Three Ways to Help

Three Ways to Help
 --John Guzzetta

Help the person. Often, immediate help is necessary. We don’t ask questions of a person starving or trapped in a burning building. Not every person who approaches us for assistance needs a lecture about straightening up his life. Their need is due to circumstances largely (or currently) outside their control. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). Even if a person’s bad choices have brought him low, food and shelter are appropriate. “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17). The list of Scriptures to contemplate is very long; see Exo. 22:21-27, Lev. 23:22, Deut. 10:18-19, 14:28-29, Psalm 10:14, 68:5, 82:3, Acts 4:32-37, James 2:15-16, 1 John 3:17-18, for starters.

Jesus “felt compassion” (Matt. 14:14, 15:32, 20:34, Mark 1:41-42) to heal and provide. Scan through the gospel of Luke, and see how often and generously Jesus healed and fed people (4:38-43, 5:12-20, 6:6-19, 6:30-36, 7:1-17, 7:36-50, 8:26-39, 8:43-56, 9:1-2, 9:11-17, 9:38-43, 10:9, 10:30-37, 13:10-17, 14:1-6, 17:11-19, 18:22, 18:35-43, 19:1-10).

Be sure your own family is cared for (1 Tim. 5:8). Then, as Eph. 4:28 says, save some to share with those who are in need. “Do good, be rich in good works, be generous and ready to share” (1 Tim. 6:17-19). Help the destitute, lift up the hurting, volunteer at a food pantry or woman’s shelter, contribute to good organizations, foster a child, donate blood, and do it all in the name of Christ, so that from time to time you can speak about your heavenly Savior who motivates you. “Let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:9- 10).

Help him help himself. We need to be mindful. We live in the age of meth and 3rd-gen welfare. I have never accepted this sentiment: “It’s my job to give money; what he does with it is between him and the Lord.” Paul told Timothy, “do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin” (1 Tim. 5:22). Jesus said, “I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16).

Now, this is an emotional subject, and every situation is different. Giving cash to an alcoholic is likely enabling his sin, and hurting him by perpetuating his troubles. Hunger can be an incentive, prodding a person to provide for himself and his family (Prov. 16:26). William Boetcker said, “you cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves.”

It’s often best to help a person get his footing, then help him help himself. Sometimes, an infusion of cash does nothing more than allow a person to avoid his issues for another month; next month, the same needs will be there, for the real issues remain unaddressed. Sadly, some who show up for a handout are not turning to God for grace and love—they are turning to the “church” section of the Yellow Pages for a quick score.

The church must not support undisciplined lifestyles. God prohibits permanent help for those able to work (2 Thess. 3:6-13). This doesn’t mean we offer no help, it just means we offer the right kind of help—helping to find a job, helping to recover from substances, pointing to Jesus. Uncomfortable consequences are the goads necessary to effect lasting change. When my third- grader forgot her lunchbox for the third time, I finally decided to let her go hungry for a few hours. Finally, she learned not to forget her lunch (Heb. 12:11)! How would the prodigal son’s life have been different if dad had been an enabler, sending him support twice a month? The son hit rock bottom, and only then did he “come to his senses” (Luke 15:17) and decide to abandon his sins and return to his father’s house—not for a bailout, but to turn his life around.

An author named Steve Corbett remarked, “Not all poverty is created equal. You turn on the evening news and see that a tsunami has devastated Indonesia, leaving millions without food, clothing, or shelter. Following a commercial, the news features a story about homeless men in your city, who are also without food, clothing, or shelter. In both situations, the people need food, clothing, and shelter, and providing these seems like an obvious solution. But there is a nagging feeling that the people in these two crises are in very different situations and require different types of help” (When Helping Hurts, p. 103). On p. 106, he suggests considering: 1.) Is there really a crisis? If I don’t provide immediate help, will there really be serious consequences? If not, there is time for the person to take action on his own behalf. 2.) To what degree is an individual personally responsible for putting himself in the crisis? Hardship facilitates recovery. 3.) Can the person help himself? He needs to learn stewardship of his own resources and responsibilities.

Help him find the Lord. It’s remarkable that some people go looking for physical help, and end up finding salvation! This is especially true when God’s servants are living their faith openly and watching for opportunities to offer Jesus. In Acts 3,

A man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”

Peter preached the gospel to him and to all who gathered around, and many came to the Lord (4:4). This lame man came for food, and received eternity!