I like helping other people. I enjoy that warm feeling of self-accomplishment when a friend or stranger can move forward in life with a big smile and a problem solved because of something I was able to do for them. How wonderful when I have the available funds, spiritual gifts, or on rare occasion the time to actually help another person.
Let’s just stay blissfully ignorant, content by how our actions exemplify who we are and self-justified that we are doing quite enough to proclaim the God we follow.
Too often I must be reminded it is not this simple.
I typically seek ways to be helpful only when it is convenient for me! I will help my kids with a project when I don’t have to be at work or finish something else around the house. I plan into my existing schedule those occasional nights to serve meals at a local shelter, but if I’m already too busy it doesn’t happen. I offer a friend a listening ear, but only when I’m not too stressed or tired from my own chaotic life. I volunteer my time when the work involved somehow falls within my skill-set.
But I am called to SO much more! Need is around me all the time. I might try to convince myself that I have exhausted the time and possessions available to give, yet the need remains. How do I respond? Will I even acknowledge the need that exists?
I came across a quote this past week which was convicting:
“What others need from us may not be the gifts we like best to give.”
(Sharing Possessions: What Faith Demands, Second Edition by Luke Timothy Johnson)
The Johnson book emphasizes that the love of neighbor is not something which can be planned ahead of time or adequately defined by a pre-established set of rules. We must discern how God calls us to respond to the needs around us! This requires us to be attentive. We must be aware of the gifts which have been given to us – our time, material wealth, the physical ability to take action, even our emotional energy – and then discern, moment to moment, how these gifts can be used to meet the needs of others.
I wrote last week about my desire to seek God’s presence at all times (Finding Presence in ALL places). I said I yearn to hear God’s voice, constantly there if I am willing to listen. I desire the Spirit to swirl around my thoughts all day, every day. But guess what… when we truly do this, our thoughts somehow become less about us and more about others. The inward focus moves outward. We then help others not because it feels good, but because the need is there and we have been placed in a time and place to meet it!
We were commanded to first love God, then to love others. When we act in love to meet the needs of others – people who like us were created and are loved by God – we respond to God. God is love, and God desires his creation to live and act in love – which sometimes means we get out of our comfort zone and help others using gifts we didn’t know we had. Our willingness to pay attention and serve then becomes a symbolic and natural response to our faith in and love for God.