What I’m asking myself…Help PLEASE!?!?

Today was one of the more interesting days I’ve ever had at work. A couple of things really worked together to make the day interesting, but one situation in particular has been playing on my mind, and I am curious to get some thoughts and insight from others. So here goes…

As I was working in the front of the store, I noticed a gentleman holding his side and sort of limping, walking towards me. When I saw him I immediately thought this guy was either homeless, or extremely down on his luck. As he approached the counter, he moved in closer to me so he could speak quietly. I had to listen closely because he had a bit of a speech impediment, or a lisp of some sort that made him a bit difficult to understand. The gentleman simply said, “I am a long ways from home, and was wondering if you knew of a good pastor, or deacon nearby that I could talk to?” After asking him to repeat himself, I wasn’t really sure what to say. I searched through my wallet, looking to see if I had a card that would have the number of a church I used to go to that was nearby, but of course I couldn’t find it. As I was fidgeting around it dawned on me, “Idiot(myself), even if you could find a number, he doesn’t have a phone!” I was working, and was a bit afraid of irritating my boss, or causing a stir at work, but I figured this was something I needed to deal with, so I called my boss and told him I needed to go outside for a little bit, I was going to try to help this guy.

I took the guy outside, and explained that I was a minister, and asked how I could help, and what he needed to talk about. After the gentleman apologized several times for his appearance, and for taking my time, he finally got on with explaining his situation. He told me he is from Richmond, Virginia but had been in Texas for a while. He really needed to get home, and somewhere along the way he was told if he could get to a town called “Sneads Ferry”, which is only about 15 miles from where I was, there was a “Christian” couple there who were on their way to Norfolk, Virginia the next morning and he could catch a ride with them. He had found someone to drop him off just outside our doors, but he needed a way to get the rest of the way to Sneads Ferry, and he needed some money so that he could stay at a hotel there, where the couple would pick him up. I told the guy that if he would stick around for a bit I would be happy to drive him, but I had no cash to give him for a room.

I noticed that after telling him I had no cash, he seemed a bit less interested in talking to me. I have to admit, as we were talking, I kept wondering to myself, “Is this guy for real? Is this guy just trying to take me for a ride? Is he just trying to take advantage of a ‘gullible’ Christian?” I felt horrible, and still feel bad thinking these things, but I just found it odd that he kept talking about finding a “pastor” or “deacon” or “some good Christians”(I think he used this description). I also found it odd, that as soon as he found out I wasn’t just going to give him money, he seemed to be less interested. I kept thinking to myself, “Does he just think a Christian is going to be an easier target, or does he just feel more comfortable going to someone who may be a little more compassionate?” Again I feel bad that these are the things that were going through my mind. I also found it odd that as I tried to press him a little bit, or ask more questions about himself, and his situation, he just didn’t really want to talk. All he wanted to talk about was getting to his destination, and money for a place to stay. I’m not entirely sure that the guy was totally mentally competent, so that could also have affected the conversation, and his approach to asking for help. I told the guy, that if he would stick around for a while, until I went on break, I would be happy to give him a ride, but again said, I had no cash. He informed me that he would try and find someone else to help him. I asked, if there was something I could pray for/with him about, or if there was more he wanted to talk about, or any other way I could help, and again, he said no. Still I told him, I would look for him while on break, which I did, but never did find him.

As I went back to work, really the rest of the day, I couldn’t get the guy out of my head. First off, I felt like a horrible person for having such suspicions of a guy I didn’t know, and really did seem to be in need. Secondly, I felt I should have done more, at least offered to get the guy a cab(still not sure why I didn’t think about that). Third, I wondered, even if the guy was trying to take me for a ride, is it my place to try to discern that? Shouldn’t I as a Christian just be willing to help, do what I can, and trust God to sort everything else out. And if I am going to err, isn’t it better to err on the “being too generous” side, rather than the other?

The Scripture that has been turning over in my head is quite obviously, Matthew 5:38-48, especially verse 42, “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” Also Matthew 25:35-40, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

I’ve been told before that we must be wise with our money and resources…I agree. I’ve also been told by a friend of mine, as relates to similar situations that we have to be discerning as to when our mercy ceases to be mercy. I’ve also even heard the “throwing pearls before swine” argument. But I wonder at what point does God give us that “out” clause? When does He say to “use your best judgement, and know when to not help someone in need, so they can learn to help themselves.” How do you know when the “swine” really is a “swine”?

I’ve heard someone say, and I think it is a tremendously true statement, that we use the fact that Jesus uses hyperbole, as an excuse not to take Him seriously, and to do nothing. It’s true to a great degree. How many times after reading one of Jesus’ hard statements, do preachers try to explain it away, or say, “Yeah, but what He really meant was….” We’ve all heard that, and we’ve all done that to some degree. Did I do that today?

That’s what I’m asking myself, and I would really like some feedback, and would really like to hear some thoughts, and have some discussion on this matter. This is something I’ve thought about often. I would also appreciate responses to be backed up with Scripture if possible….I would also ask you guys to pray for this guy, whatever is going on, he is in need. I pray he realizes his biggest need is Christ, and somewhere along the way I pray, he finds exactly what he needs.

Thanks guys, I look forward to hearing from you…

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7 comments

  1. We’re also told to test the spirits to see if they’re from God; to hold fast to what is good, which implies that we should use our common sense to test who is trying to take us for a ride and who is genuinely in need. If the guy was really focused on getting a ride, he either already found one or would have come back. On the other hand, if he was looking for someone gullible, he woudl have left. You did the right thing.

  2. I always seem to have encounters like this. I’m not sure what it is. I wonder if it’s God preparing me for urban ministry. But I think you do have to be discerning in situations like this one. I don’t like to stereotype but often times in situations like this one you do find that people are substance abusers. I don’t know that this guy’s story is one of the same. But what I always try to do is help people out the way I can. I’m weary of just giving people money. If someone wants a hotel room, and you can pay for it, take them there and pay for it. If someone wants food, I always try to go take them to get food, or if they approach me at a store/restaurant I try to go in with them and buy their food and even sit down to talk with them. I’ve found this to be a great way to share the gospel. If someone is hungry and you offer them something to eat, they’ll usually eat. But I have had more than one occasion where I’ve offered to do this and people only wanted money. I could list examples, but i’ll spare you. If you care to hear about them let me know. But I’ve had plenty of people who have taken me up on the offer and we’ve been able to share a meal, pray with them, talk about the gospel, and even give away bibles.

    If you didn’t have cash…well…you didn’t have cash. I’m reminded of Acts 3 with Peter and John and the lame beggar. They had no money, but they gave him what was important. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help people out if you have the means. But you did offer to do what you could. You offered to pray with him, offered him a ride, and you’re praying for him now. You’re asking others to pray for him too. I think those are good and biblical things to do.

    I’m really tired…so if any of that didn’t make sense…let me know. I’ll try to straighten it out later, and maybe write more later.

  3. We are given discernment and I believe I am to use it. When a decision doesn’t come easily, I give God some room to reveal more to me. Sounds like you were given an opportunity to have more revealed to you simply by making a commitment and going back to work.
    At times, my intuition simply says to give. No judging or discerning. So I give what I can (financially and ‘heartfully’) and let it go. If I’m being used by someone, oh well. They have to live with themselves and I did what I believed was right.

    One time I could not decide on a family matter. I was put in a position where a lawyer was describing possible consequences (power of attorney issue) while, on the other hand, my (mildly disabled) sister really needed some financial help to get a new car NOW. I spoke to my Rector who gave me advice that I have used often: “Do what the angels would do.” Caesar does not always have priority over my angels! -Amy

  4. I understand what everyone else is saying, and I’m getting pretty much what I felt would be the general consensus. My question though is, where does the the Bible give us the out clause, when it comes to mercy and generosity, to be “discerning” or “wise”? Where does it tell us to only help someone if we know they won’t “screw us” or aren’t “taking advantage of us”? It seems to me we are exhorted to go the extra mile, do more even than we are asked, to give to the one who begs. I don’t see where it tells us to question and make sure the beggar is going to use what we give him wisely. I could be wrong, if I am I would love for someone to show me. It would certainly be a nice “out” to have when confronted with similar situations, but I just can’t find it. Instead I see the example of Christ, to love the unlovable, to love those who are going to “screw you over” or take advantage of you. Don’t we do that to Christ often ourselves? I don’t think the way Christ loves us, really “makes sense”. But I’m so thankful He does. Isn’t that our example? And if we are wrong, isn’t it really better to be wrong, and showing mercy, than to be wrong and not? Still if I am wrong, can you guys show me that from Scripture? I’ve heard the “be discerning” or “wise” arguments, but where do we find that in Scripture, as relates to this situation, and as it relates to loving others, and showing mercy?

  5. I don’t think Jesus gives us an excuse for being wary of someone who appears to be in need to the extent that we refuse to give. I believe it is better stewardship to, as Allen pointed out, try to buy them what they need in place of merely throwing money at the problem. This is a cultural response that, in the end, is closely linked to a felt need of our own to absolve ourselves of any responsibility. Cash is the fastest, and most impersonal way to influence a stranger’s life. So, besides showing greater responsibility as a steward, I believe that, more importantly, finding a way to deal with a specific need shows greater responsibility as a child of the Kingdom. If I give a person a sandwich, they might sit down right there and eat it, and I might have an opportunity to be a light. If I resort to giving money, often they will fold up their sign, pack up shop, and disappear. As with preaching the gospel, we don’t know who the elect are, yet we would have a mandate to bring the good news to every person we encounter. The yield in their lives is in God’s hands. So it is with alms. You cannot be responsible for the use to which a panhandler puts a cash donation, should that be your only option in a situation. I feel like Allen, in that I’m not sure if I put my thoughts across well, but there they are. God bless, Chris.

  6. One of the things I kept asking myself, was whether or not if he was still there, and I did drive him to the hotel, would I, or should I, pay for his room for the night. I was leaning towards yes, but then again, kept asking myself if I were being taken for a ride…then wondering, if that even mattered. The fact was, I had someone who was obviously in need, do I have a mandate, or a place in Scripture where I’m told to be discerning when confronted with a situation like this(as we are often told), or is the command in fact the opposite, to do more than we are asked, and without question. I honestly lean towards the later…To do more, and not question. We are called to love, and put Christ’s mercy and grace on display, and to put flesh on it, and to make it real to those we come in contact with on a daily basis…

  7. 1 John 4:1: Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

    1 Tim. 5:9-16: Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, 10 and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. 11 But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ,…

    If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows.
    –This means that the church should test the people who are asking for money and be discerning about who gets church support, and the church should not just give out money to anyone and everyone.

    2 Thess 3:10+: For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

    There may be more, but these are the ones off the top of my head. I believe that Christians should be generous and giving, but not gullible. Taking the resources that are needed by genuinely needy people and giving it to con men is not a blessing to the cause of Christ.

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