I’m having an ongoing debate with a friend of mine, who really wants to see my financial situation improve. I’ve given the topic a lot of thought, so as I often do when I don’t understand something, I turn to the Writings to see what they have to say.
Money tests seem to be part of our lot in life, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá seems to minimize the seriousness of them, reminding us that we continue to receive other gifts from God’s treasury, and encouraging us to “get on with” our work of teaching.
According to what I have heard, thou hast experienced a great financial loss. Do not feel sorry, for thou wilt be compensated. I hope that whatever thou hast lost will come back to thee. But this material loss is not a very grave one; it is for a time and shall pass away. Alhamdallah! [Praise be to God!] — that thou hast a share in the Kingdom of God and art receiving gifts from the treasury of the Holy Spirit. Do not feel sorry; do not brood over the loss; do not sit down depressed; do not be silent; but, on the contrary, day and night be engaged in the commemoration of thy Lord in the greatest joy and gladness. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 132)
The purpose of our time in this world is to prepare us for the next:
One must remember that the purpose of this life is to prepare the soul for the next. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 359)
At the end of our lives, what’s left is what we’ve made of our souls:
The troubles of this world pass, and what we have left is what we have made of our souls, so it is to this we must look to becoming more spiritual, drawing nearer to God, no matter what our human minds and bodies go through. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 296)
We’re told that wealth and poverty all fade away, so I’d rather spend my life focused on the things that will endure through all the Worlds of God.
This poverty and these riches, this abasement and glory, this dominion, power, and the like, upon which the eyes and hearts of these vain and foolish souls are set, — all these things fade into utter nothingness in that Court! (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Ian, p. 131-132)
It goes without saying that we are required to work for our money:
Please God, the poor may exert themselves and strive to earn the means of livelihood. This is a duty which, in this most great Revelation, hath been prescribed unto every one, and is accounted in the sight of God as a goodly deed. Whoso observeth this duty, the help of the invisible One shall most certainly aid him. He can enrich, through His grace, whomsoever He pleaseth. He, verily, hath power over all things…. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 202-203)
I do a lot of volunteer work and from time to time, I long to be paid for the work I do. A better spiritual perspective seems to be to expect our rewards and reimbursements to come from God and to focus on being of service without worrying about being paid:
. . . they should never stain themselves with the world, they should not look for the least pecuniary reward from any soul; nay, rather they should bear the utmost poverty and with the perfect wealth of nature [a state wherein man can dispense with things and be happy in their absence], through the bounty of God, may they associate with the people. They should seek no reward nor recompense. Freely have thy received, freely should they give. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 359-360)
It’s quotes such as this one, which say that the poor are closer to God, which make me content with my lot in life:
. . . the poor are very dear to God. The mercies and bounties of God are with them. The rich are mostly negligent, inattentive, steeped in worldliness, depending upon their means, whereas the poor are dependent upon God, and their reliance is upon Him, not upon themselves. Therefore, the poor are nearer the threshold of God and His throne. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 33)
I don’t know about you, but I want to be close to God! When we have the love of God in our hearts, we have everything!
In like manner, it is related that on a certain day, one of the companions of Sadiq complained of his poverty before him. Whereupon, Sadiq, that immortal beauty, made reply: “Verily thou art rich, and hast drunk the draught of wealth.” That poverty-stricken soul was perplexed at the words uttered by that luminous countenance, and said: “Where are my riches, I who stand in need of a single coin?” Sadiq thereupon observed: “Dost thou not possess our love?” He replied: “Yea, I possess it, O thou scion of the Prophet of God!” And Sadiq asked him saying: “Exchangest thou this love for one thousand dinars?” He answered: “Nay, never will I exchange it, though the world and all that is therein be given me!” Then Sadiq remarked: “How can he who possesses such a treasure be called poor?” (Baha’u’llah, The Ki tab-i-Ian, p. 131-132)
It’s not money that matters in this world, but devoting ourselves to higher principles such as faith and spirit, and teaching the Faith:
Do not grieve, dear brother, for being poor, for you are rich instead in faith and in spirit. This is a divine wealth for which the richest of the world will crave for in vain. True we must work hard, earn money and keep our family in happiness and prosperity, but we must always realize that our lives must be devoted to things higher and more sublime. We must remember what great souls, whose lives still inspire hundreds and thousands, were of the poorest in the world. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 124)
Shoghi Effendi seems to be suggesting that none of the work we do in this world is meant to come easy or with the means to achieve our desires.
The words he wrote to one of the American Assemblies in December 1923 sound almost like a soliloquy: “The inscrutable wisdom of God has so decreed that we, who are the chosen bearers of the world’s greatest Message to suffering humanity, should toil and promote our work under the most trying conditions of life, amidst unhelpful surroundings, and in the face of unprecedented trials, and without means, influence or support, achieve, steadily and surely, the conquest and regeneration of human hearts.” (Ruhiyyih Khanum, The Priceless Pearl, p. 74-75)
Not having enough money seems to be an honor, and requires us to pass a test of patience in order to attain this bounty:
Great is the honor destined by God for those poor who are steadfast in patience. By My life! There is no honor, except what God may please to bestow, that can compare to this honor. Great is the blessedness awaiting the poor that endure patiently and conceal their sufferings. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 202)
Patience isn’t enough, though. We also must be thankful!
In the course of one of His talks to His companions ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states that a poor man who is patient and forbearing is better than a rich man who is thankful. However, a poor man who is thankful is more praiseworthy than the one who is patient. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 2, p. 281)
Even though we may not be compensated well in this world, God sees us and is compassionate:
. . . there is no doubt that the divine compassion is bestowed upon the poor. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 33)
We have been given three ways to be proactive about getting more money, though. The first is to make regular sacrificial donations to the Bahá’í Fund. In place of those donations we’re promised a tenfold reward. Weird as it may seem, when I give to the fund first there seems to be more than enough money to care for the rest of the month’s material needs:
All the friends of God … should contribute to the extent possible, however modest their offering may be. God doth not burden a soul beyond its capacity . . . O Friends of God! Be ye assured that in place of these contributions, your agriculture, your industry, and your commerce will be blessed by manifold increases, with goodly gifts and bestowals. He who cometh with one goodly deed will receive a tenfold reward. There is no doubt that the living Lord will abundantly confirm those who expend their wealth in His path. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i Prayers, p. 83)
The second is to pay the Right of God (Huqúq)
Render thou thanks unto God, for He hath graciously enabled thee to observe the injunction set forth in His Most Holy Book, inasmuch as thou hast arisen to fulfil the obligation of Huqúq, and God hath accepted thy goodly deed. Know thou, moreover, that those who faithfully serve the All-Merciful will be enriched by Him out of His heavenly treasury. (Baha’u’llah, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 513)
And the third is to pray. Here are two of my favorite prayers:
1. God, my God! Illumine the brows of Thy true lovers, and support them with angelic hosts of certain triumph. Set firm their feet on Thy straight path, and out of Thine ancient bounty open before them the portals of Thy blessings; for they are expending on Thy pathway what Thou hast bestowed upon them, safeguarding Thy Faith, putting their trust in their remembrance of Thee, offering up their hearts for love of Thee, and withholding not what they possess in adoration for Thy Beauty and in their search for ways to please Thee. O my Lord! Ordain for them a plenteous share, a destined recompense and sure reward. Verily, Thou art the Sustainer, the Helper, the Generous, the Bountiful, the Ever-Bestowing. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i Prayers, p. 83-84)
2. God, O God! Cause me to drink from the cup of Thy bestowal. Illumine my face with the Light of Guidance. Make me firm in faithfulness and steadfastness in Thine Ancient Covenant. Suffer me to become of one Thy sincere servants. Open before my face the doors of prosperity. Prepare for me the means of livelihood. Give me my bread though channels over which I have no control, Thy heavenly treasures. Grant me the power to turn my face toward Thy merciful countenance, and to be faithful to Thy Cause, O Thou Clement and Compassionate One! Verily Thou art gracious to those who are firm and steadfast in Thy strong and impregnable Covenant. Praise be to God, the Lord of the worlds! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. XIV, p. 167)
So what does this all seem to suggest? That in many ways, it’s easier to be poor; that there are things we can do to increase the likelihood of our needs being met and if we do our part in terms of work, patience, trust and faith, God will ensure that all of our needs get met and that our stations will be high in the next world.
I think I’ll accept my life the way it is, with gratitude for having enough.
Click here to read another blog posting on this topic: When is enough enough?
How have you resolved this dilemma in your own life? Post your comments here: