Do you know what causes poverty?
Most people approach the question of poverty from a physical perspective and assume that lack is the cause of poverty. This view says that poverty is most often attributed to a lack of material things, a lack of education, a lack of opportunity, a lack of resources and space (i.e “overpopulation”), experiencing natural disasters, being born in the wrong family/city/nation, or just plain bad luck. Most times folks look to alleviate these issues by throwing money at the problems assuming that fixing them will ultimately eliminate poverty.
It is true that all of those things can be, and often are very devastating. Even so, it is still possible to prosper even when circumstances are horribly bad.
Treating Symptoms Instead of Causes
When we address the outward lack we are really treating the symptoms of poverty instead of addressing the actual causes. Treating symptoms is a good thing and we absolutely should continue to do it.
However poverty is never truly eliminated by treating symptoms alone. Until the core issues are addressed all we are doing is covering up the problem rather than fixing it. While it is certainly better than doing nothing, treating the symptoms only works as long as the treatment is available.
As soon as the resources stop flowing the situation will revert right back to where it was.
Let’s Fix the Root Problem
The single biggest factor that keeps any of us in poverty is the way we think. This is true of believers as well as unbelievers. I know I personally have a ton of room to grow in this area where my thinking is concerned.
Poverty and prosperity are not determined by the amount of stuff someone has at any given moment. Rather it is a function of a person’s mindset.
This is why some people can thrive regardless of their circumstances. And it is also why a sudden massive change in the size of a person’s bank account neither impoverishes them nor makes them prosperous.
If all it took to remove poverty was an infusion of resources then 70% of people who win the lottery or receive some other big cash windfall wouldn’t end up bankrupt within a few years. But they do.
If more resources was the solution to poverty then there wouldn’t be entertainment celebrities, sports figures, and the like who earn millions but find themselves bankrupt and broke shortly after their income stops. But many of them do.
Likewise, if a lack of resources was the core problem then no entrepreneur would ever recover from their business going bankrupt. But many entrepreneurs go bankrupt multiple times before they eventually succeed in business.
Contrast In Nations
Let me illustrate this with something I noticed when traveling overseas. Several years ago I went on a couple of mission trips to Brazil. The Brazilian people are amazing. The believers we met have a passion for God second to none.
At the same time it was impossible not to see the endemic poverty throughout much of the country, especially in the interior. But it seems like Brazil should be far more prosperous than it is when you think about it.
Both the United States and Brazil were settled by Europeans at roughly the same time. Both nations cover massive diverse geographic areas with a wealth of natural resources. They both became independent nations within about 50 years of one another. Both nations have very large and diverse populations. And both have had to work through challenging issues such as slavery and coping with the indigenous population.
Yet, despite all the similarities the United States is far more prosperous than Brazil. Even though Brazil is very respectably one of the top 10 economies in the world, the United States economy is somewhere between 7 and 10 times larger, depending on which source we’re referencing.
I saw this first hand when I was there and asked a Brazilian pastor why he thought that was. His answer always stuck with me. This is what he said. “Chris, the Europeans came to North America looking for God. They came to Brazil looking for gold.”
The Core Cause of Poverty
Poverty isn’t caused by our circumstances or the resources we have available. Those things can can be the effects of our individual or even collective poverty. Also those circumstances can at times be the result of outside forces beyond our control such as natural or man made disasters, war, famine, and the like.
Yet those things should normally be temporary setbacks at most. We can look to Europe as an example. That continent was devastated on a massive scale during World War II. In spite of that, Europe bounced back relatively quickly and continues to be one of the most prosperous regions of the world.
The core cause of poverty really is impoverished thinking. Our thoughts determine our actions which in turn create outcomes.
The Apostle Paul told us that we should not conform to the world, but rather get in alignment with Heaven’s patters by renewing our minds, changing the way we think (Romans 12:2).
It makes sense, really, when you think about it. Heaven is an incredibly wealthy place. In fact, citizens of Heaven are so rich the very streets they walk on are paved with gold! That, along with a great many passages in scripture show us poverty is not God’s desire for his people.
Renewing our minds to the things of God and how the Kingdom of Heaven works is how we remove poverty thought patterns that hold us back and keep us in bondage.
That said, here are seven poverty pitfalls we can see in the book of Proverbs that prevent us from experiencing the prosperity we are meant to inherit as children of the Living God.
I went by the field of the lazy man,
And by the vineyard of the man devoid of understanding;
And there it was, all overgrown with thorns;
Its surface was covered with nettles;
Its stone wall was broken down. — Proverbs 24:30-31
Some Christians seem to treat work like it’s part of the curse from the Garden of Eden. However Adam was made to work. Genesis 2:15 says that God put Adam in the Garden to tend and keep it. That was before the fall in Chapter 3. Then Deuteronomy 28:8 tells us that God commands a blessing on everything to which we set our hands.
Yet when we are lazy and not working at anything then God has nothing he can bless on our behalf to prosper us. As the passage from Proverbs quoted above says, when we are lazy it gives the enemy access to tear down what we have over time and ultimately destroy what we do have.
The contrast is someone who is diligent in their work, even when no one is watching. That diligent person is someone the Lord can bless and promote because he has set his hand to something.
Sleeping Too Much
Do not love sleep, lest you come to poverty;
Open your eyes, and you will be satisfied with bread. — Proverbs 20:13
This related to laziness. It’s true each of us needs a certain amount of sleep to stay healthy. However, someone who chronically oversleeps will ever truly be prosperous. We should appropriately prioritize sleep. Too little sleep is unhealthy. Too much sleep leads to poverty.
There is one who scatters, yet increases more;
And there is one who withholds more than is right,
But it leads to poverty.
The generous soul will be made rich,
And he who waters will also be watered himself. — Proverbs 11:24-25
The Bible has a tremendous amount to say about generosity and giving. In fact, where the world’s economy runs on the system of buying and selling, the economy for Kingdom of God runs on giving and receiving. A miserly person who rarely, if ever, gives anything away locks themselves out from being able to receive by their own stinginess.
It’s tied into the law of planting and harvesting. A generous person who “plants” money by generously giving to others will “harvest” money back in God’s economy by receiving from others too. Stingy people never see this happen in their own lives and are impoverished as a result.
Poverty and shame will come to him who disdains correction,
But he who regards a rebuke will be honored. — Proverbs 13:18
Teachable people are humble and accept correction where it’s needed. In contrast folks who are too proud or stubborn to accept correction from others typically make unnecessary, and often expensive mistakes.
God sends people across their paths to help them. But because they refuse the instruction and are unwilling to learn from the wisdom of others they end up doing stupid things that eat away at their money and hold them down in poverty.
For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty,
And drowsiness will clothe a man with rags. — Proverbs 23:21
Here’s one I can speak to first hand. Before I became a believer I was a drunk. I wasted a ton of money throughout my drunk years in bars and doing all sorts of stupid things to feed my habit. That’s not to mention all those mornings I was hungover and nowhere near as productive as I could have been.
Praise God he delivered me from that more than 20 years ago now!
Any habit or addiction that gets a hold of us to a point where it controls us will eat away at our wealth. Feed those fleshly desires also blocks the flow of God’s blessing in our lives.
Following Worthless People or Pursuits
He who tills his land will have plenty of bread,
But he who follows frivolity will have poverty enough! — Proverbs 28:19
Godly wealth is built by consistent effort over a period of time. Far too many believers get swept up in emotionalism about this or that person or scheme that promises to make them rich quickly without involving much of any work. Often we see people who just kick back because they are sure their ship is going to come in next week, or next month.
Unfortunately for these folks next month usually turns into next year or maybe a decade later. Meanwhile, not only have they not gained what they thought was coming their way, they wasted the time that they could have been using to build true wealth. And typically they also end up losing most everything they had before they bought into the worthless person or pursuit.
The New Living Translation says it this way: “a person who chases fantasies ends up in poverty.”
Greed and Covetousness
A faithful man will abound with blessings,
But he who hastens to be rich will not go unpunished…
A man with an evil eye hastens after riches,
And does not consider that poverty will come upon him. — Proverbs 28:20,22
That phrase “evil eye” refers to someone who is greedy, covetous, grasping, envious, filled with avarice. Someone like that is impatient and selfish. They are looking to get rich quick for selfish reasons. They don’t care who they hurt or what character compromises they have to make. Getting more money is the only priority for these folks.
The irony is, the very thing they desire will be kept from them because of the way they go about things. That way leads only to poverty in the end.
Good News – We Can Change!
There is good news in all this. If reading through these things hit a nerve and the Holy Spirit nudged your conscious saying, “that’s you!” because you’ve been caught up in one or more of these pitfalls then I want to give you some hope. You can change!
Because the way we think is the single biggest factor when it comes to our poverty or prosperity, that means we have the ability to make positive changes in our own personal prosperity. We can chose to begin to think a different way than we have in the past.
I’m not going to lie to you and claim that changing the way we think is easy. It takes consistent effort over a period of time to change our thinking. We need to steep ourselves in God’s Word and study the Bible.
That way we root out the old thought patterns that have caused us to get where we are. We in turn replace those old worldly ways that keep us trapped in poverty with the godly thoughts we glean from scripture which are in line with how the Kingdom of God operates.
No matter how long or how deep we may have fallen into one or more of these poverty pitfalls, we have the ability to change our direction today and start climbing out. Commit to changing the way you think today. Learn what the Bible says.
Do that and you will find yourself in a very different place in just a few short years.