Whether it is guilt or conviction, fear or love, something motivates us all to react to homeless in the ways we do. The question is how do we as Christ-followers respond to homeless people and beggars? Do we give them money, clothes, or food? Should we smile and move on so as to eliminate the risk of being taken advantage of in some way? Should we buy them dinner at McDonalds? Offer them a job? More importantly, what is our posture towards this group of people in our society and how does the position of our hearts inform our actions?
How interesting it is to want to help people on the side of the road, feelings tugging at your heart, but not knowing what to do. We carry biases and fears about these people because at some point in our lives, many of us have started to see people like beggars and homeless through tainted lenses. We let society and our own limited experiences inform our understanding and actions towards people rather than letting Christ teach us. Often times beggars and homeless are going through such complex and deeply rooted problems that even attempting to be a catalyst for change feels overwhelming or hopeless. It is in these moments that we must remember that Christ is the one true God and that Jesus is the solution to any problem in life. We must hold fast to the fact that that the message of the gift of Jesus Christ is the single greatest thing we have to offer. From here we can begin to see Christ transform the hearts and lives of even the roughest of us and shift burdens from our shoulders to Christ’s as we engage with love along the way.
As Christians, we need to be willing and ready to allow the suffering of others to enter into our own lives. Galatians 6 says we “ought to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Actually being able to stop and talk to a homeless person or beggar requires some intentionality. This means living our lives in such a manner that we may engage an unplanned interruption in our own schedule. A life like this means placing more value on other people than our own agenda. This is something that we can only achieve after our own hearts have been transformed by the renewing of our minds in Christ Jesus. It is humanly impossible to love other people without the help and power of the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:10). Once we adopt the mind of Christ we have the capacity to have compassion on others. With Christ’s mind we recognize the power the Holy Spirit in our own lives and may see the potential for Christ to do a work in the lives of others.
When we are confronted for spare change or other aide, simply responding by saying “well, what’s your story?” will get most people talking. It is by knowing others and hearing them out that we can see what needs truly should be met. This may mean that we begin to adopt their story as our own and care about the holistic well being of the people we engage. Their lives enter into our own and we begin to care about not only their physical needs, but also their emotional and spiritual needs. The outcome is never the same. It could be that your role in this person’s life is to simply look them in the eye and hear their story because they are not at a place to desire to change. It could be that you are to ask them about their dreams and inspire and rekindle hope into their lives, that they really are someone who could bring change and life to others (this is a good one, and easy too!). It could be that you drive the person you meet to a rehab center and pay his entry fee after an hour long discussion of his desire to give up alcohol. It could be that you set a date to meet up again in a public place like McDonald’s or Starbucks to talk more. Whatever your response is, it ought to be out of love and compassion. The power we have to inspire courage into others by affirming who they are in Christ as loved, adopted, forgiven, and free is something we as Christians need to exercise more and more. It is the very power of the resurrection we possess!
The next time your heart goes out to a homeless man in the snow, a beggar on the highway, or any other person the spirit points out to you, rather than moving on and finding a reason to go about your day, say a short prayer. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how you are to respond to this person and be willing to be bold! Use wisdom and act with love as your guide. If this is “not really your thing”, all the better! After all, it is when we are weak that we are strong as we allow the things we are not good at to be taken up by the Spirit rather than our own efforts. May we all receive the instruction from Paul:
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:2-6