Poverty, or Peaches and Cream?

Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11 (NIV)

The Year of the Lord’s Favor

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a] 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.

4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.

8 “For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them. 9 Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”

10 I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.

What is joy? Does it mean feeling pleasure or happiness from all the great things going on in our lives? If that is our definition, then we are going to be sadly disappointed (read as depressed) when things aren’t working out the way we hoped and planned. There is certainly nothing wrong with feeling good about a good situation in our life or blessings that come our way, but is this the “joy of the Lord” in our life?

Face it. Life isn’t always going to be peaches and cream. We live in a blessed nation with some of the richest poor people in the world. I try to look at things from the perspective of real poverty. I don’t know that I’ve ever really seen it. One time, I had the opportunity to chaperone my kids on a house building trip to Tijuana. The people in the Tijuana community we went to were very poor by our standards. We were replacing their scrapped together shack with a decently constructed, though small, wood framed home on a concrete foundation. And they weren’t poor really by world standards as they had to pay a significant amount on their own to buy the building lot, but this is my closest personal reference.

So, can the very poor experience true “joy”. Realistically, these people in the outer reaches of Tijuana are probably never going to have the lifestyle most of us, even the poor, in America have. In the scripture above, I read that God proclaims good news to the poor, freedom for the captives, releases prisoners from darkness, and comfort for those who mourn (vs. 1-2).

David wrote this Psalm during a time when he was far from home and safety. I think it must have helped him to put his thoughts about God into words. I thank God for this inspiration as now we get to read David’s words. As I read them, I was inspired because I know God gave the words to David to give comfort to generations, to me in 2020. God doesn’t want our true joy to come from our worldly possessions or circumstances. David wrote that he delights in the Lord, that his soul rejoices in God, and that God clothed him in garments of salvation (vs. 10). David was not in an easy, peaceful place as he cried out to the Lord, yet he declared his trust in the Lord. I think his expressions towards God show he was at peace in his spirit because he knew who was ultimately in control of his life and circumstances. I think his expressions were a declaration of “joy.”

We’re almost at Christmas. A celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. This celebration is a joyful time. I really like sharing gifts and spending time with my family (though opening gifts by Zoom will be a bit different this year). But I really want my joy at Christmas to come from the truths of who Jesus is to me, from the assurances of who He is in my life. Who He is when I’m doing great. Who He is when I’m struggling. Who He is when I’m not sure what will come tomorrow. I know Jesus came to provide a way for my salvation. But on a more day-to-day basis, I know He came to provide a way for me even though I’m so often weak and struggling. And that gives me great joy.

by Chet Gilmore

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