Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Anything Helps: One Way to View an Age-Old Problem

We see their faces.  Their woeful expressions etch into our hearts.  The homeless. The beggars. The transient, The less fortunate.  All down on their luck, in need, and all created by God.  We see them in every community, at nearly every busy intersection.  The more often we pass them, the more numb our emotions become to their pleas. 

Sometimes they hold signs that say “Will work for food,” or “Anything helps.” Recently, on a trip to the West Coast, I saw signs providing more information than what we generally see in Colorado. I suppose in warmer climates, panhandling signs warrant more effort and creativity because they won’t disintegrate with the first snow storm. West Coast signs tell stories:

“My ex-wife had a better lawyer than me.”

“I’ve made some bad decisions, but I’m worth a second chance.”  
Boy, doesn’t this one describe us all?

“Can’t you see I have a baby?”  

“Why lie? I need a beer.” 

A few years ago, our daughter, Taylor, participated in a project for High School where she and a group of friends posed as homeless. They positioned themselves at a busy intersection and sought help from the community. If someone stopped to help, the students were to explain their project and the plan to donate money to a homeless shelter.  

Sadly, no one stopped to help. 

No one.

The students were ignored, disrespected, and scorned. Several days later, they dressed as they normally would and stood at the very same intersection. They asked for help in raising funds and awareness for the homeless. This time, they had some success and received a few donations.

I believe people want to help. Our compassions lead us to do something - to take action.  But our logic tells us our handouts will be used for addictive indulgences like cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs.  When a sign blatantly tells us their motivation for alcohol, we don’t have to wonder.  Most of the time it’s not that clear.  So instead of helping, we look away.

Taylor’s project changed our thinking. It enlightened us to those who are truly in need but aren’t receiving help. Shelters are overcrowded and that sort of help isn’t always readily available. In a community with one of the highest homeless saturations in our state, needs are ignored.  We took the matter to prayer and asked the Lord for direction on what to do.  His Word is clear:

Is 58:7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-- when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Mt 25:35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in

Rom 12:13 Share with the Lord's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Heb 13:2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

Personally, here’s where I land on this issue:

There is no question that any money I give to the homeless can be used for all manner of activities of which I don’t approve.  However, as I’ve said many times, 

We are responsible to walk in obedience.  

The Lord is responsible for results. 

If the Lord prompts me to help, if His Word tells me that I should, then I have no choice but to obey.  This is a heart matter between the Lord and me. 

I have no responsibility whatsoever for what happens once I’ve obeyed. How a person utilizes my help becomes a heart matter between that person and the Lord. Once a gift has let my hands, I am out of the picture.

Having said that, there are many ways to provide help without giving money.  If we plan ahead, we can purchase gift certificates to a fast food restaurant. At times when I know I’ll pass a particular intersection, I’ll have small bags of vegetables on hand. I’ll often hand my leftover food from a restaurant out the window.  

And sometimes, when I feel that the prompting comes from the Holy Spirit, I’ll give money - without hesitation, free from the need to guess what it will purchase. 

Those are my convictions. They may or may not be yours.  Whatever you decide, and however you respond, I encourage you to seek the Lord before making your decision.  Let’s walk in obedience and leave the results in God’s sovereign hands. 

Your Turn:

How have you handled times when you were approached by those in need?

Please share a story about a time when you’ve helped another. 

Be strengthened today, by His Word,
Psalm 119:28

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