The Bible talks a lot about how God blesses those who follow the path of righteousness. In passages like Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17, we’re told that the one who trusts in God will be blessed. But when I look at the world, it seems that, more often than not, the good guy loses. Meanwhile, the deceptive seem to win. I'm going to ask a risky question: Why trust God when the wicked prosper? And how do I seek God’s blessing in a world that feels unjust?
It is this precise issue that Jeremiah the prophet addresses in the book of Jeremiah 17:5–13. Writing in the late seventh century and early sixth century BC, to the southern kingdom of Israel (called Judah), Jeremiah teaches us three things about how to seek God’s blessing.
Echoing Psalm 1, Jeremiah provides a principle of how things should work.
This is what the LORD says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the LORD. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:5–8 NIV).
Those who trust in people (flesh) over God will find themselves withering away in a desert. But the one who trusts in God will be like a tree with deep roots. That one's roots go all the way to the stream, so that no matter what may come his or her way, there is a stream of water to draw upon. In drought, the one who trusts in Yahweh will endure.
Jeremiah explains that God knows the hearts of those who trust in the ways of culture.
“I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.
“Like a partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay are those who gain riches by unjust means. When their lives are half gone, their riches will desert them, and in the end they will prove to be fools” (Jeremiah 17:9–11 NIV).
God sees the injustices. While many may be deceived, God knows. Trusting in God also means trusting in his knowledge of the injustices.
Furthermore, riches will desert us in the end. While our culture may prioritize material gain—at nearly any cost—God does not. And justice will come to those who exploit others in their journey to so-called success.
Jeremiah tells us that those who trust in Yahweh are putting their trust in the true "place of sanctuary ... the hope of Israel ... the spring of living water” (Jeremiah 17:12–13).
Blessings are intended for those who trust in God. Those who seek the path of deception or exploitation should experience the bareness of their decisions. But we’re still left with a problem: Why, then, does the world not work that way? Yet that could be the wrong question. Jesus would suggest that what’s needed to understand God’s blessings—and how to seek them—is a different perspective.
Blessing can come in material gain, positions of authority, and relationships, but blessing is first and foremost the deep well of relationship with God. This is at least what Jesus believed. Jesus says,
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh" (Luke 6:20–23 NIV).
Jesus' view of the blessed life should confront us. It demands that we reevaluate what blessing means. The poor are blessed because they will receive the kingdom of God. The hungry may be hungry now, but they will be filled by God. Those who weep and mourn will laugh in the end.
God’s blessing is about realizing here and now that while the world may favor the deceptive and greedy that God will make all things right in the end (see Revelation 21). This means changing our view of what it means to be blessed. It means learning to be a blessing.
Jesus and Jeremiah both call us to trust in God to provide the blessing. Pick any of Jesus' sermons and you find echoes of this. Jesus’ life also demonstrates this. Jesus did not look to the praise of people, wealth, or power for blessing. Jesus looks to God the Father. Jesus proved, in how he lived, that God's blessing—even when all hope seems lost—comes to those who seek righteousness. There is nothing that shows this more than the hope of resurrection on the other side of death on a cross.
This is why Jesus lovingly looks at the Rich Young Ruler and says, “One thing you lack. ... Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me" (Mark 10:21). The Rich Ruler, like the people Jeremiah addressed, had placed trust in the wrong place.
To seek God’s blessing, we must place trust in God—in belief that he will make all things right—and we must act as if we really believe what we say. That means self-sacrificially answering the call of justice for the poor, the hungry, and those who weep. It means having resurrection hope with a willingness to give of any and every resource that God has provided to better our world. We are blessed to bless.
Are you too trusting in your wealth and security? I ask you now to change that. What do you need to give up and trust God with. Consider it practically: is it wealth, a relationship, even an occupation? What are you prioritizing over God?
My challenge to you is to place your trust in Yahweh and watch him bless what he calls you to do. In this life, or in the day that he makes all things new (Revelation 21), we will see it. Blessed is the one who trusts in God.
In a slum in Bihar, India, I felt a ball of anger well up inside of me. As I stared into the faces of people living in extreme poverty, one word came to mind, "injustice." Someone, somewhere had let these people down. I was angry at the societal corruption that had caused this injustice and I was angry at the world for ignoring these people. But most of all, I was angry at myself. I realized that, in many regards, I was that "someone, somewhere."
“This part of the village needs clean water,” the woman in her early 40s remarked. The look on her face, as she expressed her people’s needs, will never leave my mind. It was anger combined with pain—she was grateful that some people in her slum now had access to water, but infuriated by the fact that everyone had abandoned her outside of a local nonprofit. (Jesus' Economy would later partner with that same nonprofit to renew communities in Bihar, India.)
This woman understood that her community needed mercy, but she also understood that she was a victim of injustice. I was angry with her.
But where did the injustice the woman felt begin? The scary answer: The injustice she felt is something we all have inflicted upon her—each of us who has ignored the tragedy of poverty in some way or another. Each of us who had chosen consumerism or our comfortable lives over addressing poverty had contributed to this injustice. We could have done something.
But what about all the Christians in the world who claim to believe in doing good for other people? One of the reasons why injustices in our world continue is because we, as western world Christians, are not dealing with our own spiritual poverty—and that’s what is holding us back from tackling physical poverty. We've instead given in to the ideals of our culture (such as consumerism), while much of the rest of the world struggles.
The biblical prophets held in tension both mercy and justice. When they looked at the world, they saw that both must be present for God’s love to be fully known. They realized that God is both full of justice and mercy.
The prophet Isaiah once said:
“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him” (Isaiah 30:18 ESV).
God is gracious and desires to show mercy. God moves forward in the world to offer such grace. (May we wait on him!)
But God is also a God of justice. God is not just moving forward with grace but intends to course correct our world. God is against the injustices that plague our world, such as people not having clean water.
In this instance of poverty, we must recognize that:
To correct the injustices of the world, like extreme poverty, we must look to our own lives, as well as the problems within societies. At their core, personal selfishness and societal corruption are spiritual problems. It is these dual evils that keep people poor: those with much choose selfishness and those with power give into corruption. Thus, without coming to terms with God, a sustainable solution cannot be obtained. Elsewhere, the prophet Isaiah says:
“Wash! Make yourselves clean! Remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes! Cease to do evil! Learn to do good! Seek justice! Rescue the oppressed! Defend the orphan! Plead for the widow!
‘Come now, and let us argue,’ says Yahweh. ‘Even though your sins are like scarlet, they will be white like snow; even though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool’” (Isaiah 1:16–18 LEB).
God is ready to argue with our selfish hearts. He is ready to show us the error of our ways. Consider what Isaiah says:
This means doing things like rescuing the oppressed, defending the orphan, and pleading for the widow. But the source of this good is God, who makes us clean by the salvation that Jesus freely offers.
These lines from Isaiah are like the old adage, “You can’t help someone else, if you can’t first help yourself,” but with a twist: “You can’t help someone else, if you don’t first let God help you.”
Learning to do good, to seek justice, and to offer mercy starts with us being changed by God.
We know what the prophets would do. We know how they would react and act. They would correct the injustices of the world by offering mercy—may we do the same.
Want to go deeper into this subject? Check out my new book, Jesus' Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, the Currency of Love, and a Pattern for Lasting Change. With simple, everyday choices you can make the world a better place. Learn how to live Jesus' economy, the currency of love.
*This article is based on my earlier article, "A Just and Merciful God: Loving the Impoverished Like God Does."
As we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today, I am reminded of his statement:
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Here's its original context, its origins, and what Dr. King would say to us today.
At the core of this statement, you can hear the prophetic voice. Let us remember that Dr. King also had another title—Reverend. He was a preacher.
In King's time, as in ours, many people looked at the injustices and simply ignored them or demeaned them. But for a person living in a country that treats them unjustly, these issues are not something that can be ignored. It’s only convenient to ignore injustices until those same injustices inconvenience you. King regularly pointed this out and mobilized people for action.
Dr. King said the famous, "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" in his work from Birmingham Jail, where he was imprisoned for advocating for equal rights of African Americans.
The context should remind us that this phrase cannot be a platitude; it must be lived. It means so much because of who said it and from the context in which it was said.
And it is injustice that we see today—all over our planet. The racial and economic inequality King was fighting against still exists today. So let us not just remember, but act. We have made progress but we must keep moving forward.
Near the end of his life, King was working to bring equality by creating jobs. And yet, so much of the world still lacks jobs, because we haven’t completed the task. This is injustice.
We look around the world and we also see those who are oppressed—who lack spiritual and religious freedom, who lack knowledge of Jesus. This too is an injustice.
We look around our own country today and we still see racism. And this isn't only within our nation (against one another), but it also has to do with the worldview many people hold. Many people view those from other places as outsiders (or less than Americans). There is racism and xenophobia on the global stage. This is injustice.
We must stand up, lift up, and rise up—to fight these injustices, boldly proclaiming that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
The prophets resonate with Dr. King’s words, with lines like:
“Wash! Make yourselves clean! Remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes! Cease to do evil! Learn to do good! Seek justice! Rescue the oppressed! Defend the orphan! Plead for the widow!” (Isaiah 1:16 LEB).
“Thus says Yahweh, ‘Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been seized from the hand of the oppressor. And you must not oppress or treat violently the immigrant, the orphan, and the widow. And you must not shed innocent blood in this place’” (Jeremiah 22:3 LEB).
“Remove from me the noise of your songs, and I do not want to hear the melody of your harps! But let justice roll on like the water, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:23–24 LEB).
The Bible’s cry is justice, mercy, and love. There is no other way that aligns with God’s desire.
Much of our world's problems come out of fear. We fear acting against injustice, because of the possible ramifications. We fear those we do not understand. And fear causes us to do terrible things and to not take action when we should. We must fight fear.
Fear cannot dominate our worldview. If any of us are to call ourselves Christians, we must believe in justice for all. We must love without bounds. We must lead out of mercy. This is the Christian cry. Jesus once said:
“ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37–40 LEB).
Love means placing others before ourselves—to love God is to love others. The book of James puts it this way:
“If anyone thinks he is religious, although he does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:26–27 LEB).
Love is only truly practiced by those who can manage their own words—we must all work at this. Love also requires us to prioritize the needs of the widow, the orphan, the refugee, and the outsider. We must believe that is what is good for the entire world is also good for us, because it is.
But love does not mean simply loving those who are hurting—although that is certainly a major part of it. Jesus also once remarked:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘Hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven, because he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:43–44 LEB).
There is no us and them; we’re all simply humanity. God does not look on the world and smile upon one country over another. He loves the entire world equally. And we must do the same.
Love those you don’t understand. Love those on the other side of the aisle. Love those who protest. Love those who protest against you. Love in a way that forces you to self-examine. Love in a way that moves you out isolation and insulation. Love in a way that demands justice. Love with mercy. Simply put, truly love.
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Our Bible study should inform our practices. Yet when it comes to our purchases, it rarely does. But there is a solution—and it’s biblical.
The term “Fair Trade” describes an economic exchange in which laborers receive a fair living wage. And fair trade is based on Christian values.
Here in the U.S., we believe in equitable exchanges. It’s why we have a minimum wage. It’s why we request raises commensurate with our achievements. But are we really living these principles in all aspects of life? The hard truth is that we aren’t.
Fair trade matters for the sake of our world. And it matters for Christianity—here are four reasons why all Christians should support fair trade.
The majority of what we purchase in the U.S. is based on unjust economic exchanges. The exploitation of labor in developing nations reduces the costs we pay here in the U.S. And as such, a large portion of clothing manufactures, and producers of other items, aim to pay people the smallest amount possible. This is a practice that we as Christians should oppose—not just with our words, but also with our wallets.
While it is not possible yet to buy everything you need from a fair trade manufacturer, there are many fair trade options. One day, God willing, we will be able to buy everything we need at fair trade wages and fair trade will be the norm.
Fair trade represents justice and equality. And justice and equality are key tenants of Christianity. On this point, the prophets especially come to mind. Over and over again the prophets call us to live the principles of justice, mercy, and humility (e.g., Micah 6:6–8). Near the beginning of the book of Isaiah, the prophet Isaiah records God saying:
“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:16–17 ESV).
We should plead the widow’s cause by buying products that empower women. We should learn to do good by understanding the implications of our purchases. We should live the principles of justice. If we desire justice, then we should make justice a priority when it comes to our purchases. If we believe in equality, then we should back that with our entire lifestyles.
Work is central to who we are. It was a major part of the lives of the apostles and something they advocated for (e.g., Acts 18:3; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:10). But work is not an option for some—they lack the opportunity. And where work is available, it is not a fair exchange. We can change that through creating fair trade jobs.
If done right, fair trade is one way to change lives through business. Fair trade products are purchased at a price that allows for people to overcome poverty. Fair trade creates safe, sustainable, and profitable jobs. It also provides high quality products for people around the world to use and enjoy.
If Jesus was to create an economy, it would be based on love and self-sacrifice. But fair trade isn’t even asking for self-sacrifice; it’s asking that we simply respect people—that we show them the dignity of being paid what their work is worth.
Fair trade represents life transformation for impoverished artisans. It represents a chance for their dreams to become real. It means their families having sustainable incomes and real money coming into their economies.
Jesus envisioned a world where we truly loved our neighbors (Mark 12:31). Fair trade is a way for us to show his love. It’s a way to live what we believe.
For further information on fair trade, see the Jesus’ Economy Fair Trade Standards. Also, check out the Jesus’ Economy online Fair Trade Shop, where you can purchase beautiful products made by developing world artisans.
The artisan featured above, Benson, is a living example of why fair trade matters: Read Benson's fair trade story and learn how you can get 10% off plus free shipping on the leather bags and totes he manufactures.