I answer the phones at church, and hear many requests for help. Rent. Travel. I got stuck. I never thought I would be here. I need help. Just a little. Help for the week. For today.
No. Sorry, I can point you in another direction, but we can’t help.
It makes my heart sink to say that. These are real people with real needs. Just like I squirm every time I drive by a cardboard sign and a pair of eyes: hopeless or hopeful.
But I also see the other side of the coin. Money grows slowly, and needs grow faster. Anonymous donors cannot see what happens, and cash is a cold counselor.
Paul wrote about widows a lot in 1 Timothy 5. Somewhere I heard that the church was like government welfare before the government got involved, but I was surprised at the definitive boundaries that Paul set for the church giving assistance.
Families helped widows first. It did not matter who it was – if a widow had children or grand kids, they offered her support. If she was young, Paul encouraged her to remarry. If she was living large, she did not get to do it on the church tab. Only those widows who were truly alone, had lived their lives, and needed help were to be supported by the church.
This passage only speaks to widows, and ongoing support for livelihood, but it sets a standard of accountability. Often when I have been given money and told to spend it, I find a lot more to buy than when I am counting down the dollars in my paycheck. I think welfare should have accountability, and giving should come with more than just dollar signs. Peter and John had no silver and gold, but they gave the lame beggar a new start in the name of Jesus. And that’s the only lasting thing we can give people: love that comes from Jesus and the invitation for more from Him.
So who can actually do that for people? How does the church welcome people into the community of believers and invite them to know God’s love? By reaching the people at arm’s length. Right there, waiting to be noticed. Some people center their calling around it. Others will support their ministry in secondary ways. There will always be poor people, but what lives can you touch?
God, I know Jesus did not heal everyone. And I know that each person is more than just a snapshot or a slogan on a cardboard sign. I struggle to know how to respond, treat them like humans, offer a smile. What can I really offer to people who are hurting? It needs to be Your love, not mine, that responds to them. It needs to be Your compassion that I convey, or else it does not last beyond a thirty second conversation. God, please speak through me to the people I can reach. And help me to establish good boundaries in the love so they learn to depend on You, not me. To Your glory, Amen.