I remember about 8 years ago sitting in a Chipotle restaurant with a group of friends after church. We were talking, when a gentleman walked in and asked for money. He said something about his car being broken down on the highway and that he needed some money for something. At first I wasn’t sure what to say, because in my mind I was trying to figure out the validity of his story. I remember telling him that I wouldn’t be able to give him some money but I would be glad to walk to the gas station with him and help him get some assistance. He refused my offer and walked out the door.
I don’t know the man’s real needs, but I have a suspicious feeling it wasn’t concerning a broken down car.
I remember when I was a teenager my family and I were eating in an Olive Garden restaurant when a man walked in, walked up to our table and asked for money. He said he needed medicine for a family member. My dad opened his wallet and generously gave him $10 or $20. The man said thanks and walked out the door.
I don’t know if the man needed money for medicine or not… I will probably never know.
Two similar situations, two different responses. I am sure many of you have been in the same predicament. Which was right? Both? Neither?
How to appropriately respond is always tough for me. I am a compassionate person and if someone really needs help it would eat me up to know that I refused to help. I think the reality is that there is never an easy cut and dry answer. The answer NO will always be complex and multifaceted. Here are a few accompanying thoughts that I hope will help add depth to this conversation.
While saying NO may be the “best” answer it doesn’t mean we are void of responsibility.
There is still need present and I believe it is our responsibility to at least seek to be a part of the solution for that person. Saying NO and not offering to help beyond that is not being compassionate and loving. Our NO needs to be accompanied by some offer of support. Money? – NO. Compassion, support, friendship – YES. We must continually remind ourselves that our NO answer doesn’t mean we shouldn’t help and that we are off the hook.
Our response could be as simple as offering to help them to the gas station or buying them a sandwich right there at the store where they are confronting you, but either way NO in and of itself I don’t think is the right answer.
Generosity accompanied by wisdom is the best response
While generosity is a common theme in the Bible (Acts 20:25) so too is the need for wisdom. Colossians 4:5 says:
“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.”
As followers of Jesus we have a responsibility to act wisely, especially in front of those who are outside the faith. In some instances that may mean taking a moment to evaluate the situation and offer help that is going to meet the deeper need. Being gullible and giving away money without wisdom could only make the individual more apt to continue in their begging philosophy. The book states it this way:
“The Bible does not command mindless “generosity,” but rather the use of wisdom and prudence that keeps the end goal in mind: restoration of people to what they were created to be.” (page 219)
Christians can still be very generous and withhold money. Working from a biblical worldview, we understand that relationship and reconciliation are deep meaningful needs. By saying NO to giving money and yes to the opportunity for relationship we are actually being wise and prudent. Actually, we could argue that our time (which is what we are offering by walking with them to the gas station or sitting with them to have lunch) is more valuable than our money. Thus, making our act even more generous.
God is still at work?
We must continue to remember that God is at work. By offering a NO to money and a yes to relationship we are offering them and ourselves a chance to see God at work. Maybe this appointment is a divine one that will ultimately lead you to a place of vulnerability that draws you closer to God? What if God has plans to teach you something or reveal a weakness in you through this new relationship you create?
God is active in ordinary everyday lives. You might be moving along in the mundane of your day and boom, an opportunity shows up. (Usually when you least expect it) As much as those moments wreck our plans, being in a place where God can reveal himself to us in a new way is an awesome thing we don’t want to miss.
By saying NO to simply giving money and watching them walk out the door, we can say yes to a sticky more difficult situation (like having lunch with a homeless possibly drug addicted person) that could stretch us and teach us about God. It’s not what I typically look for in my day, but when the moments arrive it is important not to miss them.
The poor and vulnerable we cross paths with are real people with real problems. While unashamedly handing them money to watch them walk away is a “good” thing maybe we should seek to do the better more difficult thing by asking them to be vulnerable just like you and sit down for a sandwich together. Who knows maybe they do need medicine and you can be a part of helping to provide more than a bottle of pills but a lifetime of healing through Jesus Christ.