“Truly worthy?”

Doug and I found ourselves sitting in our living room yesterday afternoon with some good friends from our church. They are a couple that has been on a journey of healing and restoration in both spiritual and very tangible physical ways. Since we have known them, there have been maybe a handful of times where they have not been in a place of desperate need. We have come alongside them in different ways to assist them and counsel them, to pray with them and feed them. Our hearts ache with longing for them to find a place of stability and provision, and we are practical in talking with them about the kinds of steps that could lead there.

There is a distinct temptation to grow tired of the chronically needy; to get “fed-up” with their inability to get their acts together; to tire of continually devoting your resources (or those of your church) to a situation that just never seems to really improve (or at least not by your definitions and judgments). I remember a while back when Doug was out of full-time work and we were in a fairly desperate situation there was a person in our church who said: I would be excited about suggesting that our church help you guys out for a little while, IF… and then they listed what we would have to do in their minds to “qualify” for the church’s generosity. So I speak on this from both sides: there are certainly times when I am the “fed-up” giver. But I have also sat on the other side, deep in desperation and need, unable to meet the expectations attached to someone’s gift.

In Bob Lupton’s book, Theirs is the Kingdom, he has an especially brutal chapter that addresses this titled: “The Truly Worthy Poor.” Let me just give an excerpt:

A truly worthy poor young woman: lives in public housing but only temporarily; has illegitimate children conceived prior to Christian conversion; is now celibate; tithes her welfare check and food stamps; is a high school dropout but manages well with limited resources; places a high value on education and nutrition for her children; walks everywhere (grocery store, church, school, welfare office) with her children to save bus fare and keeps her sparsely furnished home spotless; occasionally runs out of food by the end of the month but will not beg for “handouts.” Will not accept more than twenty-five dollars per month in help from friends even if her children are hungry because this violates welfare rules.

A truly worthy poor family: Is devout, close-knit. Has a responsible father working long hours at minimum wage wherever he can find work. Has a mother who makes the kids obey, washes clothes by hand, and will not buy any junk food. Lives in overcrowded housing; will not accept welfare or food stamps even when neither parent can find work. Always pays the bills on time; has no automobile. Has kids that do not whine or tell lies.

I want to serve truly worthy poor people. The problem is they are hard to find. Someone on our staff thought he remembered seeing one back in ’76 but can’t remember for sure. Someone else reminded me that maybe to be truly poor means to be prideless, impatient, manipulative, desperate, grasping at every straw, and clutching the immediate with little energy left for future plans. But truly worthy? Are any of us truly worthy?”


  1. I was coming home from college and was supposed to meet someone on a popular street in the city but they were an hour late. So, i was stranded with nothing to do, very tired and decided to get comfortable and take a nap. Everytime I opened my eyes people would look sad at me like I was homeless or poor. But the really interesting moment was when I say the guy who was begging for money sitting across from me, look at the change a women just gave him, and throw away the pennies over the walk way we were on and onto the cars below. My car has been hit by things passing this walk way and now I know why.

  2. A friend at the Brazilian church I attend in Newark told me yesterday about a woman who approached him begging last week. He said he wouldn’t give her money, but if she was hungry he’d buy her something to eat. She thought a moment, then replied, “A coffee with milk, no sugar.”

    Whatever happened to “beggar’s can’t be choosers?”

  3. I have approached the same homeless people for the past 8 months, and most of them won’t take the food I’m offering. They all get angry and ask for money. They “need” money they say. I rarely give it until I get to know them.

  4. I am working among the homeless poor myself, now, and wrestling with this issue. Perhaps it is not one that we get a clear answer to, for I see manipulators and deceivers and broken people who do seem to make little or no progress. The good thing I see is that this drives away people who want to help the poor to make themselves feel better, for it is hard to feel proud that we make so little progress in their lives. Jesus said we would always have the poor with us, but my struggle has been that I did not expect it to be the same people….I think we need to help with compassion, and be willing to give even liars and deceivers charity and many chances, even if they do not change. I guess my main dilemma right now is that there are hard working, non-addict people who end up in difficulty. I want to help everyone to some extent, but I do wish there was a way to identify people who bounced off the bottom vs. people who keep crawling back to it.

  5. Rob,
    I totally relate to what you are describing. And I guess what I loved so much about Lupton’s reminder is that if I were to have to categorize myself in terms of my ability to “be good’ or “do right”, I would be one of the bottom-crawlers who, no matter how hard I try, continues to fall into sin nd deception and self-love. I’m not sure that makes the issues any easier that we are talking about–how to best direct resources and help the chronically needy, but it certainly does something for my heart to remember God’s posture toward me. Thanks for sharing!

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