Henri Nouwen: Voluntary Poverty

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For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9

“There are many programs to prepare people for service in its different forms. But seldom do we look at these programs as a training toward a voluntary poverty. Instead we want to become better equipped and more skillful. We want to acquire the “tools of the trade.”

But real training for service asks for a hard and often painful process of self-emptying. The main problem of service is to be a way without being “in the way.” And, if there are any tools, techniques, and skills to be learned they are primarily to plow the field, to cut the weeds, and clip the branches, that is, to take away the obstacles for real growth and development.

Training for service is not a training to become rich but to become voluntarily poor; not to fulfill ourselves but to empty ourselves; not to conquer God but to surrender to His saving power. All this is very hard to accept in our contemporary world, which tells us about the importance of power and influence.

But it is important that in this world there remain a few voices crying out that if there is anything to boast of, we should boast of our weakness. Our fulfillment is in offering emptiness, our usefulness in becoming useless, our power in becoming powerless.”

Henri Nouwen in Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life (New York: Image, 1986) 108.

This post really touched me as I prepare to teach and train Christian workers in Harare, Zimbabwe. I got word that the room capacity is filling up. People are eager for the “tools of the trade” and at GTP we plan to offer them “real training” as Nouwen put it.

But God only knows if the trip to Southern Africa will happen due to the recent COVID scare.

Regardless, I like to tell people that preparation for service is spiritual and strategic. Nouwen describes the spiritual side rightly in pointing people toward voluntary poverty. And don’t be intimidated by this expression. It refers to getting out of the way so God can work.

Only then can the strategic coaching equip God’s workers for good works.

This relates to generosity because if we want our service to be useful and powerful, we must aim at uselessness and powerlessness. Want practical coaching to aim at this? At GTP we say to practice the disciplines of fasting, confession, and prayer, whilst everyone around you focuses on pursuing their desires.

Voluntary poverty is the way of Jesus for being filled to enrich others.