Last month I preached about spending every day in 2014 being ready to help those God brings across our path. For me, that means that at 8:30 AM each day my smartphone alerts me to pray. I say something like this, “Lord give me the eyes to see those in need around me today, and make me willing to help whether I think I have the time or not.”
When Betty and I were on a walk on the streets of Virginia Beach last week, a well-shaven 30-something man in a sportcoat, ballcap and sneakers approached us asking for money. “Man, I hate to bother you,” he began. “My sister and daughter are here with me and our car got towed by the Affordable Towing Company. They want $145 to release it and I’m still short $38. I’m out of answers, I don’t know anyone here, and I’m down to asking total strangers for help.”
I shook my head and said, “No.” As we walked away Betty looked at me with those eyes I can’t resist and I knew what was coming. “Honey, maybe we should have…”
When asked, “Did you believe him?” She admitted that his story did seem pretty well rehearsed. Two days later we saw him 10 blocks downtown. He walked towards us and started, “Man, I hate…” I interrupted him, “You already talked to us.”
Isn’t it easy to decide, “Everyone’s exploiting me so I’m not going to help anyone”, or “I’ll just help anyone who asks of me”? Both decisions are black and white and either one keeps me from having to think, pray–even love.
Here’s the thing: do I really want to be complicit in helping someone buy some more weed or crack? Do I really want to enable someone to live a worthless life always taking but never giving? The Bible says “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat” (2 Thes.3:10, NLT). On the other hand, Jesus says we’re to give to those who ask and not turn away from people who want to borrow our stuff (Matt.5:42). And James 2:13 points out, “…if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you”.
Here are some suggestions for deciding whether or not to help someone who’s asking:
- Love people. Which won’t automatically prompt you to give away your money or time. I used to give away money for me: it got rid of the person and made me feel generous. Love asks, what’s really in his/her best interests: Handouts? Time? Prayer? A relationship? Something more?
- Pray. Ask the Holy Spirit to tell you what to do.
- Be OK with mistakes. None of us hears God perfectly so sometimes we’ll do things we regret, or fail to help when later we wish we would have. Go with what God seems to be saying.
- Be willing to get more deeply involved. Giving someone $20 or $50 is easy and doesn’t take much time. Maybe Betty and I should have said, “Let’s go meet your daughter and sister.” In this case I think the outcome would have been the same but sometimes more information (which takes time and/or phone calls) may make the situation less murky–and may give you an opportunity to bless in more ways than just money.