We live in a rich country, in a rich part of the world and being faced with poverty or people begging in the midst of the wealth of Western Europe, and especially in the Netherlands, can be quite confronting to us – as it is fortunately quite alien. There are often feelings of confusion over how to act, guilt over the little we can do, and more than a small sense of helplessness. What is our responsibility before God? What could we, should we do to help?
Our responsibility as a Christian, as a person who follows Jesus, is to act as he did in love. To love your neighbor as yourself out of compassion (Mark 12:31). A set of rules, is therefore, very hard to define. Since what is loving to one person is not loving to another and it requires wisdom, discernment, and more than a few mistakes to recognise the difference (Romans 12:2).
I distinctly remember this time when I was a new believer, eager to help, I spent some time listen to a man who was begging, he said he had no money and needed to get a train ticket to visit his son. We were quite far from the train station and I just went with him to an ATM and withdrew £40 (€45) and gave it to him.
I was a student at the time, this was a lot of money for me, and it turned out that this man was a fraudster. It was his way of making money, I came across him some time later in the city and I was furious. I had been lied to and most of my money for the week was gone, but I decided to forgive him and move on with my life. The moral to the story is, you can act out of the best intentions, and still not get it right.
It may be surprising that Jesus did not help everyone that he came across during his ministry (e.g. John 5:1-14), but he was always loving towards them ready to listen. The key is that Jesus had perfect discernment (John 2:25) and people often went away unhappy when he did not give them what they wanted, but what they needed (John 6:26-27).
Right from the outset, it is good to have some realistic expectations. You are not the Messiah, or even a mini-Messiah. You cannot help everyone who asks of you. Moreover, you should not help everyone who asks of you and sometimes your help is going to be of the “wrong kind”. Following Jesus, is often not the most popular option. In James 1:2-8 it says we should pray for wisdom, trust in faith that God gives it and follow our discernment of the situation we find ourselves in.
We should keep the perspective of faith, even if we cannot help, God is the true provider and He is able to do more in the situation than we can think or hope for if we ask Him (Ephesians 3:20). Ultimately, we need to walk with the Holy Spirit as our guide (John 16:13). We trust that He knows where and when we should be giving and helping and will place this on our hearts. Resisting the urge to act out of a sense of guilt is difficult, but as I have found in my own life that giving and helping out of compassion often results in digging deeper and with longer lasting effects. Why? Because guilt is all about you and making you feel better, whereas compassion is all about them. It builds relationship, trust and crucially restores dignity to people.
The next part of this blog, will go deeper into the topic. You can find it here.