Several years ago our local news station did a report about the “homeless” men that pan handle illegally in our city. It turns out that most of them were not what they presented themselves to be. They were not homeless, not out of work, not looking for a job, not hungry. They were professional con artists with cellphones in their pockets and Mercedes Benzes parked a few blocks away and brand new clothes under their ratty army surplus jackets.
My friend’s husband was a manager at Outback Steak House at the time. On several occasions he brought job applications out to the guys under the bridge near the restaurant. Every time he was met with cursing and rejection from the con artists. The whole business smacked of fraud and entitlement. Coupled with the news report, it put everyone on edge and hardened our compassion towards the less fortunate. Now the question is always in my mind, “is this person really needy?”
Other questions fill the minds of Christians too. (Here’s another blog about that by another Christian.) What is my responsibility to the needy? Can I be sure that this person isn’t a con artist or a professional beggar? What if they’re just lazy and don’t want to work a real job, am I being an enabler if I give to that kind of person? What if they buy drugs or alcohol with my money? Is it being responsible with my resources if I give to someone who really isn’t needy?
So fast forward a few years and I find myself living in a third world country where there are beggars at every intersection. Every single day I see the same people begging. There is no welfare system here, no social services to care for the homeless, mentally ill, old, sick and poor. As a missionary, I feel the need to help them naturally, but those old questions still linger in my mind. I have had years worth of dissonance in my spirit about what to do. I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t feel good about my attitude.
One day I decided to ask Jesus about it (I know! Revolutionary thought. I should have done this years ago.) In prayer, I presented my dilemma to the Lord and asked him what should be my attitude and my course of action. “What are you afraid of?” he asked me. “Are you afraid that if you give to a con artist or to someone who begs as a lifestyle that you won’t have enough for yourself and your family? Don’t you think I’ll still take care of you?” That was exactly it. My fear was rooted in a lack of trust in God.
Hadn’t God always taken care of me and my family? Hadn’t we always had enough? Hadn’t I memorized the Don’t Worry section of Matthew 6? And who am I to determine who is really needy and who isn’t- that’s kind of a relative measurement. Needy in America doesn’t look the same as needy in Africa or Latin America or anywhere really poor. So who gave me the measuring stick?
God is still honored when I give to someone who begs as a lifestyle, because he’s not looking at the size of the need that I meet, he’s looking at the motivation of MY heart. He doesn’t care if I meet a big need or a little need. He doesn’t care if the person was appropriately grateful or bitterly entitled. He doesn’t expect me to be able to read the motivations of others. He didn’t ask me to teach someone a lesson on hard work and personal finance with a side of hygiene and grammar.
He asked me to love my neighbor as myself. And when I do that, without judging my neighbor or his need or his motivation, I please God. Just love your neighbor. That’s all God asks of me.
So I make a point of keeping spare change in the car and in my purse and I keep my spirit open for when the Lord prompts me to do something more… and often he does. “More” means something different in each situation and I just trust that the Lord is meeting a specific need in a way that I never could have discerned on my own. And never once have I found myself at the bottom of my own barrel with nothing to provide for my family. God has been generous with me even when I didn’t understand generosity, even when I wasn’t appropriately grateful or was bitterly entitled. God’s generosity towards me has been my example of generosity towards others.
“I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the Righteous forsaken, nor their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely.” Psalm 37:25-26 Be sure to read the whole Psalm 37, it’s really good!