I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not much of an evangelist, but I'm also glad to admit that I’m working toward the day when I can comfortably affirm my faith before others. While I'm still a bit chary bringing up my faith with family and friends, neighbors and co-workers, there is one group of people with whom I'm a bit more comfortable in sharing my faith. When I give some panhandler a couple of bucks, I try to remember (and I do remember, about 85% of the time), to also give him God’s blessing.
But there's more to it than just giving a panhandler God's blessing, and that's what I'd like to address right here.
Which brings to mind something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Panhandlers. Beggers. I’m sure there are other names, but you know who I mean. People who are down on their luck and can't help it, or small-time con men who make it their business to look down on their luck. They often have hand-made signs. They seem prone, if the opportunity presents itself, lets show their physical deformities. Who try to present, physically, the “case” for making a donation.
Some are frauds, good actors, but one man I saw recently had a sign saying he'd been burned - and he wore his shirt open so you could see the burns and blisters - he should have been in a hospital instead of on the street corner, but his plight broke my heart and opened myself to act in a way I hope God sees as generous.
I used to swing between handing out something to those among these panhandlers whom I “thought” were in real need (and who therefore “deserved” my help) and swinging toward avoiding all of them like they were plague carriers.
However, sometime in the past year, I latched onto a scriptural passage (Matthew 25) in which Jesus says he’ll judge harshly those who denied him – using as an example, “when you do this for the least of these, you do it for me” – then blending that scripture with another scriptural old favorite, “judge not, lest ye be judged” … (Matthew 7)
Having thought this through, having prayed on it and now feeling guided by God's influence, what I try to do is NOT judge panhandlers based on whether I think they’re worthy of my charity or not. I’ll let God judge their heart. Instead, if they ask for help – or if they just look like they need help – I give them a couple of bucks – and with that, I give them God’s blessing … Over time, I've also seen that my giving has grown - from a literal "couple of bucks" to a five or a ten. Not because I'm in a better position to afford this spontaneous charity, but because I find my heart demands increased generosity.
And when I have this opportunity, I to remember to give thanks that they have provided me with an opportunity to help one of those who just might be one of Christ’s “least of these.” That they have given me an opportunity to live my faith. I even try to keep several packets of gift bucks - two or three five dollar bills folded into my shirt pocket, ready to be plucked out and donated at the drop of a hat.
I don't know if I'm supposed to judge and evaluate panhandlers - I don't know if I should risk being an enabler (I know the stats say lots of these people are addicts or alcoholics, looking for their next score), but I do know that if I try to make judgements, sorting the worthy from the unworthy, then I'm indeed making judgments. Jesus was pretty specific on that point. And I know that everyone I take a pass on might be one of those who - in their need - are Christ visiting my life - and in my love of God, I dare not miss the opportunity to help those in need.
I know giving panhandlers a few bucks doesn't fulfill my obligation to help others of God's children, but I also believe that it's a start. And looking for people in need as I drive through "Sin City" keeps me focused, thinking about how God expects us to help those in need, as if they were Himself. I think I'm on the right track, and I ask God through prayer to help me make sure I stay (or get on) that right track.
I pray that God will help me figure things out in my life, so I can fulfill the mission He's given to me in this life. This is a small step, but it's one I take in hope that it will lead to a better understanding of what God really wants from me.