My sermon on Sunday got me thinking about my possessions. Jesus told an inquirer, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21).
We can easily dismiss Jesus’ instructions, and explain why giving all to the poor is not a serious idea for us today. But Jesus may seriously ask you or me to cash it all in, give it all away, and then follow.
This is dangerous thinking. I have never been homeless, so I am not speaking from personal experience. I can’t even recommend this course of action. This is dangerous stuff. But I have been doing some brainstorming about following Jesus’ instructions. How would that really work today? I also wonder how Christians would rock the world, if just a few of us did this. It’s not likely, and we all know why.
Nevertheless, here are my ideas about following Jesus into poverty.
1. Make sure this is God’s will. This is such a radical move that I would be certain that God was leading me to do this. We can also remember that self-induced poverty can be reversed. I suppose that Jesus could want me to live this way, but only for a season.
2. Enlist the support of family and friends. Of course I would have to bring other people along with me on this experience, and I would never attempt it without my wife’s support. Many times she has helped me avoid stupidity, and I would listen very carefully to her ideas about a personal experience in poverty. I also recall that Jesus warns his followers that allegiance to Jesus will strain relationships.
3. Enlist a friend to pray with you. An intentional dive into real poverty would be spiritual warfare. My family and I will need God’s protection emotionally, physically, socially, and spiritually. I will need to stay in touch with a prayer partner, whether by visiting or borrowing a phone to call him.
4. Arrange to pay off debts. I need to fulfill my legitimate obligations when I liquidate.
5. Consider where to live. Children must be kept warm and clothed, and so my living arrangements must be suitable for my whole family. I might find a friend with whom we could live, or maybe several friends in whose homes we could stay for a few days or weeks at a time. I could earn my keep by working projects around the house and yard. Failing that, I could get permission to camp on someone’s land. In that case, I would need camping gear, and some means to haul it when I moved—maybe a large cart or wagon. If we opted for urban living, we could stay in homeless shelters during cold weather, and stay under bridges in warmer times.
6. Inventory your possessions. If I were to sell everything, what would be included? Not only would I need to consider my hard assets, but also my bank accounts and investments. I would need to return borrowed items and find suitable homes for the heirloom furniture in my house.
7. Plan the sale of your possessions. I will need to balance speed of sale with selling at top dollar. I will consider the best way to sell various items. Some items may fetch the best price on Ebay, while other items I could sell to friends. Do I need to work for top dollar on my possessions, if I’m giving the money to the poor anyway? The fastest way to sell would be absolute auction, if speed is my primary consideration. The sooner I can follow Jesus, the better, right?
8. Have mail forwarded to a friend. Even without a home address, I may need to receive some correspondence. I should have no bills coming for me, however. This friend will need to know how to reach me, and bring me my mail. My prayer partner would be the perfect person.
9. Make arrangements at work. Chances are that Jesus will call me to leave work when I begin to follow him so radically. I’ll let the boss know, so that my leaving won’t come as a surprise. Maybe I will train my replacement.
10. Cancel all subscription services. This includes cell phones, internet access, utilities, insurance.
11. Find a way to get food. We will get hungry soon after we sell and give away everything. I’ll need to know where soup kitchens are. I may have a list of friends who will give me food or share meals with us.
12. Find arrangements for bathing. Homeless shelters often have shower facilities. Bathing in public restrooms is not optimal, so we will want to bathe where we sleep, unless we are under bridges or in a tent. It may be possible to bathe in streams in some areas. We won’t want to do that in cold weather unless absolutely necessary.
|Near Kingston, Jamaica|
13. Determine how to distribute money to the poor. The fastest and easiest way would be to give a lump sum to one or more charities that aid the poor. Through research and prayer I could find the appropriate places for my donation. I think it would mean more to me, however, if I gave directly to the poor. I could see them face to face and have some connection with them. I will need a way to find these people, and I may need some sort of selection process to weed out the non-poor. Cash would be the best way to share. Would I give the same amount to everyone, or would I give more to some than others, depending on the Spirit’s leadership and my sympathy for their situation? Giving out money sounds easy, but the logistics would be considerable. I would not want fights to break out. And how do I want these gifts to change lives? I would rather help people get on their feet than enable addicts to feed their addictions. I wonder if Jesus would give to an addict…maybe he would.
14. Follow Jesus. After giving away my last dollar, I would be standing in the street, totally dependent on God, despite my diligent preparations. Jesus may call me to serve in the country, in the city or on another continent. But I would be ready to go anywhere and do anything. I might even care more about the least of these.