Tis the Season for charity, where every non-profit organization is seeking donations in order to help a variety of wonderful causes. But this year, try cutting out the middleman and start being the direct agent of giving.
Instead of writing out a check or sending a package to an organization, find a homeless or poor individual and reach out to them personally. Give them your food, clothes, time, energy, and whatever else represents Christ love yourself—in person! Don’t pass along the responsibility to someone else.
For many, this sounds like an uncomfortable way to spend the Christmas season—it probably will be—but here’s why you should do it:
1) Jesus Calls Us to Help the Poor
Jesus wants us to help the poor—without qualifications! He doesn’t command us to help just the responsible poor, the Christian poor, the likeable poor, the sober poor, or the hardworking poor, He calls us to love and help everyone—no matter what!
It’s amazing how we’re quick to recognize that God loves us unequivocally, that His grace covers all of our sins, and yet we put so many stipulations on helping the poor. If we accept God’s infinite mercy in our lives but refuse to pass it along to others—whether we think they’re deserving of it or not—we’re the worst of hypocrites.
In the end, we want to follow Christ’s example, and Jesus was with the poor. Non-profit organizations and ministries are great, but they shouldn’t serve as an excuse for you not to do anything on your own.
2) It’s Not a Sin to Be Poor
In a culture obsessed with consumerism, money is seen as the ultimate form of power and success, but it’s not a sin to be poor. For Christians, especially middle-class Westernized believers, it’s easy to assume the worst of the poor. We blame them for not working, being lazy, having drug addictions, making poor choices, and not trying hard enough.
We often equate financial worth with personal value, and we place the poor in the lowest system of our preconceived (often subconscious) human caste systems. We treat them accordingly—bad, and are continually blaming, humiliating, and shaming them through our condescending criticism, “instruction, ” and judgment.
We need to remember that being poor in and of itself isn’t a sin and doesn’t make a person less valuable in the eyes of God—if only Christians could realize this.
3) Who Are We to Judge the Poor?
Americans are horrible savers. On average, we save less than 5% of all our earned income. Despite this, we routinely think of the poor as people who deserve their lowly status. “They squander their money away on drugs, alcohol, and bad habits!” is a common excuse for not giving anything directly to the poor.
The truth is, we probably aren’t that much better with our resources. While we complain about the habits of the homeless, we go to the movies, buy new clothes, watch Netflix, eat junk food, and squander our income.
The point is, it doesn’t matter how the poor became poor. God continually instructs His followers to be humble and nonjudgmental. So why do we keep condemning the poor, alienating them, creating laws to hurt them, persecuting them, and downright abandoning them?
4) Love Trumps Efficiency
Which brings us to the next point: Even if the poor waste their resources, who cares? That doesn’t mean we should give up on them.
Imagine if God started forgiving only those who deserved it? (Gulp!) We’d all be in big trouble. The amazing thing is, Jesus wasn’t what we would consider fair or efficient—His love was radically unfair! His disciples continually failed, yet Jesus didn’t abandon them, even after one of them (Peter) denied Him three times while Jesus was in the process of being executed (after being betrayed by another disciple: Judas).
Jesus also tells the story (Matt. 18:12) of the shepherd leaving the entire flock of sheep in order to rescue the one that was lost—inefficient.
Jesus instructs us to forgive (Matt. 18:21-22) those who sin against us over and over again—inefficient.
In Mark 12:41-44, Jesus honors the poor widow for putting everything she owned into the church treasury. Shouldn’t she have used the money to buy food or shelter, or put it into savings?!
Unfortunately, many churches and Christians today are acting more like big banks, treating “charity” like a loan application, dispensing aid and resources only to the specific poor they deem “worth it.” Are they sober, mentally stable, spiritually healthy, and capable of work? Ok, sign these papers and we’ll give you a Gift Card to the local grocery store—but if you misuse these funds don’t come back!
In our culture of corporate greed, God calls us to be less efficient and more loving and gracious, which often goes against everything we’re taught at our jobs, within our education, and everything we see in the media.
5) It Forces Human Interaction
The common response among many believers is that God commands us “to be a good steward” of our wealth, which is the Christian way of saying “I don’t want to give away any of my time, energy, or resources to people who are just going to flush it away.” Thus, the accumulation of wealth is quickly adapted as a form of spiritual virtue, highly esteemed among American believers and attributed as a sign of God’s favor.
But giving directly to the poor forces us to actually interact with humankind, with the people God wants us to be with! Christians have a nasty habit of donating to charities and organizations simply because they don’t want to be uncomfortable or get their hands “dirty.” It’s their way of “helping” without having to actually do anything.
Yes, Jesus empowered others to go out and minister to the world on His behalf, but the powerful transformation He had was a result of His direct interaction with others, personally helping people and immersing Himself within cultures, communities, and the lives of those around Him. Are we willing to do the same?
Here’s the sad truth: When I’m approached by a homeless person, I automatically think the worst of them, and my mind quickly races over a litany of reasons why I don’t want to give them anything—they’re weird, they smell, they’re awkward, they’re going to buy drugs, and a professional organization can help them much better than me.
I usually walk away as fast as I can, ignoring a child of God.
In reality, I’m making excuses, and although I tell myself I’ll go home and donate to a local charity, I don’t. Even if I did, I would be avoiding the responsibility that God has placed on my life to help and love others.
Interacting with the poor helps us realize that they’re deeply loved by God and extremely valuable in His sight. Which begs the question: Are they worth our personal time and energy? God help us.