While conversing with a homeless lady this evening in the heart of downtown Seattle, I was reminded of a life-altering experience earlier in my life.
Several years ago, I was in New York City for a couple of weeks on a short-duration project. I was walking to my hotel late at night, and I walked right by a homeless man who, as I was approaching, asked me for some money. I was in a hurry to get to my hotel, so I didn’t even acknowledge him. As I passed, I could hear him say, “Man, you could at least look me in the eye…” Wow, did I ever feel the conviction of this man’s haunting words. I’m an ambassador of Christ–a representative of the one who set the standard for interacting with others less fortunate, and I didn’t even have the courtesy to look him in the eye and tell him “no.”
That night, I couldn’t sleep. I was broken over this encounter. I begged the Lord to forgive me, and to allow me another opportunity to minister to someone in that state of being, and he has given me many opportunities since then.
See the passage in James chapter 2 below:
“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.” James 2:14-18
Now recall the story I shared of Chris in San Diego (view this story here), and how I was able to be used as a vessel of God to minister to a brother in the Lord.
Was that man in New York City a believer? Was he a pagan? Was he an Angel (“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Hebrews 13:2)?
How could I have known, unless I took the time to speak with him?
We live in a fast-paced society where we focus on getting from here to there. We have been conditioned to assume everyone asking for money is either a) an addict, b) lazy, or c) a con artist. Doubtless, this conditioning (hardening?) has come by way of those who have chosen to take advantage of people’s generosity. But there are other legitimate possibilities to consider: x) those with mental/psychological issues, y) those who genuinely have needs and cannot provide for themselves, or z) an Angel (reference above). Once again I ask: How will we know unless we take the time out of our extremely important, busy day to talk to them?
I have made it a practice to ask anyone who requests money what their “story” is. In other words, why they are out there on the street. This, of course, takes time. But really, in the grand scheme of things, what matters most: running inside to make sure you make the start of the movie, or spending a minute of your time speaking with someone who is likely hurting and broken? If you’re so concerned about them spending it on drugs or the like, walk them to a restaurant, buy them a meal, but at least take the time to stop and talk.
Even today, I can still see that man’s dark, wrinkled face in my mind. I see his matted black and grey beard. I see the ratty wool hat and light jacket with holes in the sleeves. I see him holding an old cup, sitting against the wall….but…I can’t tell you the color of his eyes.
Recall the story of the good Samaritan in Luke (Chapter 10:25-37) where Jesus tells a story of a man who “…fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.” The first two men which passed–a priest and a Levite–passed him by “on the other side.” I bet they can’t tell you the color of this man’s eyes.
Tell me; do you have faith? Show your faith by your works.
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16