Just a few weeks ago I was running errands with my youngest daughter. We were stopped at a light when I saw a disheveled woman standing off to the side of the intersection.
A woman with a cardboard sign.
A sign that read: “Help me please. God bless.”
And suddenly my heart split in two and started battling what should be done in that minute. One part of me warned, “If you give her money, she’ll buy alcohol and drugs. Don’t enable this woman. Besides, it’s probably a scam. In a few hours she’ll probably go get in her Mercedes having pocketed hundreds of dollars and drive home smiling.”
But there was another part of me saying, “Lysa, your job is obedience. Just give and trust God with the rest. Even if she is doing something wrong with the money, don’t you think God can still use your act of pure love for good?”
The cars started moving.
I would have to make a decision.
Quickly, I handed a few dollars out the window and smiled.
Only then did I know this was absolutely the right decision. I knew it the instant I looked into her eyes.
But, what about tomorrow? What about the next cardboard sign holder? Sometimes it’s so hard to know. I’ve decided it’s better to have erred on the side of giving than refusing. “The Lord is good to all; He has compassion on all he has made,” (Psalm 145:9).
I’d love to chat about this today. Share your thoughts.
p.s. Lysa launched a brand new website this week! Way to go, girl! Stop by to check it out and possibly win one of the many fabulous prizes she’s giving away. www.LysaTerKeurst.comLeave a Comment
Thank you for the reminder. Discernment and Mercy take a LOT of energy for me:)
Janine Robinson says
I also feel that tug-of-war in trying to discern the Fathers heart when facing these hurting people. Here in S.A. there are people begging wherever you park your car. I had the same experience yesterday with a young man. I was amazed at how suspicious I first felt when he approached me, but as Proverbs says “The eyes are the window to the soul”. Looking into his eyes I was able to discern what to do. I so enjoyed reading your post this morning and also your own website. May you continue to walking in the blessings of your obedience to the One who has shaped your life with His beautiful love. Love Janine
Emily from ReadytoWait.com says
I agree with you. Our family motto is “If people need help, we help if we can.” It is impossible for me to know each situation of each person or group I encounter–there is corruption at all levels. My donation to a service organization is not necessarily more risk-free than handing a few bills to a man on the street.
So we trust God. And if we have what someone else needs, we give it when we are able.
I think most of us will be able to relate with that inner battle – and thankfully God’s compassion can show through us. If you feel uncomfortable giving money, there are a ton of other items that anyone needing help would be happy to get. Some gals in NWA started an awesome charity called 3 bags in 2 days (http://3bagsin2days.com/3_Bags_in_2_Days/3_Bags_in_2_Days.html ) It’s a great idea and one that you could even do – just keep a few bags in your car for those in need. 🙂
I’m a helper. My husband is always negative and suspicious about all people and groups in need. I never thought about it in the terms that you put them though. Thank you.
This is weird…this just happened to me last week. It bothered me so and I ended up blogging about it.
Thanks for sharing Lysa! I am glad to see I am not crazy…
Jenn @ Beautiful Calling says
Oh, I planned to write a little something about this too.
My husband and I (and our littles) just returned back from a trip to Paris and then the Congo. In both places we encountered many people with cardboard signs or extended hands.
My husband is very suspicious and suggested the same kinds of concerns you mentioned the very first day we were there and I gave someone money.
That night as I was thinking and praying about it, Jesus simply reminded me that I am to give a cup of water in His name. How it is received and what the recipient uses it for are not my concern. Obedience to Christ is all that is required of me.
So I help when I can. We gave money, bought sandwiches etc. and I know that pleased HIM which is my reasonable service!
I used to struggle with the same thought about how that money would be used by the person I gave it to. That ended the day we took some of our youth group kids on a missions trip to NYC to serve in a ministry for the homeless. A man that ran one of the pantries we served at changed my thought pattern. He shared with our group that he had lived on the streets for many years till one day a passerby gave him money along with a Gospel tract. He read the Gospel message printed in that tiny leaflet and came to Jesus! He shared more of his amazing testimony with us, and since that day when God puts someone on a intersection asking me for money, I reach into the center console of my car, and give them the Gospel along with some money, and remember “Omar” and smile. And you are right Lysa, ours is just to obey, and it’s God that will work our gift (just like he did in this man’s life), to His good purpose. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.
Jessica Hoover says
I think we have all be there. There have been times when I have given and times when I did not. I think that if we do give we have to accept that something may be done with our money that we neither like nor condone. Plus, we have to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading and choose obedience to that rather than our own rationale.
I do think there is a good way to go about it though. Supporting local shelters and job programs is a good way to do that. Most small cities and certainly the larger have organizations that make great efforts to help those in need, but often times the one in need refuses to go through the right channels to get help.
Not to just throw a book suggestion out there, but there are a couple of really good books about mercy ministries that might help all of our thinking on the subject.
1) Mercy Ministries: The Call of the Jericho Road by Tim Keller
2) When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting The Poor by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
Books aren’t the answer but I do believe that these books provide a Biblical guide to ministering to “the least of these”
Thanks for this post. I think it resonates with a lot of us and our experience.
I ahve had many of the same concerns BUT I also give $$ to people on the street…and am usually met with strange glances from others! I ahve a friend who’s Mother always said, :”never turn away from soemone on the street, it might be Jesus”. I always remember that.
Lynn H says
This one’s hard for me. I’ve seen both sides – the need and the abuse.
Our family policy when I was growing up on an American Indian Reservation was to never give money. We gave time, food, gas, rides, even clothes and blankets – but almost never money.
It ultimately all comes down to what the Lord asks of you, of course. But if in doubt, it is just never wrong to show love and kindness.
Laura@Life Overseas says
Hi. I am writing from Thailand, and we are confronted with poverty daily–on the streets with children asking for money at your car window to the tattered clothes of the girls at the orphanage where my husband works. And my heart is constantly torn by what my course of action should be. It’s such a struggle, but I am learning two important things . . . .
1. Closer proximity equals greater compassion. If I want to foster a greater sense of compassion in myself and my family for those in need, I have to rub shoulders with them, talk to them, engage.
2. Prayer. We have starting making prayer a daily habit. Whenever we see a little child on the street selling flowers to passing cars, someone in the car prays for that specific child/woman. We stop and take a moment to really look out the window and ask Jesus for her/his heart, for safety, for blessing. It’s a small thing, but it’s another way to pull ourselves out of our comfy life and think about someone less fortunate.
Still many more lessons to be learned, I am confident of that . . .
Thanks for the post!
And, Yes, Love Wins. For sure. Everytime.
Regardless of whether or not they will use the money for things I don’t approve of, it is important to show people love and trust. It’s not my place to judge. Knowing you care & trust may change their life 🙂
My husband really showed me a great example of this. He gave cash to a man on our corner one day and when we saw him later the next week, he packed up a bag of groceries, bread, peanut butter etc. and headed out to meet him.
He came back with such a story and a friend. The gentleman is still on our corner every now and then and now when we drive by. God knows who this man is and He knows his heart. We may still hand him some money or run some groceries down again, but honestly aren’t we all just one big event to being on our knees like the least of these??
What I learned is to just trust the Lord and His promptings…
When we got our taxes back, I took out a certain amount of cash for some fun shopping. When I had pulled into the bank, there was a young man at the entrance to the mall with a sign for gas money. I normally do not give anything. But this day I decided we had plenty to help and as I drove past him again, I opened my window and gave him a $20. He was so shocked and grateful that I knew I had made the right decision to help. I had also prayed about it before I did it and I knew God was prompting me to help. When God blesses us, we should bless others.
My husband and I both keep a few $5 McDonald’s gift cards in our cars. We are hoping this teaches our children generosity and planning ahead to help others. I very rarely have cash on hand (even change) and have been discouraged when I saw a need and could not meet it because I didn’t have anything with me to give. This was our best solution as a family- my husband’s idea by the way! Thanks for the great post!
I find that I am extremely hesitant to give out cash like that, but there are other ways to help. I go through organizations – for instance, there is a men’s shelter near us where homeless men can come, eat, and sleep there as long as they help do chores and go to a Bible study. We always enjoy giving our time and food there.
Sarah (UK) says
I remember as a little girl shopping with my Mum, when we saw a homeless man sitting at the side of the road. He was a local “tramp” and was well known in the area as having a drink problem. My Mum walked into the bakery and bought some rolls. She then walked into the butchers and bought a big, hot meat pie. She took them over to him and gave them to him. He looked up at her and a light came into his eyes as he asked “Why would you do this for me?” My Mum replied “Because God loves you and I want you to know that.” He replied, “Thank you, Madam” and began to eat. I have never forgotten that incident and have tried to follow my Mum’s godly example.
You touched my heart with this post, Lysa. I’m a lot like you. I’m moved to help and to give, and yet a part of me wonders if it’s legitimate or if it’s a scam. Making matters worse, a report was just published in our newspaper, stating that a large majority (like, 75 percent) of the “homeless” who panhandle downtown aren’t truly homeless. So then the question becomes, do I do what my heart is telling me to do, or do I guard my heart and say no? Like you, I think I need to do what feels right, and trust that God will handle the rest.
Colleen LaQuay Urbaniuk says
i believe we honor God when we are obedient to Him…He has asked us to love and then defined it for us: love is patient, and kind, and long suffering, and keeps no account of wrongs, it always protects, always trusts, always perseveres, love NEVER fails…by helping a stranger-out of love-you have given honor to God…remember, man looks out the outward appearance (homeless, dirty, possibly a fraud) but God looks at the heart…
Jaycee (E.A) says
It’s hard when you know that there’ll be another cardboard sign waiting for you the next morning. But that’s what we’re called to do…to give. Great post.
I treat the cardboard signs on a case by case basis–I say a quick prayer and see how I am led. Sometimes a smile and a God Bless you, sometimes a few dollars, sometimes an offer for a meal. I trust God’s leading and agree that I would rather err on giving than refusing. It’s all God’s money anyway 🙂
I find that God prompts me to give too. I am/was also the suspicious type, wondering what the money would be spent on. God finally put it in my heart that what folks do with the money is none of my business. My business is going about doing my Father’s will. I keep extra money in a ‘Blessings’ envelope in my purse and give as the Holy Spirit prompts. I trust what happens to the money is then between the recipient and God. I have never felt bad about the giving since then.
It feels amazing to help…..goodness knows, I’ve been on the receiving end and on the giving!
Both are equally incredible!
Thank you Jesus…..no one can outgive you!
Some cities, like Anchorage, have laws against handing $$ out the car window to panhandlers on the street corner. You will be fined. This is done to protect people from putting themselves in danger on busy intersections. There are other ways to be involved or make donations. Just remember to find out what the local ordinances say about it.
You know, I struggle with those decisions – obviously, most of us do. I think of the dangers or the “in over my head” situations I might get into – but I long ago shelved the question, “What if they buy alcohol with it”. They might, but good grief – alcohol is expensive, so they can’t get that much – besides, if they don’t know Christ – by the world’s standards – heck – it might be their only dab of warmth for that night. Once, we were in a pricey section of a city – in a bookstore – chain bookstore – well dressed folks – near some mega churches in the city – and this rough looking lady actually was asking for handouts in there – going from person to person – my husband had that skeptical look on his face and I was so sad that she had to lower herself like that – I hit his arm as he waited for her whole story and I said, “just give her some money”. He did. I thanked her. It was spontaneous, but my heart was saying thank you for taking us out of our comfort zone. For making us uncomfortable. For her suffering when we weren’t. My husband questioned that it was a scam and that she might go from person to person like that, getting money. I sarcastically said, “Yeah – how lucrative – how come we didn’t think of that”. He could have skipped law school and all his years of practice and instead we could have gone begging from person to person. How ridiculous does that sound?
Sorry long comment. I just know for me, it’s a dilemma and I want to be a part of the body of Christ that helps. I don’t feel like I do.
Hannah Braboy says
Oh Lysa. I’ve lived in my current town all my life. Sadly, there are a good amount of homeless people here. I hate that. It makes my heart break. Despite that, you have inspired me to do something about it. Thank you; from the depths of my heart.
Berean Girl says
It’s all about having faith that each time we reach out to touch somebody, God makes an impact on their lives through our little token. It’s less about the few dollars you handed itself and more about the actual act of kindness. I’m really glad you did not resist the urge to help
You absolutely did the right thing, as others have said “the least of these”. The last sign I saw said “We all need a little help sometimes”. It touched my heart and was SO very true.
Brandie M. says
I cant take credit for this, but i ran across this idea recentlty and loved it so I’ll share. Friendship bags: Fill a paper bag with a few canned food items such as beans and franks and fruit, a plastic fork and napkin, change for a phone call, jucie or water, a bus ticket for the day and a list of local outreach ministries and their numbers. Keep a few in your car so your prepared and give out as needed. Hope this inspires you as much as it did me.
Homeless people are all over my city, and I have such a difficult time knowing how to respond. Many people take the “don’t give them money” point of view, but I feel uneasy with that approach. I think God is extravagant and wants us to bless others. How they use the money is their choice, and I can’t rule out God’s nudging in their lives.
Jenni Saake "InfertilityMom" says
One cold winter evening several years ago, we drove past an elderly man on the corner, icicles dripping off his beard. We had only the length of the red light to make a decision and chose to drive on with the color changed to green. We knew in our hearts God was calling us to do more but let the rush of holiday excitement stand in our way. A couple hours later we left the party and went back to find him so we could pay for a cheep motel room for the night, but we couldn’t track him down.
To this day I can’t help but wonder if he wasn’t an “angel unaware” that we failed to offer the hospitality God so clearly prompted us to give. I’ve never been able to pass another cardboard sign without deep conviction that God calls us to reach out to the hopeless and needy, sometimes in small ways, sometimes more.
We have, at times, bought meals or even given cash, as God prompts our hearts. I have no doubt we have been scammed a few times, but that’s between the other person and God. I’m only responsible to act in obedience as God calls me.
Our church introduced us to the concept of Manna Bags. We now carry ziplock bags in our car containing a bottle of water, a couple of protein bars, socks (sock are like gold if you live on the street, see http://infertilitymom.blogspot.com/2009/06/blog-post.html ), dried fruit, etc. You could add things like toothbrush, travel size toiletries, or whatever else God puts on your heart.
The ideas is that we know this little bag will not change their world, but like manna, it can be God’s provision to meet needs for this one day. When I gave one out in a parking lot last week, the man had eaten his first granola bar before I even made it back to the car – no doubt he was truly hungry. As so often happens, it was the socks that really got him excited and brought tears to his eyes.
I’m also working on a list of area missions and shelters and soups kitchens and such, along with addresses and phone numbers, that we can enclose in the bag along with a written prayer so that hopefully we can help direct people to more long-term solutions. I long to help meet the needs of spiritual hunger as well as physical and continue to pray about what kinds of resources I might include that will fill this void.
I’ll never forget the day I had just taken our kids to a special bakery and bought a loaf of gourmet bread for three times what I normally would pay in the grocery store. It was warm and fresh and we each savored a single piece as soon as we got to the car. Pulling out of the parking lot we spotted a couple shivering by the stop sign. I had nothing in the car to give but that treasured loaf of bread and even though it was a treat they loved, my kids didn’t think twice. I pointed out the couple and before I could even ask what we should do I heard from the backseat, “Roll down the window Mommy. We still have most of our loaf of bread!” Their generous hearts meant more to me than a million dollars, and scam or no scam, we were all richer for the experience!
“Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
– James 2:15-17
Beautiful post, and even more than that, what a beautiful heart. This is what God asks of us, to love one another, and if we have something to give, then to give it. I often have to remind myself that we are ALL God’s children, even if we are wrapped in different packaging. That person, no matter what they may look like still wants to feel loved, appreciated, and that they matter. Thank-you for showing me this in a very real way. Be blessed!
Thanks for your touching story. I don’t always give to someone holding a cardboard sign but I always give to someone who comes up and ask for it in a parking lot. Friends say, “It’s a scam.” It could be. Or maybe not. I don’t know. And I know it is always the right thing to do.
Jenni Saake "InfertilityMom" says
Here’s our churches page about Manna Bags:
Jenni Saake "InfertilityMom" says
A recent article about Manna Bags:
Yes, it’s tough to decide what to do there. But I like your discernment… yours is to obey God.. let Him decide the blessing.
I have a horrible habit of not preparing a lunch to take to my part-time job which supplements my unemployment benefits right now. Then at lunch time, my tummy begs for something hearty. I beat myself up for not being a planner. for spending too much on restaurant meals.
In such a case, last week I went to a Tokoyo Joe’s… pulled out my punch card and was surprised to learn I was entitled to a free lunch. Whoo hoo!
On my way back to work, a woman about my age sat at the intersection, a cardboard sign asking for help.
The spirit gives me a gentle nudge… “This is what your $5 is for.”
As I cracked my window she popped up… smiled as she reached for my bill and said, “God Bless you.”
My feeling is that it is our responsibility to respond to the needy. God knows what they will ultimately do with what we give; He will judge them for how they use it. That is not our concern, but God’s!
He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.
Interesing article. I look into view to fresh evolvement of the site.
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