Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. – James 1:27
I have no idea what to do about the second part of this verse, except to do your best and pray that God will give you the strength, wisdom and clarity needed for such a task.
But I have a few definite ideas about the first part, and they are as follows.
At the time the Holy Spirit inspired these words to be written in the First Century AD, widows (women whose husbands had died) and orphans (children whose parents had died) were very common. In most of the Western world today, it’s not so common for husbands and/or fathers to be dead.
However, what we DO have are monstrously large (and growing) numbers of women and children whose husbands and/or fathers aren’t around, for whatever reason. It’s worth mentioning that we also have a fair number of men whose wives have left them and been given custody of the children, sometimes quite unfairly.
These people are the “widows and orphans” of our day. Caring for them needs to be a priority for us, starting in our own congregations, but in our wider communities as well.
If you don’t want to do this simply because James 1:27 says we should, do it out of enlightened self-interest. The children in your community today will be the people who your children will live with, play with, work with and interact with tomorrow. They will define the environment your children live in, for better or for worse.
You’ve got to do everything you possibly can to shape that environment for the long term. It’s not enough for you to take care of your own household.
Let me tell you what I’m talking about.
About a year ago, a young single woman and her son moved into the apartment near us.
The son is only a few weeks younger than my oldest son, and they hit it off right away. They’ve been best pals ever since, and that’s created a lot of heartburn for me because this boy has a lot of emotional and psychological issues. He’s difficult to handle sometimes, easily getting angry and hard to calm down once he’s lost his temper. Even when he’s not being like that, he’s not much fun, in general.
But I might be the only positive male role model he has ever had. If I don’t help him, it’s probable that no one else will, so he’ll grow up and be a bad influence on my son, and be a problem for everyone else he comes into contact with.
There are many more little boys like him. If someone doesn’t teach them how to be a functional adult, they’ll grow up and be dysfunctional adults, and the world my son will live in someday will be even more dysfunctional than it is now because it’ll be full of dysfunctional people.
So, I hang out with him as much as I can. I coach Little League baseball for the same reason. I don’t tell you this to brag, but to give you ideas.
Brothers and sisters, I IMPLORE you, go to your own pastor and simply ask him who in your own congregation needs help, then you can start looking for “widows and orphans” further afield. An obvious place to start is if there’s a shelter in your city for women and/or children fleeing abusive situations. Ask the staff at your child’s school what opportunities there are to volunteer, to coach a sport or to give music lessons, or whatever. Go to the public library and ask if you can volunteer to read stories to the children. These are ways you can “fish” for people who need help.
You won’t have to look for them, if you show up and demonstrate your readiness to help, they’ll find you.
But you need to show up and get involved.
Please don’t say you “don’t have time” and/or you “can’t afford it.”
This is the Lord’s Work! You need to FIND the time because you can’t afford NOT to be doing it!
Last but not least, make praying for “widows and orphans” a priority. You can add this to the list of things you regularly pray for, and below I’ve listed a few excellent organizations that offer guidance and resources.
May God give us all the wisdom, strength, courage, moral clarity and obedience necessary to do this difficult but vitally important task which is so close to His heart!