All of a sudden, all I wanted to do was sit down.
It wasn’t a physical punch in the gut, but it was enough — enough for me to turn my hairdryer off, lay it down on the bathroom counter, take a step back and sit down on the edge of the tub.
I had asked for the answer. There it was.
You see, God and I had been having a conversation. Or perhaps, more accurately, I had been having a 24-hour whine to God.
The day before, I had read an article on Boundless by George Halitzka called “Love in Action.” Nothing new in that. I read the articles all the time. Very often, I’m challenged, taught or cheered. But this particular article was something else — it was a splinter. The words got under my spiritual skin, they sat there and they festered
What nettled me so much? At first, I could hardly tell you. The article started by talking about the Beatitudes and how Christ’s proclamations turn our American values “upside down.” George gave the example of a man who had given him a coat one cold, Chicago day. He told the story of “Brother Bill,” a man who works fearlessly and humbly among the gangs of Chicago.
It was all good stuff. But then George quoted a lengthy passage from Leo Tolstoy’s short story, “Where Love Is, God Is.”
I know I’ve heard the story of Martin, the Russian cobbler, before. But, that day, it felt fresh. Like fresh salt on a fresh wound.
Where are the needy?
Tolstoy’s tale began with Martin having a dream where Jesus promised him: “Watch carefully, for tomorrow, I shall visit you.” While Martin waited for His Savior the next day, he saw a poor, old soldier shoveling snow in the bitter cold and invited him to come in for tea and sandwiches.
Well, that’s nice, I thought. But, honestly, I would hope most of us would invite a poor, old man in from the cold.
Later, still watching for Jesus, Martin looked out the window to see a starving young mother and child walking down the street. He invited them in, fed and clothed them and gave them money from his meager purse.
Now I was feeling irritated and couldn’t exactly pinpoint why. It’s not like there’s a whole lot of starving mothers and children passing by my door, I grumbled a little to myself.
So I read the final passage about how, towards the end of the day, Christ reveals Himself to Martin and shows that He really did visit Martin that day, through His people, the old soldier and the young mother. Then Tolstoy quoted from Matthew 25: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
I turned off the computer and sat for a second.
You see, God, that’s a good story. Really, it is. I get it. But when I look out of my window, I just see neighbors. Not starving neighbors. Not neighbors in need of a coat. Just well-fed, well-clothed neighbors.
What more can I do?
A little later while straightening the kitchen, You know, God, I can’t really figure out why I’m still thinking about this. What’s the problem?
I had this nagging feeling that the Lord expected something of me, but I wasn’t sure what it was. Did He want me to support the poor more? Did He want me to move somewhere where the starving and needy actually were right outside my door?
I was getting a little frustrated and, to admit it, a little bit envious of Martin the Russian cobbler. Strange, I know, to envy a fictional character, but there you have it: I was. I considered how fulfilling it must be to know that your hands have directly helped one of your neighbors. That the Lord has sent someone directly into your path and used you to do His will of helping them.
As I thought about it, most of my help for the poor or needy has been in the form of writing checks — that go in the mail or the offering plate. Or donations to the children’s home — but those go to the warehouse.
When was the last time, I wondered, that I had actually put something in someone’s hand? Looked them in the eye? Saw Jesus in them?
I knew that God used the money and donations. But I realized that I was longing to make a difference. A real, significant difference in the life of someone I actually knew.
That next morning, as I dried my hair, I blurted it out frustration. Lord, I want to do it. I really do. If there was a young, starving mom walking just outside my window, I’d want you to show me and I’d want to help. I don’t know why, but I feel like you expect me to do something. But, God, there’s no one.
There, I’d said it. The words felt like they were still hanging there in the air.
There’s no one.
There’s nothing outside my window but the front lawn. There’s no one I can think of who really needs my help.
Who is my neighbor?
You probably know where this is going. It always seems like it’s that way in spiritual stories. You read them and see how obvious it is, but the person actually in the story seems like they have a noggin’ of steel. That’d be me — gal with noggin’ of steel.
But that morning, standing in the bathroom, God bore my ignorance and showed me His goodness once again. There was someone — and He let me know it pretty powerfully. Powerfully enough that I wanted to sit down.
It was crystal clear. The Lord brought to mind a believer. A young woman who had never asked for help, but now I knew she needed it. The Lord also made something else clear: He was going to provide for this young woman whether I participated or not. But He was going to let me participate.
I practically skipped around the house that day. When my husband came home from work, I tailed him straight from the garage to our closet where he puts away his keys and wallet.
“Well, hello to you too,” my hubbie smiled.
And out it poured. About the story and the Russian cobbler. About my whining and God’s answer. About the young woman. The tears were streaming down my face. My husband, knowing his wife to have very rare fits of spontaneous crying, listened carefully.
“I think God wants us to give to her. Can we?” I finished breathlessly.
“Of course, how much?” he asked.
I exhaled a huge sigh of relief — or perhaps it was my body letting down from a day full of skipping.
Looking back, I’m still not sure if I’ve learned all of what the Lord wanted to teach me through that experience. But I do know three things that I have I learned.
First was about my giving. Most of it is “planned” — sending monthly support to our church and another ministry. But I think the Lord wanted to remind me to watch for on-the-spot obedient giving as well. I should still “set aside a sum of money in keeping with [my] income” to give (1 Corinthians 16:2). But I should also be walking around with eyes wide open.
Second was about my actions. Here’s the thing: It’s pathetic that I struggled to name someone of my acquaintance who was in need.
Randy Alcorn writes in Money, Possessions and Eternity:
I must ask myself, Where are the poor in my budget? Our family gives regularly to relief ministries that bring material help and the gospel to the needy throughout the world. But this isn’t enough. What current efforts am I making to find a materially needy person and help him or her? I cannot relate meaningfully to the poor when I’m isolated from the poor. Perhaps I must take regular trips away from the cozy suburbs where I live. Perhaps I need also to travel overseas, not as a tourist, but to meet needs….
Some seem to think that giving to a good cause is all that matters, and doing so is itself a sign of good motives. But Paul says, “If I give all I possess to the poor … but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3)
Romans 12:16 tells me, “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.” I am really bad at that. I associate almost all of the time with those who look a lot like me. I need to be intentional about associating with “people of low position” — with people who actually are in material need. The Scriptures tell me that if I have abundance, God will use it to supply the needs of others. If there aren’t poor old soldiers and starving young mothers outside my window, I’m thinking I need to start visiting some new streets.
Finally, I was reminded that the Lord is active. He is concerned for the poor and needy. He is providing for them all the time and He graciously allows us to be a part of that. If I want to join the Lord in His work, if I want to know where to give, sometimes all I need to do is ask.
Copyright 2008 Heather Koerner. All rights reserved.