What Joseph Teaches Us About Poverty

Jesus, Mary and Joseph 3

My wife’s favorite Christian music artist is Todd Agnew. And I have to say that I absolutely love his music too. His songs are clearly written from a preacher’s heart, draw deeply from Scripture, and therefore paint vivid lyrical pictures of God and our relationship with Him. It’s for this reason that I find myself, every Christmas season, blasting Todd’s Christmas CD, Do You See What I See? — which is in fact my favorite Christmas album. But today, as I was playing one particular song over and over again, God impressed on me in a new way one of the most critical truths of the Christian life. I’m not sure if this was running through his head when Todd wrote “This is All I Have to Give,” but it has certainly been running through mine as I’ve listened to it today…

This is All I Have to Give (Joseph’s Song)
by Todd Agnew

I’d always dreamed I’d build a cradle we’d lay you in
When we brought you home, when we brought you home.
But there you lay, fast asleep in a feed through;
It was all that I could find.

I’d always hoped you’d have my eyes,
And maybe a little bit of the skill of my hands,
But as I look into your eyes,
I see your hands created mine.

This is all I have to give.
You can share my home and bear my name.
But this is not how you should live.
The son of God has become the son of man,
And this is all I have to give.

I’d always thought about how I’d teach you to build your first chair,
And how to treat your mom, your lovely mom.
How to explain the reckless love of God to your simple mind.
But what can I offer you, my son,
When you’re the living breathing proof
Of everything I hoped could possibly be true?

Why couldn’t God have chosen another man?
How can I lead this family when I don’t understand?
And how can I take the place of your Dad,
When I cannot explain even how You came to be?
My sweet Jesus, my baby boy…

This is all I have to give.
You can share my home and bear my name.
But this is not how you should live.
The son of God has become the son of man,
And this is all I have to give.

The Savior of the world, Jesus — the Word of God, the long-foretold Messianic King, and eternal second person of the Trinity — took on human flesh by being born of a virgin named Mary over 2,000 years ago. Mary was with child by the power of the Holy Spirit, not by the will of any man, such that the child conceived in her womb would be in every sense the Son of God. Mary was a poor peasant girl, and she was betrothed (promised to be married to) an equally poor peasant named Joseph in an obscure province on the backend of the Roman empire. Todd Agnew’s amazing song expresses some of the thoughts that might have gone through Joseph’s mind as he held his newborn son, remembering what the angels had told him… that it had been prophesied centuries earlier that this baby would be the savior of the his people Israel, and even of the entire world.


Joseph’s deepest poverty wasn’t financial.

Listen to some of Joseph’s hopes for his son and how far from reality they really were…

I dreamed I would build you a home and a cradle, but I’m too poor and we had to travel all this way at the demand of the Romans. So here you are in a little cave (what the manger most likely really was) with the animals, and all that goes with animals, lying in a feed trough.

Joseph and JesusI thought you’d be like me, and that you would look to me to teach you a trade. That’s what all the other fathers I know talk about. I would pass on the family business, and your hands would grow more skilled as I passed along my hard-fought skill as a carpenter — which I learned from my father, and his father before him. The men in town would see you in me; I would be proud of you and your work, especially as I grew old and left the business in your hands. But now I realize that it’s not my skill or my wisdom or my hands that will shape you, but your hands created my very being. And it is I who must come to be recognized to be in you, rather than you in me.

I thought I’d teach you right from wrong, but you are the author of right and wrong.

I love God, and I imagined teaching you who He is and to live your life so as to honor His Name, to walk worthy of your calling as one of God’s chosen people. But it is in fact you who, even by your very presence, teach me about God and His great love for me.

I have longed for a child that I might be a gracious loving father to him. And though I will be that to you, the truth is that you, my son, in some way that I simply don’t understand, are the ultimate loving Father to me instead.

How can I teach you anything? I don’t even understand how you came to be!

I acknowledge, I see now, that everything is backwards. This is not how it should be. You should be in a palace, not a manger. You should be shrouded in unapproachable light, worshiped by angels innumerable, high and lifted up. But you are a helpless baby, wrapped in a few dirty rags, born in abject poverty.

So, this is all I have to give… You can share my home and bear my name. And I will be a father to you, such as I am. As poor as I am. You can have me, and that’s not much, but this is all I have to give.


We could learn a lot from Joseph this Christmas.

This is what hit me afresh while listening to Todd’s song. Joseph was uniquely the man chosen by God to raise His Son Jesus, God incarnate. But Joseph’s poverty — his penetrating sense of smallness as he stared into the very face of God — is in no way unique to him. That humility is what Jesus called “poverty of spirit” (Matthew 5:3). It is what every man needs, but what few men possess, and what even fewer men actively cultivate.

We should be asking the same kinds of questions Joseph asked…

Would I build God a cradle or a house (or whatever you see yourself as good at building)? Or would we be built by God into living temples? A kingdom of priests? (1 Peter 2:4-9)

Would I, in my vast knowledge, teach God? Surely I’m in a position to instruct Him on how things really should be! I certainly have some choice words, or at least some respectful advice, about that recent circumstance that I’d have handled totally differently. God could have at least gotten it right faster or with fewer bumps along the way! Or perhaps it would in fact be wise to get really low, really fast in the face of His sovereignty, omniscience, and power, which He lovingly and consistently turns toward my good. (Romans 8:28)

Can I let God be a Father to me? Or am I all grown up and pretty much in charge? Can I let go of having to understand everything, stop imagining myself to be strong and wise, and trust that God knows what He’s doing? (Psalm 46)

With Joseph, we need to realize that we approach God with absolutely nothing to offer Him. We are small and poor and helpless. We are the beggar with no money to buy bread, let alone with which to pay the insurmountable debt of our sin. Where is pride? Where is brilliance? Where is skill? Where are earthly riches? Where is the power of human kings and presidents and international business tycoons? Where is the best of the best of our “wealth,” in the face of the cross and the Kingdom of Almighty God? It is as Joseph’s poverty was when He looked at Jesus. He knew what He had to offer God. Do you? Joseph had nothing God needs and neither do we, but if we’re wise, then we bring what Joseph did … the only thing any of us has to give…

Simply ourselves.

About Jeff Block

Lover and follower of Jesus, the long awaited King. Husband and father. Writer and seminary student. On a long, difficult, joyful adventure, learning to swim with the current of God's sovereign love and walk with Him in the garden in the cool of the day.
This entry was posted in Psalms, Music and Worship, Theology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to What Joseph Teaches Us About Poverty

  1. knenn11 says:

    Great insights! You’ve been a busy writer lately!


  2. Pingback: What Mary Teaches Us About Worship | Breaking Away: Jeff Block's Blog

  3. Pingback: Christmas in the Music: Everything Changed | Breaking Away: Jeff Block's Blog

Join the Discussion

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s