by Tom Wacaster
You know the scenario. Someone knocks on the church door. Their story is typical of so many that you have heard before: “Can you spare a dime?” That was the plea during the days of the Great Depression, and with the impact of six decades of inflation, a dime does not go very far. Today it is, “Can you spare a dollar or two?” “How about some money for my bus ticket?” “Do you help pay electric bills?” Or how about this one—really! “Can you help me buy a lottery ticket for a chance to win some money?” They just keep coming! It is Tuesday morning. Locked in my office, isolated from the world, I think, “Maybe today I can get some serious study time in!” Then comes the phone call: “I need to talk to the Pastor.” I can already tell where this conversation is going. I could immediately tell by the tone of the voice that this would be another plea for help. I listened. The life history of the caller seemed to be important, so I listened until my patience had worn thin, and finally asked, “Can you explain to me what it is you want?” Bottom line? Husband out of work; has been for more than two years. Food stamps don’t cover all they need. Can we help pay their electric bill now two months delinquent and about to be cut off by the electric company. I did my best to inform this woman on the other end of the line that the church is not a benevolent organization established for the purpose of helping people meet their financial needs. It is a spiritual body intended to addresses the needs of the sin-sick soul. Now her patient plea immediately went south, and she began to blaspheme the very God to whom she was appealing for help. As I hung up the phone I thought, “What an incredible waste of ten minutes.” I barely got the phone back on the receiver when two people were ringing the bell. I’ll not explain why I had to be the one to answer the door, but it was my lot to go to the door. Who knows what Fed-Ex or UPS might be bringing. It was not Fed-Ex, UPS, the mail man, or Jack Frost with an bucket full of money. You guessed it. Two—not one, but two – requests standing outside my door. Both had umbrellas to protect themselves from the rain; both were wanting to catch the bus at the stop adjacent to the building. Both were lacking in necessary funds to purchase a ticket. “Are you the Pastor?” I could honestly say, “No; I’m one of the preachers.” “Well, can we come inside and talk to you?” “No, its not a convenient time. Please come when the secretary can talk to you.” “Oh, we have to catch a bus, and we need some money to get us to town.” I tried to explain that we don’t hand out money, but I could see they were determined. Their stories were the same old excuses for lack of money that I had heard dozens of times. I wanted to ask them, “If you don’t have the money for bus fare, why in the world did you get out in the rain in the first place?” Instead, I could feel that my time for study and other responsibilities was quickly getting away from me. I had two $5 bills in my pocket, and against my better judgment I simply emptied my wallet into their hands and told them to catch their bus.
Yes, they just keep coming. I don’t expect that my generosity [if I could call it that at the moment] would do much to stop the continual flow of those who, for one reason or another seem to make it a practice to ask others for assistance in meeting their obligations. I know God’s word teaches me that I am to labor “with my hands the thing that is good” in order that I might “have whereof to give to him that hath need” (Eph. 4:28). But they keep coming! Yes, I know that Jesus told us, “Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away” (Matt. 5:42). But they keep coming! Not just seven, but seventy times seven! May I share with you some advice that might help you keep your sanity when you are having a day like the one I am having?
First, the irresponsible citizens of this society (or any society for that matter) will never go away. This is one of the prices we have to pay for freedom and affluence. Churches are not the only ones inundated with requests for help. No doubt some of you have been asked for help by some dubious character walking down the sidewalk or approaching you at Walmart or the local self-serve gasoline station.
Second, Jesus told us, “For the poor ye always have with you” (Matt. 26:11). The challenge is distinguishing between those who are genuinely poor and those who are poor because they brought it upon themselves, or even worse because they are just plain lazy. It is the truly needy for which God has compassion; it is the lazy and indolent that receives God’s scorn.
Third, it is never wrong to give unto others. God has promised that He will repay those who are willing to share what they have with others (cf. Matt. 10:42). The Macedonians gave out of their “deep poverty” (2 Cor. 8:2), and I have no doubt they were blessed by God. So, on those occasions when you do give to others, find comfort in knowing God will reward you.
Fourth, tis better to be ‘takin in’ by a con artist than to miss just one opportunity to do some good unto others. I’m not saying to give to every person who asks, just to avoid missing an opportunity. Take time to ask some simple questions and pray that God will give you wisdom to properly analyze whether it is a genuine need or not.
Fifth, exercise stewardship with regard to what God has given you (1 Cor. 4:1-2). I do not think God intends us to squander what we have in order to meet the selfish demands of those who refuse to work and labor for their daily food.
Sixth, if a man will not work, neither should he eat (2 Thess. 3:10). Keep in mind that Paul did not say those who COULD not work, but those who WILL not work; there is a difference. Too bad our government can’t learn this simple lesson.
Seventh, maintain a sense of civility even in the presence of those who are not civil. I am amazed at the sheer number of those who seek assistance from churches yet have no church affiliation whatsoever. They have never given to God, but for some odd reason they now think that God should give to them. Quite often those who we turn away become so angry that their tongues manifest what is really in their heart; and it is not good.
Eighth, behind every phone call, or every knock on the door, there is a potential opportunity to introduce someone to the gospel. I’m not saying everyone who calls or visits us is good soil, or that they will respond to our invitation to study; in fact, most do not. My sad experience is that 99.999% never darken the doorway of the church once you have helped them; even after you have helped them more than once.
Finally, be thankful for interruptions; they sometimes provide you with material for discussion, or, in my case, material for yet another “Tom’s Pen.” Well, there goes the phone again. They just keep coming!