Epiphany and Poverty Alleviation
At the turn of the new year, many of us make plans. We might want to do more and do better, or we might want to do less and be more intentional in what we pursue.
In life and ministry, setting goals and resolving to move forward with renewed vigor can be a good thing, provided we remember that we can’t reinvent God’s story of change. Our enthusiasm needs to be channeled by God’s love and His design for us as human beings and tempered by the good limitations He’s given us.
Inevitably, just like our best laid plans to stick to a diet or exercise plan might be thwarted by unexpected events or stresses, our poverty alleviation aims can run into obstacles or headwinds that force us to modify or even abandon them.
Poverty is complex. People are not projects. The stories, practices, and systems of the world are subtle and entrenched. We have to adapt as we work, letting what we learn along the way inform our approaches to ministry.
Beyond that, we have an adversary who strives to thwart the work of God and His people. To do ministry well is to engage in spiritual warfare. When faced with that, we quickly realize that we cannot do this in our own strength—that, when it comes to ministry, “unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain” (Ps. 127:1).
What Is Epiphany?
In many Christian traditions, the New Year also marks the holiday of Epiphany—the “12th day of Christmas” that commemorates the revelation of Jesus Christ to the Magi. It’s called “epiphany” because it marks the manifestation of Jesus’ divinity, of God’s presence among humanity, as the Magi’s gifts and worship demonstrate.
What does epiphany have to do with poverty alleviation?
When we step into the work and privilege of walking alongside those in material poverty, we do so from a perspective of revelation—recognizing the dignity of every person as an image-bearer of God and looking for what God is already doing in someone’s life or in a community before stepping in with our own plans.
Epiphany also reminds us that our gifts (assets, skills, experiences, and callings) are rightly offered up as worship to the King of Kings. All the ministry efforts we undertake will fall flat if we seek to serve others for our own sake. We can truly love our neighbors as ourselves when we connect our love and service for others with our worship of the God who created us both and who sustains us all.
Lastly, epiphany reminds us to be, like the Magi, always looking for the revelation of God’s glory. As believers, we are looking forward to the day of Christ’s return, when He makes all things new. But we also should have our eyes peeled for the ways He is making things new here and now—in the changes we see in ministry participants, in the ways we see real development happening in the communities where we work, in the ways all our ministry stakeholders (financial supporters, staff, volunteers, and participants) demonstrate the character of Jesus in how we work together. Wherever God shows up, we should take note and give Him praise.
Happy New Year
As you launch on your 2024 ministry plans, we at the Chalmers Center are ready to serve you with tools and training to help you work in sustainable, effective ways. But we are also praying with you for the Lord to reveal His work and for us all to have the wisdom and strength to follow where He leads this year.