Late last week, a blogger whose posts I frequently read, challenged fellow readers to step up and serve others in their community this holiday season. His challenge was simply for us to not try to focus so much on yourself (as much of our society does) and your family, but to reach out and actually make a difference in someone’s life.
One of his readers commented back to him saying that he/she helps the “least fortunate” just by “acting as if every encounter I have outside of my ‘Christian bubble’ will be with someone who has never met someone so overjoyed by the love of Christ”. While I do not disagree that we should always exemplify the characteristics of God and should be full of Christ’s love when we meet others, I do have a slight problem with this being a solution to helping out the least fortunate.
Every week at The Friendship House, where I volunteer, I encounter many people who have run out of money. Most are losing their homes, out of work, disabled, elderly, or hungry. I see children who who can’t get well because their parents cannot afford medicine. I see woman humiliated and crying because they’ve never before had to ask anyone for food. Men, living on the street or in hotel rooms, beg for a jacket as the weather turns cold.
Now, what would happen if I just listened to their stories, and then joyfully smiling only offer them the hope of Jesus Christ?
I would lose my entire Christian testimony! A Christ-follower does not mean only offering them the opportunity to accept Christ as their Savior. Just because I lead them in a prayer, does not mean that all their troubles disappear, that food falls on their tables, or their light bills get paid. A Christ-follower would listen to their stories, cry with them, and then offer them food (or money or clothes) first!
I heard it said once (sorry, I cannot remember where) that before you can talk spiritual matters with someone, you first need to take care of them emotionally and physically. Until someone’s basic needs are met, they won’t listen to you. And I’ve found that to be true. Show them first that we care about them, then explain why we care…that Christ compells us, that his love moves us to help.
Isn’t this what Jesus did? Most of the stories we read of Jesus shows him reaching out to meet the physical and emotional needs of the crowd. He didn’t start out by saying “repent first” and then I’ll heal you. He healed them FIRST and then, once they were physically taken care of, he brought up their spiritual life (Go and sin no more). He didn’t just smile & act overjoyed with love; he got his hands dirty to meet their needs…showing love through action.