May 5, 2017 • Life for Leaders
A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.
Psalm 68 celebrates God’s care for Israel. It does so with a wide variety of images, many of which highlight God’s power and justice in stirring and even disturbing ways (68:2, 21-23). Yet Psalm 68 also pictures the tenderness of God in caring for his people. In verse 5, for example, God is the “father to the fatherless, a defender of widows.” In the Ancient Near East, children without fathers and women without husbands were vulnerable, lacking the protection and provision found in a household led by a man. Orphans and widows, if they managed to survive, might become beggars, slaves, or prostitutes.
But God, according to Psalm 68, cares for those who are socially helpless. He is a father to the fatherless orphans, a defender of widows who lack husbands.
How, specifically, does God’s care manifest itself? In part, it comes in the form of legal protection. Deuteronomy 24:17-22, for example, calls for justice for foreigners, orphans, and widows. This justice includes leaving behind in one’s field some of its produce, so that the vulnerable in society might help themselves to it.
This passage from Deuteronomy reminds us that God’s care for people in need comes, not only through divine intentions and divine laws, but also through the people who live according to God’s ways. His care for the vulnerable takes on human form in you and me. As it says in James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” We honor the Lord by reaching out in love to those he cares so much about.
This can happen through our personal efforts, to be sure, as well as through our churches. But it can also happen through our businesses. For years, I worked for the H.E. Butt Family Foundation. This foundation is the expression of a family that owns the largest grocery company in Texas (HEB). The family has done amazing things through their foundation in caring for the vulnerable in society. But the grocery company also gets involved in this work, providing tons of food for the hungry, investing in community improvement efforts, while providing good work and benefits for people who might otherwise struggle financially.
Now, hearing about how this large company makes such an important difference, we might excuse ourselves, saying, “Of course, if I had such a big business, then I could help the vulnerable also. But my company is small compared to HEB.” Yet, the beginnings of HEB’s charitable work came at a very different season in the family’s life. The first grocer in the Butt family was Florence Butt, mother of Howard E. Butt, who founded HEB. Florence found herself supporting her family when her husband was stricken with tuberculosis. So she started a tiny grocery store, the humble beginnings of HEB. Even with very little for her family, Mrs. Butt would often take unsold goods down to the homeless who lived in her town.
Years later, the company that began with her efforts donated more than 26 million pounds of food in one year to food assistance programs. But it all began with one woman’s strong Christian faith and her desire to join God in his work of caring for the vulnerable. Whether God has entrusted us with substantial means or not, whether our companies are big or small, we can do likewise as we share in God’s work in the world.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
How have you participated in God’s care for the vulnerable in your life?
How is your church living out God’s commitment to orphans, widows, and others in need?
What about your business? Does your business contribute in some way to helping the vulnerable?
Gracious God, how good you are to your people. Today I’m impressed again by your special care for those who are vulnerable, for orphans, widows, foreigners, and others. Thank you, dear Lord, for being the “father to the fatherless” and the “defender of widows.”
Your Word makes clear, Lord, that I am to share in your concern for the vulnerable. Through my life, you express your special care for them. So help me to be faithful in caring for those who don’t have power, privilege, or protection. May I share my belongings with those who need them. May I seek justice for those who often don’t receive it.
And if I am a leader in my workplace, help me to lead in ways that serve the vulnerable in our world. Give me wisdom and influence so that my company might live according to your justice.
Finally, Lord, help my church to practice what James calls “pure and genuine religion” in your sight. May we faithfully and sacrificially extend ourselves for the sake of the weak and needy in our community and world. To you be all the glory. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary: From a Lifestyle of Isolationism to Personal Engagement
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.