Christian Living

When You Give…Not If You Give

Jesus Expects Us to Help Those in Need, But Are We?

In Jesus’s engaging teaching that we call the Sermon on the Mount, he talks about giving to those in need. He says, “When you give . . . ” He doesn’t say, “If you give . . .” (Matthew 6:2–4). It’s clear that Jesus expects us to give to those in need. But how can we best help others?

The Need Is Huge

The vast need all around me overwhelmed me; it paralyzed me to inaction. I thought that if I helped anyone, I would have to help everyone. This is impossible. To deal with this insurmountable task, I took the simple path. I decided I would give money to the church—letting them use it where it was most needed—and not give to anyone else.

It was a cowardly decision that I regret.

Doing this allowed me to smugly say no to every request because I was already giving to God’s church instead. What convicted me, however, was a look at the church’s budget. About 95 percent of all the money they received went to pay salaries and building expenses. That left 5 percent for everything else.

This church did little, if anything, to help those in need. The budget at every church I’ve looked at has a similar ratio. In fact, too many churches focus all their budget on internal issues and have nothing left for those in need.

Though my decision to give only to the church eased my struggle to know what to give to, it wasn’t the best way to help those with needs. I was ignoring Jesus’s instruction about when you give.

Be Good Stewards

I then began looking for service and para-church organizations that focused on helping those in need. By giving to them, I indirectly help those who struggle. To fine tune my search and not let the plethora of worthy options overwhelm me, I looked for areas that aligned with my passions. I identified four categories.

I began giving to these causes, and they soon received all my charitable giving. I follow this plan fully—except for when the Holy Spirit prompts me to make an exception.

Giving to worthy organizations is great, and it makes an impact in our world, be it locally or globally. Yet in most cases the organization stood between me and the recipients. To best follow Jesus’s instructions about when you give, I needed to address the needs that confronted me day-to-day.

Personal Charity

I once worked in a downtown office, where people asking for a handout often confronted me in the parking lot. Regardless of the need they presented, money was the solution they sought. At first, I would tell them, “Sorry, I have no money.” Sometimes this was true, for my wallet would be empty. But most of the time, it was a convenient lie.

Now, determined to stop my dishonest response to these panhandlers, I sought ways to address their underlying need, without directly handing them cash—which most times I suspect would have gone for alcohol or drugs.

I’d buy people meals, purchase bus passes, take them to the grocery store, fill up their car with gas, or give them a ride. Once I even offered to put a man in a hotel room for the night. He declined. Despite his carefully constructed tale of woe, what he really wanted was my money, not my help.

At the Holy Spirit’s direction, I did my best to follow Jesus’s instructions about when you give. In doing this, however, I often ended up making unwise decisions in my attempts to truly help these people. Thankfully, God, in his grace, protected me from my recklessness.

Moving Forward When You Give

I continue to support worthy organizations, strive to be a good steward of God’s blessings, and follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance in directly helping others. I desire to make a sincere effort to help these people in their plight without enabling questionable behavior or allowing them to take advantage of my charity.

Yes, I sometimes make mistakes, supporting people or causes that take advantage of my generosity to follow Jesus’s command about when you give. Yet I know the one way to make sure this never happens is to never give. And that’s a mistake I won’t make.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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