I can't even remember what his face looked like as he stood there on the side of the road with his sign, asking for money, but he left me with a growing unease, a sense of a missed opportunity. You know the type -- men and women and sometimes children, an ever growing pool of people who for reasons God only knows, have become desperate enough to stand for hours with their hands out while the world passes by, hoping for the bounty of a few generous souls.
I have to be honest with you -- I never know quite what to do with these folks. Do I give them money when people who work with the homeless say it will likely be spent on drugs or alchohol? I feel cynical about their stories and wonder how needy they really are or what they've tried to do to get themselves out of the mess they are in. I don't like this about myself at all, but there you have it. Add that to the practicalities -- I don't have cash, or any small bills with me or the light is turning green too fast or I'd have to turn around and take time out of my very cramped schedule -- you know the drill. The result is I almost never end up helping them.
But this is the Lenten season when I am seeking to "divide my bread with the hungry", to "cover the naked" and not hide myself from fellow human beings (Isaiah 58). And this is the month I am studying the Sermon on the Mount and my verse for today was: Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. And this is the year I am seeking to be intentional to listen to those nudges of the Holy Spirit and to do what He impresses me to do. The problem is that by the time I've gone through all the remonstrations in my mind, the opportunity is gone and I have no idea what the Lord might have wanted me to do.
The next day Joe and I drove past a young woman I have often seen in our local strip mall holding a sign that says "Family hungry -- will you help?" I told Joe my story and struggle, and before we'd gone a block there was another woman, only this time she was a lot older and our car was stopped at the light right beside her and Joe had a ten dollar bill and I handed it to her with a huge sigh of relief. I don't know if the Lord was leading me or not, but I knew I had to do something. We started talking seriously then about this and concluded that we really need to have a plan in place if we want to be available for Jesus to use us as He wills. I remembered that our missionary friends in Bangladesh prayerfully budget a certain amount of money for beggars (the streets are literally lined with them there), and then keep that amount in the car so they are ready to give at any moment they feel led. Why couldn't we do the same? There's a young mother in our church who has her kids help mer make up zip-loc bags with water, granola bars etc. so that she is always ready to help. What if I did something like that?
This morning my study in Matthew led to many other verses that echoed God's heart for the poor. I realized that being intentional often means planning ahead so that I can be at His disposal in the moment. Two passages I read spoke clearly to this:
Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7
Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share. 1 Timothy 6:18
I want to be ready to share, to have purposed in my heart to give, so that when opportunities come up -- whether on the side of the road or elsewhere -- I can joyfully respond as the Lord leads. I've decided to make up some of those zip-loc bags and instead of money, put McDonalds gift cards in them. Each month I'll put together as many as I can, based on how much money the Lord has impressed me to be ready to share in these kinds of spontaneous expressions. I'm heading out to Walmart today!
But more importantly, I'm praying that in the process the Lord gets ahold of my heart and I can begin to really see what He sees and feel what He feels, so that I can love those who suffer the kind of need that drives them to the streets for help with the kind of love He has for them.