What’s a conscientious Christian to do in the midst of OVERWHELMING NEED? When the people whose lives intersect with ours have needs that threaten to consume the time/energy/generosity of everyone around them, how can we remain true to the call of Christ (and help them) without burning out or wanting to run away?
I suspect that no one is immune to the needs of others. We all live, work and interact with needy, hurting people who are looking for help, comfort and healing in a painfully broken world. Whether the need we bump into is rooted in economic factors, health and aging issues or situational agony, we as Christians sense a call to action that can leave us feeling confused, guilty and overwhelmed.
I have watched as groups work to respond to such overwhelming needs as families whose income has been affected due to job loss, aging adults whose independence is threatened by disease and mental decline, individuals whose personal trauma gets in the way of healthy interaction with others, and people who are ashamed of and feel stuck in their past history or uncomfortable present reality. Sometimes the needs presented by just one person in a group or family are so intense that the rest of us, caring and loving as we try to be, find our desire and ability to help that person dwindling to the point of inaction.
When it hurts us to help them, there has to be another way.
No matter if today finds you IN NEED or NEEDING TO HELP others, Paul speaks to your situation in 2 Corinthians chapter 8. Paul encourages us to remember that we are “shoulder to shoulder with [each other] all the way, [our] surplus matching their deficit, their surplus matching [our] deficit.” In the end, says Paul, we come out even.
For today, we may be on the surplus side of life, so that our plenty can supply for our brothers and sisters in need. But the reality is that tomorrow may bring a shift of the scales, leaving us in need of what our brothers and sisters now have to give. We’re all in this together – some days we are able to GIVE, while other days are marked only by our desperate forms of NEED. Either way, God’s plan provides for balance, which means that we have to LEARN both how to HELP WELL (today’s topic) and NEED WELL (next week).
Do What You CAN! Paul encouraged the church at Corinth to commit to caring for the needy among them, but he added this critical point (a point the church today often misses):
“Once the commitment is clear, you do what you can, not what you can’t.” (2 Cor. 8:11 The Message)
YOUR effectiveness in the lives of others can only be maximized by doing what you CAN in a given situation. The problem most of us end up facing is that we dive head-first into helping others, making commitments to them that we are not equipped to fulfill. Whether those commitments are of our TIME, MONEY, EXPERTISE or ENERGY, if we commit out of a passion to help no matter what, we are likely to drown in our own good intentions.
For believers to truly be effective in the lives of others, we must begin by knowing ourselves! It is our responsibility as members of the body of Christ to recognize our own spiritual gifts, talents and abilities. We MUST know what it is that we CAN GIVE before we stick out our neck to offer help that others so desperately need. There are many useful tools to help us find our ‘fit’ in the Kingdom work of God, including Spiritual Gifts Inventories (click below for more on this topic):
Pastor Rick Warren talks about the importance of knowing your SHAPE in order to actively participate with God in this world:
- S piritual Gifts
- H eart
- A bilities
- P ersonality
- E xperiences
Check out Pastor Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life, to find out more about your SHAPE for service to others! (If your small group is interested, Zondervan publishes a curriculum called “Doing Life Together” that digs into this and other topics from Warren’s book.)
OVERFLOW Another first-step for us in helping others is to seriously consider what our OVERFLOW is. In other words, what do you have an EXCESS of? Is it TIME, MONEY, SPACE in your home, ROOM in your heart? You can’t give what you don’t have! Knowing your overflow directly affects the ways you reach out to others by creating boundaries for you to work within (keeping you healthy and increasing the chances that you’ll have something left to give the NEXT person who reaches out to you for help).
TRIGGERS Some of us aren’t likely to reach out and help because we feel that what we have to give is too little. When presented with an enormous need, we shrink back because there is no way our resources could seemingly make a dent in that person’s situation. Or, so we think. God knew this would be an issue for us, so He addressed it early on, in the book of Deuteronomy:
“When you happen on someone who’s in trouble or needs help among your people with whom you live in this land that GOD, your God, is giving you, don’t look the other way pretending you don’t see him. Don’t keep a tight grip on your purse. No. Look at him, open your purse, lend whatever and as much as he needs… Give freely and spontaneously. Don’t have a stingy heart. The way you handle matters like this triggers GOD, your God’s, blessing in everything you do, all your work and ventures. There are always going to be poor and needy people among you. So I command you: Always be generous, open purse and hands, give to your neighbors in trouble, your poor and hurting neighbors.” (Deut. 15:7-8, 10-11 The Message)
What God is saying to us is that our actions toward helping those in need, however small, trigger something in HIM! A BLESSING! On everything you do! God chooses to multiply our every heart-felt effort to help, no matter how small it may seem on the surface. What a tragedy for all of us when believers withhold assistance because we’re afraid it won’t be enough. Let’s face it – it probably isn’t going to be enough! But God can bridge the gap between what we have and what they need, providing the difference in ways we can’t even imagine. Yet if we allow our stingy hearts their way, God’s blessing isn’t triggered. At least not by us.
Faithfully (& Firmly) DRAW BOUNDARIES It’s no secret that our health and well-being, both physically and spiritually, relies on boundaries. No one person, no matter how motivated or gifted, can be all things to all people! God knew this, and He explains it to us by providing the human body as an illustration to help us understand that we are each just a PART of what He can do in this world, or in the life of a struggling brother or sister. (Check out Paul’s description of the Body of Christ in I Corinthians chapter 12.) It’s almost impossible for us to draw healthy boundaries, however, until we understand our SHAPE for service – how we ‘fit’ into His Body on earth.
PAY ATTENTION Once we’re armed with the knowledge of our gifts and abilities, God will lead us into acting (or NOT acting) in specific ways on behalf of others. In order to follow His lead, believers must cultivate an ear for the guiding voice of the Holy Spirit. To effectively serve in the Kingdom of God, you and I must pay attention to the Spirit’s prompts – those which compel us to MOVE, and those which compel us to WAIT. Faithfully leaning into Scripture helps us to hear His voice, which in turn helps to shape the scope and sequence of our ministry toward others.
BEWARE of GUILT! Many of us wrestle with feelings of guilt when it comes to deciding who to help and how much help to give. How many times have you not done something that you thought you ‘should’ do, only to feel badly about it later? I’m here to tell you that GOD does not produce GUILT! There is nothing that I have found in God’s Word that says He will guilt you into doing what you cannot do, or that He will punish you with guilt in any circumstance.
Guilt is real – don’t get me wrong – but it doesn’t come from God. Don’t let your misunderstanding of guilt keep you from following God’s leading in your life. Trust Him to do the right thing by and in you and leave the rest in His hands.
SHARE the JOY! Helping to meet the needs of others is a REAL JOY for the people of God! Maybe you haven’t thought of it quite like this before, but when we try to do more than we’re equipped to follow through with, we rob others of the opportunity to join in God’s work, too. You might have a friend, for instance, who cannot drive and whose medical needs and physical limitations are intense and many. You have a car, and you have Tuesdays free. Do what you CAN for your friend on Tuesdays, and let others know what your friend needs the rest of the week. Together there’s a really good chance that your group can meet most of her needs, but in case there’s still a gap, be willing to suggest alternatives.
KNOW your community and its resources (or know someone else who does)! CONNECT your friend with services and organizations whose focus IS MEETING that very need! Spread the joy around, so that no one is burdened with work that was never theirs to do.
Next week on PINK Tuesday we’ll consider what it looks like to NEED WELL. I’ll see you back here on my absolutely, positively FAVORITE DAY of the week!