Most of us have experienced feeling overwhelmed or anxious about money at some point in our lives. Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that one in five people in the UK are living in poverty. In real terms, that’s a staggering 13.4 million people who are being consumed by poverty’s devastating impact. It’s therefore no surprise that a national poll from Christians Against Poverty (CAP) found that the majority of adults (88%) think more needs to be done to tackle poverty in their area. But with so many in our society struggling with severe financial challenges at this time, how can we support those being overpowered by poverty without losing our own peace of mind?

Today is International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. As a nation, we have a severe problem on our hands. As individuals and churches who care deeply about people, who want to see those created in God’s image living with dignity and worth, we must take action and fight poverty in all its forms. If we are to respond to the Bible’s mandate to tackle poverty and serve those who are experiencing the burden of debt, we must first acknowledge that we are being faced with a considerable mission. Confronted with a statistic like one in five’, many of us will ask ourselves, what can I do?’

What is the solution to an issue so utterly vast, diverse and complex?

Jesus is commonly quoted as having said love your neighbour”, but what about loving the masses? Instead of us feeling propelled and activated, sometimes opening our eyes to the enormity of demand can leave us feeling overwhelmed, helpless and even despondent. That’s understandable. Problem-solving that relies solely upon our human rationale and imagination will always have limitations. But if God is calling us to respond with Him, then how will He provide us with the help, agency and power we need to problem solve and create change?


Perhaps we can use a gospel story to pick up some tips in navigating our way through this how’. One overwhelming challenge Jesus responded to was to feed an enormous crowd of over 5,000 people (Matthew 14:13 – 21). This incredible scene offers some thought-provoking insights over when and how we, as followers of Jesus, can show compassion and take action to fulfil a tremendous – seemingly impossible – need.

The story poses a question: do we have the ability to have compassion for a crowd? Having compassion for a single person seems more realistic. You can give your full attention to one person, work through potential solutions and take immediate action. Even if it takes a bit of time and effort, we are more motivated when we can see an answer within our reach.

Having compassion on a large scale is challenging

Some key statistics from a recent CAP report:

  • 56% of clients had to borrow money to pay for food, clothing or other living costs.
  • 61% of clients couldn’t afford basic toiletries like soap, toothpaste or sanitary items.
  • 66% of clients had fallen behind with one or more household bills.

Looking at these stats, it would be easy for us to feel defeated by the enormity of the need, and resign ourselves from the obligation to help. The disciples certainly adopted this approach. When these 12 handpicked experts in worship and truth were presented with the challenge of responding to the crowd’s needs, their immediate response was to empower’ the crowd to feed themselves; that is, to end the service and send them home.

Food Bank child

This seemed the most appropriate solution. Absolutely logical. The disciples did not imagine they were able to play a part in solving this particular problem with what they had. Their human limitations prevented them from believing they could respond to Jesus’ actual request – for them to feed the crowd.

Using a scale of 1 – 10, where would your response sit in comparison to the disciples?

If we compare our immediate reaction to God’s call to address the spread of poverty in the UK, most of us would be likely to identify with the disciples. Minimising our obligation seems a natural reaction when we believe that managing the solution is wholly down to us.

"Using a scale of 1 – 10, where would your response sit in comparison to the disciples?"

But now is a good place to pause in this gospel story. Here is where Jesus did something: He invited His disciples to collaborate. He asked them to think beyond their own abilities, beyond what they could control, and find a new way to solve the problem; to show compassion; to meet the crowd’s needs. But He did not leave them alone to work it all out themselves. He asked them to collaborate, with the intention of bringing His abilities alongside theirs, and to work with them.

Although the disciples didn’t realise it until the miracle was done, Jesus was asking them to choose a faith-filled way to practically meet the crowd’s need. In responding to Jesus and His instruction, they were unknowingly collaborating in creating a miraculous experience. The disciples brought the natural resources they had, Jesus brought His natural’ divine influence; together these combined to form something that met the crowd’s needs – to the point of excess, in fact (according to the story, the disciples mopped up 12 baskets of bread crumbs).

How can I collaborate with God today?

This is a great time to ask ourselves: are we willing to share Jesus’ compassion for the crowd and respond to His call to serve, even though we may not be able to see how it can be done? Are we willing to face the reality of poverty in our communities and creatively collaborate with God’s leading, even though we may not see where the road ahead leads? This is something I and others will be addressing this Autumn as hundreds of churches seek to explore UK poverty and inspire their congregations to be part of the response, using free resources from Christians Against Poverty.

How can my church get involved and explore tackling UK poverty?

CAP has designed a range of resources that are accessible for any church to use, creating a space for your congregation to collectively reflect upon the impact of poverty in your local area. Through a short film, biblical talk and prayer time, your church can discover how you can actively play a part in tackling this issue.

Collaborating with Jesus means we are freed from being overwhelmed, from going it alone, from relying on ourselves. Instead, collaborating with Jesus means we do what is in our capabilities and expect to witness something miraculous.