This time of year never fails to pull the heart strings of us all. I’m probably a bit of a softie, but I can hardly watch a Christmas commercial these days without tearing up! If you are a Christian, clearly this time of year is one that causes us to reflect with intense gratitude on all that God has done for us and given to us.
But what about those less fortunate? Homeless. Fatherless. Family-less. Without a doubt, people in this condition exist year-round. But there is something about the cold winter holiday season that calls them to our attention more than usual. So what do we do? Pick up the phone and call the church? They are ministers, they get paid to minister to the down-and-outs, right? Here are some of my thoughts:
There is no doubt God divinely appointed the timing of your “notice” of a specific need, a specific person. Ephesians 2:10 tells us we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Many times I ask myself (and God) why do my wife and I live in Memphis? It could be one of the last places I might choose if I truly did whatever I wanted to do with my life. But I am trusting there could be no better city in the country to love people and live like Jesus. I’m not proposing we become radical about our understanding of God’s sovereignty. I’m simply encouraging you to consider our God is infinite in wisdom and love which means nothing is by accident – even your new-found exposure to a need.
There are scary places and dark pockets throughout the 901 and in every large city. Even my relatively small hometown had “the bad side of town” when I was growing up. But God has taught me we fear who we don’t’ pray for. I’d encourage you and your family to begin praying for your city and those in need. Include the homeless, the sick and the less fortunate in evening prayers with your children. As you do, not only will the person in need receive the blessings of your prayers but God will also direct your path of ministry. It is very possible God is calling you and your family to minister to this man. That could look like stopping and praying with him. It might also be possible that you bring him a warm meal from Wendy’s or Arby’s. It could be your church has a Benevolence Ministry that will help equip you with financial resources or gift cards.
I’ll never forget when my friend Michael and I took a homeless man a meal from McDonald’s. It was completely random, or so we thought, when our original plans to eat at a nearby restaurant were canceled. But as we were making plans to eat somewhere else, Michael and I caught a glimpse of two (appearing) homeless men sitting on the curb. My friend encouraged us to buy these men dinner and share the Gospel with them. We ordered two #1 combos and off we went. It only took a few minutes after our introduction to understand these men had already “drank their dinner” and were too inebriated to have a meaningful conversation. The funniest moment was when one of the men said, “But I don’t like Coca-Cola!” Haha! We couldn’t believe his lack of gratitude.
The men took the meals and Michael and I went on our way. Later that night, sitting at a pizza restaurant, Michael and I were stunned questioning God. We didn’t understand. “But God, we followed through with what You asked of us, why didn’t the homeless man accept Christ or receive our help?” It was then God taught us He is honored with our “yes” – our willingness to serve and follow through on our conviction. It is in God’s sovereignty that He draws men and women to Himself for salvation, we are merely the vessels of the message. 2 Corinthians 5:19-20 …in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us…
When doing ministry to those we don’t’ know, safety should always be produced by our wisdom, not born out of our fear. Please always serve people alongside your friends, family or fellow church family. Rare is it that we should find ourselves ministering in a potentially dangerous context alone. Not every under-privileged person is dangerous, but every person is capable of doing another person harm.
No matter what the outcome, Jesus’s promise in Matthew 28:18-20 is not just for mission trips; He promises to be with you whether you are serving the least of these – in a Third World Country or as a family to a homeless man in your hometown. It is also really important to remember our obedience is what honors God, not the numerical result.