Poverty is not always depressing

by Michael E. BrooksContentment

“Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls – yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:17-18 NKJV).

A friend in the U.S. is of Korean descent. We were talking about going to Nepal and he remained silent for a moment, then said, “You know, my family lives all over Korea, some of them in rural undeveloped areas. I don’t really enjoy visiting them, sitting on the floor, sleeping on a hard surface, and seeing how little they have. It is depressing to me.”

We talked about that for a few minutes, and I finally said, “I have found that many of the poorest people who have the least ‘stuff’ seem as content and happy as anyone. I don’t always know what it takes to make one happy, but I am certain it is not simply things.” He quickly agreed.

Habakkuk had learned the same lesson. Early in the book he complained to God about how evil and injustice was prevailing and prospering in Judah. The wicked people had more things than the righteous (1:1-4). That just did not seem right to the prophet.

God’s reply was that justice would be done, and the wicked would receive punishment. A mighty nation from the north would invade and take all their possessions (1:5-11). But that also seemed unjust to Habakkuk. Those Gentiles were even more wicked than the unfaithful of Israel. How could God allow the wicked to devour those more righteous than themselves (1:12-17)?

In all this argument the prophet seems to be defining righteousness and justice in terms of prosperity. It did not seem just for the unrighteous to oppress the righteous and to be more prosperous. How could God allow that kind of inequity?

Jesus gave the answer several hundred years after Habakkuk’s death. “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15). But Habakkuk had already learned that lesson. The Lord had taught him that his ways were not always plain to humans. We must be patient and trust him (2:2-20). The prophet’s response was humble, “O Lord, I have heard your speech and was afraid” (3:2).

The final chapter of the book is Habakkuk’s prayer of repentance and acceptance. He submitted to God’s will and patiently waited until God revealed all his purposes. The final verses stand as one of the greatest professions of faith in all Scripture. He simply confessed, “Whatever I have or lack, I will rejoice in the Lord.”

Just as our happiness cannot depend only upon our possessions, so too our faith in God must not be based only upon material blessings. How many have we known who questioned, doubted, or even denied God because of sickness or death? How many turn away in times of economic hardship, feeling that God has failed them?

The truth is that our material circumstance is never a reliable indication of our relationship with God. Paul stated, “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content” (Philippians 4:11).

Do we prefer abundance of possessions? Most of us clearly do. Must we have them for life to be successful and happy? Certainly not! Life is more than just things. “Now godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6).

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Michael Brooks

Since 1988 Mike and his wife Brenda have been involved in foreign missions in South America, Africa, and South Asia. Beginning in 1999 they devoted full time to missions, primarily in Bangladesh and Nepal.

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