“Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the LORD your God will bless you in everything you do.” Deut 15:10 NLT
One night last week, I got dinner and dishes done early... I was meeting friends for our monthly “girls’ night”. As I turned into the parking lot of the fast-food spot we’d picked, I passed a man standing on the curb with a ragged cardboard sign: “Hungry. Need work. Need food.” Not an unusual sight, at least not in recent months, when so many more people seem to be gasping for breath from a cost-of-living standpoint. This man, scarecrow-like in his ill-fitting old clothing, was living a double-whammy.
Jesus told us the poor will always be with us, but there are plenty of opportunists, too...lots of people are dressing down and scrawling signs of their own, seeking to cash in on the tender hearts of others. I want to help those I can, not just out of obedience but to live out the compassion of Christ that has been placed in me. At the same time, I want to be wise, discerning real needs from counterfeit ones. Sometimes it’s easier than others, but God is faithful to give me the green light (or the red one) when it comes to responding to someone holding the kind of cardboard sign I saw that night.
And so I’ve learned to check in with God: a kind of split-second conference call. When my heart responds in a flash-flood of compassion and mercy, that’s my answer. My cue to do more than feel sorry. It’s my cue to act. I continued on to the little diner, circled around to the drive-through window, and got a meal for the man. I used my coffee money, and had to dig for change in the seat for the sales tax. But it was enough. I doubled back to where he stood. He was now sitting on the curb, looking defeated and very tired...and very thin. I handed out the soda cup, and he smiled. I handed out the bag of food, and the smile changed to a look of surprise. A single tear slipped down his sunburnt face.
“Oh, God bless you, ma’am,” he managed. “He just did,” I thought, overcome by a supernatural feeling God seems to hold in reserve for just such times... and then He just plain lavishes it on me. If you’ve obeyed Him in a similar situation, giving from the bottom of your pocket (or the bareness of your pantry) because God asked you to, then you know what I know: His “asks me to” becomes, in the very moment I give, His “allows me to”. It leaves a satisfaction in my soul that no monetary reward or good-natured “attagirl” could ever touch.
As I increasingly allow His heart’s desires to replace the ones of my own making, He will use me, involve me, and pour Himself out through me more and more. I’m really starting to get that “earthen vessel” thing. The “earthen” is easier to understand: it’s our finite-ness, this temporary life we live. But the “vessel” part has to be more than understood; it has to be accepted, taken on, yielded to. Useless to Him when I am all filled up with the stuff that will pass away, this vessel named Melanie can be priceless and infinitely useful when each day I ask Him to fill me up and then pour me out. On that particular night, He poured me out using a soda cup and a bag with a cheeseburger and fries. Then, in an instant, He filled me up with that joy I told you about. When we are poured out, in word and deed and substance, He never leaves us empty -- not ever.
And so, a few minutes late (and a few cents short), I joined my friends at the diner for our coffee meet-up. They shared enough change for my coffee, and I shared something back: that God had let me be a blessing, and I ended up being the one most blessed.
Only God can make a raggedy man with a raggedy sign into a life-shaping lesson . He positioned every one of them in our life before we were even born (Eph. 2:10). Welcome the “raggedy people” He places in your path as a welcome reminder. A wonderful motivator.
The simplest of truths.
With the most extravagant of rewards.