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Light of the world in an era of food banks?

Yesterday’s newspaper said that 40% of UK households will experience fuel poverty by the end of 2022. This is probably the most obvious sign of rapid inflation, also seen in petrol and food prices, which is already forcing some people to choose between feeding their family and heating their home. Faced with this challenge, there are calls for the government to do more to help. Perhaps more could be done, but it seems unlikely there is any simple fix to a global problem made worse by the Ukraine war. The use of food banks is already increasing quickly and fuel banks are becoming a sad reality. It is probable that in the months ahead many people in Britain, and elsewhere in the developed world, will be facing cost-of-living challenges on a level not experienced for many years.

For people in affluent countries this is doubly disturbing. As well as the immediate financial problems we face a substantial breakdown of the comfortable society and lifestyle we have become used to, based on a relatively stable and prosperous economy, underpinned by government support for those in need. When the economy no longer prospers and the government is no longer able to provide a comprehensive safety net, serious difficulties may lie ahead. It is a time of deep anxiety, anger or even despair for many.

However, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28). Hardships can shape our character, making us more like Christ, to fulfil our calling in his purpose. (James 1:2-4, Hebrew 12:5-11, Romans 8:29). We can face the future with faith and hope.

Where we have come to depend on material comfort, external stability and government provision, there is fresh potential to grasp the reality of God’s kingdom and live in the righteousness, peace and joy that brings. I can see three areas in which the scriptures challenge our superficial security and point us to more fully grow up into Christ.

Generosity

We are repeatedly challenged to share our possessions to meet needs within the family of believers.

And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. (Acts 2:44-45)

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? (1 John 3:17)

Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise. (Luke 3:11)

I find these words very challenging. In a society where most of us have been able to make ends meet and the government is expected to pick up the tab for those who can’t, it has been all too easy to ignore these words. To begin to put them into practice will bring a deep challenge to our individualism and require fresh embracing of the body of Christ as our family. We may not yet understand what this will look like, but it is both necessary and a wonderful opportunity to grow up into Christ together.

Simplicity

Many of us are accustomed to a level of affluence that is unthinkable to many people across the world. As a result, our abundant possessions, leisure and holidays can seem a necessity. However, while poverty has no merit in itself, scripture often reminds us that wealth and possessions are not our true riches:

Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of one’s possessions. (Luke 12:15)

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. (1 Timothy 6:6-8)

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

Again, I find these words very challenging, but perhaps the generous sharing of our possessions will free us from consumerism, help us to find more joy in our relationships and enable us to grasp the reality of the purpose and hope we have in Christ.

Faith

Jesus has promised that his followers will not lack what they need to sustain their daily lives.

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?… But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:25, 33)

This foundational promise in verse 33 strengthens us to make life choices that put his kingdom first and encourage us to be generous to others. However, when our lives appear secure with a stable environment, adequate income and government safety-net, we so easily slip back into putting our trust in these things rather than the Lord. Then, when our security is threatened, anxiety rears its head.

When we had a young family, Lesley and I had only one income and often found ourselves close to the edge financially. But we also often experienced God’s provision, sometimes in remarkable ways. We found the promise of Matthew 6:33 to be true.

In more recent years our regular income has exceeded our needs and we have reserves that cushion us against setbacks. But in these years we have not had the joy of seeing God provide for us beyond our means. Maybe we need to move out of our comfort zones?

In the times ahead many of us will find ourselves having to trust God for provision in new ways. As we do so, we will again have to face the challenge and opportunity of what it means to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”, putting his call on our lives above everything else.  It seems likely that this will require new levels of generosity and sharing as we “lay up our treasure in heaven”. It will not be easy or comfortable, though the reward will be wonderful.

In some ways, the times ahead seem dark.  But the church is the light of the world. Can we move out of our comfort zones to be the beacon of hope that is so much needed? Can we be so full of generosity and faith that there is no needy person among us, with God’s provision overflowing to the needs of the wider society? Perhaps there are new adventures ahead for us all, that will show God’s goodness to a lost world!

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