March 9, 2007

Will Work For Food

We have all seen them. They stand on the side of the road holding a sign that asks for money. If you are like me, you have the standard excuses:

1. I don't know how they are going to use the money (ie alcohol or drugs).
2. They make more money standing there than if they actually worked.
3. Why don't they just go get a job.

Today, I pulled over and gave a guy some money. I don't and can't do that all the time, but today I felt like i should. Bob is homeless, has a Pepsi addiction, and lives on the streets. After talking for a few moments at the side of the road, I pulled into a parking lot next to the corner and prayed with him.

The last few years have been a journey in generosity for me.

I grew up very poor. My mother was on welfare because there was no other way to support herself and raise two children. Many (and I do mean MANY) people looked down on us because they thought we were mooching off the system or whatever. What they didn't understand is that my mother tried many times to get a job, but faced loosing medical insurance as soon as she earned $1 from her employment. No place was willing to give medical insurance for at least 90 days. With small children that was impossible.

I remember the humility of having to purchase food with food stamps. The bright orange and green fake dollars were obvious to everyone. They screamed, "Here is a poor person!" I know this may be hard to understand for some, but it is humiliating.

Ironically, I had this tension of being generous and being stingy. Don't ask me to explain that. All I know is that at times I could be very generous and at times very stingy.

What I have come to realize is that God is all about generosity. He is generous in his forgiveness and He is generous with His resources. Often, though, He has placed His resources into our bank account. (since we are really just stewards...)

Here is what I have come to believe:
1. We can't give to everyone, but we can give to more people than we are currently. We use that excuse to let ourselves off the hook, when we should really be looking for every opportunity to serve others.

2. Generosity is never wrong. I know that using a word like "never" could cause someone to look for the one time that generosity is wrong. God is generous with forgiveness and love and resources and He asks us to be His stewards and give His stuff away.

3. Generosity is expected of the Church. Now here is where we have to take a both/and approach. Yes, the organization we call the church needs to be generous. But the biblical understanding of "church" is not an organization is the community, the people, who follow Christ. We are to be generous. Think of the excuses we use not to tip our wait staff, not to help our neighbor in need, not to give the person on the side of the road some money. I am not saying to give to everyone, but, again, we could be more generous.

4. Give them back their humanity. Except for a few who are milking the system, begging and being poor is a dehumanizing experience. It strips a person of their basic human pride. We need to speak to people of all stations in life as though they are our equal. We need to give without stripping a person of their pride. I remember one church who "adopted" our family. They marched the youth group into our ramshackle house as though we were they were on a Poor People Safari! I would NEVER visit their church because I didn't want them to recognize me.

There are people who are taking advantage, but they don't have to be the focus. Consider how many people you can help.

Do you think a person can be too generous?

What do you use to guide your generosity?

Would you add anything?


  1. Excellent post. I find your history eerily similiar to mine. Conjured up all kinds of memories. I don't think you can be too generous, but you can do it without love, which messes the whole thing up. I try to listen to what God wants me to do and be obedient. I don't always want to. I don't always even enjoy it. But I want to be His agent on earth. And, if at all possible, it is good to bless people quietly, privately, and to remind the receiver it is God who has seen their need. Like I said before, absolutely great post!

  2. I try to hold to the give so your right hand doesn't know what your left is doing. Nothing like being part of the "poor people safari". If it can be done anonymously, then that's usually the route I will try to go.

  3. Beautifully said. I didn't grow up poor, in fact we were affluent, but I learned generosity and sensitivity from my dad. He would often give gifts anonymously; he'd mail someone a $100 in an unmarked envelope, without telling anyone - even us.

    We found out about many of them; I think some of the recipients figured it out, but he never told on himself or even admitted to it when asked about it. It made a huge impression on me, and sowed the seeds in me for what I think is a reasonably generous heart.

    I've gotten to do that a few times and the rush is exhilarating - much better than anything I've ever gotten from the mall. Now if we could find a job for my husband, I could enjoy some more giving …

  4. Reminds me of what a good friend of mine told me a few years ago when I was first contemplating becoming a full time missionary. At the time, we were considering a two week "mission trip" to help at orphanages, etc., but money was tight for us. I was talking to him to get some advice on whether we should go or not.

    My friend's advice? "You're never doing the wrong thing when you help other people".

    I have never forgotten that. My friend is now our main sponsor as we work full time with orphans in Ukraine...

  5. Thanks for commenting guys.

    Beth, I will be praying for you husband.

  6. Great post.I agree that we can always give more, and it doesn't need to be materialgiving. Giving someone respect and dignity whatever their circumstances is something we ALL can do and there are no excuses that justify acting differently.

    Many times I've felt the "push" to do more, both with "things" and with saying/doing for someone. I feel an emptiness and nagging when I don't listen and such an awesome feeling when I do!

    I don't believe a person can be too generous, if they're doing it for the right reasons.

    Thanks for the thoughts!