with God to give to the poor an equal amount that I spend on luxuries, above the tithe.
5. Seek ways in my practice life to sacrificially care for the downtrodden.
6. Spend focused time every year caring for the poor, either domestically or internationally.
7. Ask God at regular intervals in my life if he would have me shift occupations and serve the underserved with a larger proportion of my time.
8. When God whispers, obey.
9. Within a life defined by these boundaries, enjoy caring for my family, even sometimes extravagantly.
Let me honor You with the money You have placed into my hands. Please bless my family far more than I could with my income. Let me give extravagantly to those in need. Amen