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The Most Neglected Spiritual Discipline

Bible reading, prayer, worship attendance, the Sacraments—these are widely affirmed by Christians as vital spiritual disciplines. Neglect of such practices impedes spiritual health and hinders growth in discipleship.

One discipline mandated in Scripture and faithfully practiced by John Wesley rarely appears in lists of required spiritual disciplines. It is, in my opinion, the most neglected act of devotion among contemporary United Methodists. In fact, few even consider it a necessary mark of spiritual wellbeing. Without it, however, the other disciplines lack power and authenticity.

The practice most disregarded by present-day United Methodists in America is visitation and friendship with the poor. Although the Bible clearly includes acts of mercy and justice toward the poor as indispensable components of faithfulness to God, many of us have little contact with the poor beyond almsgiving. Visiting with “the widow and orphan,” ministering with “the least of these,” and engaging with public policy decisions affecting the poor are largely left to agencies, hired employees, and elected representatives. Yet, we can no more delegate relationships with the poor to others than we can attain spiritual maturity by designating another to read the Bible or pray or attend worship for us.

John Wesley definitely considered ongoing relationships with the poor essential to Christian discipleship. He would no more neglect regular visits with the poor than he would abandon daily searching the Scriptures or persistent prayer. Historians document Wesley’s practice of eating with the poor, sleeping in their humble abodes, and providing holistic services to them. His friendships with the poor helped to shape the Wesleyan revival; and the poor were vital members and leaders of the classes, bands, and societies.

Relationships with the poor are essential to our spiritual growth because God has chosen to be especially present with, among, and through the poor and the most vulnerable. In Jesus Christ, God entered human history as a vulnerable baby born of a peasant maiden in a stable among the homeless. He spent the first two years of his life as an immigrant in Egypt. He welcomed the poor and outcasts into God’s kingdom, touched the untouchables, and fed the hungry. He died on a cross between two criminals and was buried in a borrowed tomb. God raised him from the dead as the firstborn of a new creation; and he declared that we can meet him in the poor, the imprisoned, the sick, and the grieving (Matthew 25:31-46).

Many volunteers in mission have discovered the transforming presence of the Risen Christ in their encounters with the poor and vulnerable. How often do volunteers serving among those in need find themselves exclaiming that they received much more than they gave? We should not be surprised! The poor and vulnerable are both recipients of God’s grace and means of God’s grace to others.

Want to meet God and grow in grace? Nurture friendship with “the least of these” and you will be blessed with an encounter with the Risen Christ!

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Comments

  1. Ron Kiser says:
    Thanks Bishop: the time is now to speak up for Jesus teaching and be active in it. We at Pecks UMC are reminded each week of the need for the sharing of food for the poor. It takes good caring leadership to get people to share their bounty. With Jesus help you can even share what you have in poverty. 300,000 HOMELESS Veterans is a disgrace to a Nation God United to be the New Jerusalem. I love my Country, therefor we need Leaders that will stand up for one and all.Thank You and may God Bless Ron
    Feb 1st, 2012
  2. Dave Kirkland says:
    We invite the poor to worship with us and provide them assistance. We started with 4 people. Two months later, we have 30 people visiting us on Sunday mornings.
    Feb 2nd, 2012
  3. John Gargis says:
    Bishop, I'm a recently certified licensed local Pastor in the Methodist Church at 53 years of age. I work at a "homeless shelter" here in Knoxville. I learn much here on our "holy ground". It is like walking in a living Bible. One thing that I learned here is there are no "categories of people". They are people just like you and I. They simply have different stories. I see that we use these categories to keep the reality of homelessness in a tight box that we can reference....discuss... ponder. Glad to find you and your blog. God bless, John
    Feb 7th, 2012
  4. Neelley Hicks says:
    I think this points out part of what’s wrong in America…we’re so segregated – rich from poor - that many don’t understand what it’s like to live in poverty. The complexities aren't revealed until we deal with the messiness of life - loving others through it.
    Jan 25th, 2012
  5. Commenter says:
    Thank you for your pastoral insights, Bishop Carder. Thank you for naming "visitation and friendship with the poor" as a necessary spiritual discipline.
    Jan 31st, 2012
  6. Joe Hamby says:
    Powerful words. Thanks, Bishop. I am blessed to belong to a United Methodist church where friendship with the poor is embraced.
    Jan 31st, 2012
  7. Lorenza Andrade Smith says:
    It has transformed my life
    Jan 31st, 2012
  8. Elaine Heath says:
    I couldn't agree more. The hardest line to cross in developing genuine friendships in US American culture is not gender, not race, not sexual orientation, but economic.
    Jan 31st, 2012
  9. Cynthia Hinson says:
    Thank you for this message! I sent the link to our church mailing list.
    Jan 31st, 2012
  10. Troy Benton says:
    Well said Bishop, well said!!!
    Jan 31st, 2012

Bishop Kenneth L. Carder

Bishop Kenneth L. Carder is a retired United Methodist bishop now living in South Carolina and a member of the S.C. task force on the Pan-Methodist Campaign for Children in Poverty. As the primary author of the foundation document of the Episcopal Initiative on Children and Poverty, the task force asked him to write a series of articles on the biblical and theological foundation for engagement in ministry with children and the poor.

About This Blog

Read and comment on a range of personal reflections and perspectives about poverty and Ministry with the Poor. Our goal is to attract diverse voices and points of view from United Methodists and friends, including people and communities living in conditions of poverty, other experts, religious leaders, community organizers, advocates, policy makers, volunteers, and all engaged in Ministry with the Poor.