A common prayer of mine is “God, please show me the opportunities to help others, the wisdom to recognize it, and the courage to act on it”. Looking back I can say with certainty God has always answered the first part, more recently the second part as well, and the third part is still a work in progress. That being said a personal goal of mine is to do more for others and as such I’d like to share a quick story about one opportunity that presented itself, with the hope to keep myself motivated to stay on course.
Not too long ago I was entreated with the opportunity to meet a friend for dinner after work. Admittedly, this friend is equally easy on both eyes and ears; so you can imagine how thankful I was for the company and conversation. However, my gratitude for the evening was soon to be magnified because this delightful delay in heading home was the direct cause for presentation of an opportunity to lend a stranger a helping hand.
Traveling home, I drove past a downcast looking fellow trudging alongside the interstate. I have been in countless situations such as this before, many times not even giving second thought. However high that number may be, it was high enough that the guilt for never taking action before was a prompt reminder of my prayer. “This time, I’m stopping”. After taking the next exit to circle back around on the interstate, I stopped near the gentleman and inquired as to his plight. The poor soul’s car had broken down on his way home from work and his cell phone had died. He had trekked more miles than he knew, and had yet another 7 or so to go. The relief on his face when I told him to “hop on in man!” was indescribable.
We made casual small talk along the way—work, family, etc.—but it was what he said while pulling into his driveway that left an impression. “Thank you again, no one ever stops to help anymore. The saddest part though is that you can’t blame people for not stopping. It’s so hard to trust people”. After I replied with a simple “well I guess we each have to do the best we can, God bless you sir”, he was out of the car and back home.
His social observation sparked a brief series of thoughts deserving a moment of consideration.
First, as Christians are we called to be fearful of the reasons why we shouldn’t help others, or are we called to “love thy neighbor”? Last time I checked I’m fairly certain the scriptures command the only thing we are to be fearful of is God (Matthew 10:28). There are plenty of excuses for fear in not helping others such as social image (thinking about image issues teens suffer, but can be applicable to some adults as well), personal finances (the balance between taking care of your needs vs. others’ needs), loss of time (a valuable commodity to be spent on a stranger), personal security (picking up random people on the roadside can certainly be dangerous!), and many more. I won’t tell you, nor should any one for that matter, how, when, and to what extent you should help others because every case is unique. However, I will give this advice: if you truly want to improve in the Christian principle of charity two passages to start with are Mark 12:41-44 and Luke 10:35-37
Second, how often do we actually look for opportunities to help others? A simple analogy to this would be that of a faithful significant other at the beach. Potentially hundreds of attractive individuals walking around, but—speaking from experience—the faithful’s eyes can only see one. If you aren’t looking for it, you won’t see it. Non-Christian friends of mine make an excellent point when they express contempt for Christians who learn of some problem and simply say “I’ll pray for you”. You know what? God would agree with them too! As a matter of fact we can read His own words on the issue in James 2:15-16 (personal suggestion: read the whole chapter) “15If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16and one of you says to them ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled’ without giving them the things needed for the body what good is that?”. Don’t get me wrong, prayer is absolutely essential as a Christian (I’ve given a 45min sermon on the benefits of prayer before), but after we pray we still have to do our part and take action where we can!
Lastly, do we expect something in return for our generosity? I’m concerned that one reason for the lack of selflessness in the world is due to the possibility that we expect a selfless favor to later be returned---which there in turn transforms a selfless deed into a selfish one. A celebrity contrast on this issue is Oprah Winfrey and Keanu Reeves. I realize Oprah has done a lot of good for a multitude of people, and I’m thankful those people were able to receive assistance. However, I personally never supported Oprah because it seemed as if all her charity was done for the sole purpose of inflating her own (pun not intended but acknowledged) image. Maybe I’m being judgmental and am wrong about her, but that is just how it appeared to me. Keanu Reeves on the other hand, do a Google search on the charity work he does. He never flaunts it, makes it a big deal, or markets himself based on it. He simply does good, where good needs done. Biblically speaking, the passage Matthew 6:1-2 states “1Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others, Truly, I say to you they have received their reward”. Additionally I think of Christ and all that he gained—scourged, beat, mocked, betrayed, crucified-- for his selfless actions ….And to think all those things he gained, he gained while teaching a doctrine of “Love God and love your neighbor”. If we want to do good, then do good and let the knowledge that someone else’s life is a little better because of it be reward enough. In closing, to improve as a person and as a Christian we need to be more attentive to the needs of others and seek out the opportunities to take action. Forego the fear of “what ifs” and expect nothing in return. Start every day new by asking “how can I make a difference today?” (the title of an article I hope to write in the future).
1 John 3:17 “But If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”
May your fire never go out,