You often talk about trying to find ways to help other people when you feel like no one really loves you. How does your helping someone else help you?
Very good question. Because I am a writer and have written a lot of books about trying to live my ordinary walking around life for the God Jesus called Father, I’ve gotten hundreds of questions over the years about trying to live and relate to other people in my own home or whatever town in which we’re living. In many of these letters people have said that they are so miserable they can’t imagine how helping other individuals could change anything—especially for themselves.
Well, we have been watching a dear Christian friend of ours growing and changing for several years now. She and her husband are in their early thirties and have two children under three. She has been praying about how God could use her and creative ways to get out of her comfort zone to care for people who don’t have the advantages she has.
Not long ago I asked her what she had discovered about helping other people she did not know but who God called her to help. She told me the following story, which I asked if I could pass on to you.
“I pulled into the grocery store over four years ago, prepared to do the mundane task that I did every week: grocery shop for my husband and me. As I waited at the light to turn into the parking lot a young man (who appeared to be in his early teens) walked across the street in front of my car. In that instant some inaudible, but real voice said to me, “Ask him if he needs help.”
My mind raced. I came up with at least a dozen excuses for why I shouldn’t talk to him. I had no idea what I could possibly do for him, so I said, “God, if you want me to help him, he needs to cross my path again.”
I thought I was off the hook but as I entered the store, this same young man crossed in front of me again. I ignored the strong nudge to talk to him and went on with my grocery shopping, looking around for him as I shopped.
As I buckled my seatbelt after loading the groceries into the car, I started sobbing uncontrollably and put my head down on the steering wheel. All my excuses seemed so ridiculous at that moment, and I knew that I had not followed God’s will for my life that day. I was overwhelmed with sadness.
I had just started really living for God, was a part of a small group for the first time in my life, and I knew that this opportunity to help someone else was one that would have brought me closer to God. But fear and anxiety kept me from doing what I knew was right. I asked God’s forgiveness and hoped that he would give me another chance.
Two weeks later at the very same grocery store my next opportunity arose. The previous event was gone from my memory, and I was in a big hurry to get my groceries and then get home where I needed to be. I believe we had dinner plans with friends that night. As I rushed into the parking lot from the grocery store I passed another young man I guessed to be in his early 20’s, wearing very worn, dirty clothes. He looked tired and beaten down, like he had worked all day. As I passed him, I again “heard” the inaudible voice, “Buy his groceries.”
“Buy his groceries? Really?”
My mind raced again as the excuses poured out: surely God does not want me to go back into the grocery store, find this man and his cart full of groceries and buy them; surely he knows that I am in a hurry; surely he knows that we do not have the money to buy this man’s groceries. Surely God has it wrong!
As I began to rattle off my excuses I suddenly remembered the previous incident and that feeling of sadness after I had failed God. But fear still welled up inside of me. As I packed my groceries in my car I argued with God about why it was a bad idea and then ultimately I said, “What am I supposed to say? I am going to look so stupid. I am so scared. And what if he says no? What will I do then?”
And as clear as day, I heard the voice again—so patient and loving, “Buy his groceries.”
Then I knew that I had to go back in that store, find that young man, and do what the Spirit was prompting me to do. My nerves were a wreck—palms sweating, knees shaking, teeth chattering and all. I searched the store and finally found him. It looked to me like he was just finishing, so I waited by the checkout lanes. He found his aisle and I threw up a prayer, “God, please help me do this.” As I stood behind him I noticed that he was buying the essentials— milk, bread, eggs, meat and other items that indicated that he had kids. I stood there trembling, tears rolling down my face, and I heard the cashier give the man the total for the order. ‘This is my cue,’ I thought.
“Excuse me, Sir. Would you do me the honor and let me buy your groceries today?”
The check-out lady looked at me as if I were crazy, and then we both looked at the man as he stared at my tear-stained face. Dumbfounded, his eyes also filled with tears. He said, “What? You want to buy my groceries? Why?”
‘Oh, Good Lord’ I thought… ‘he wants to know why!!??’
I continued, now sobbing, (I’m sure I was a sight at this point) “Sir, my God has asked me to help you today by buying your groceries. I don’t know why but I want to be obedient and I want you to know that He loves you. Please let me buy them. And when you get an opportunity to help someone else, I hope you’ll do so.”
He put his wallet away with a sigh and said, “Yes, please, that would really help today.”
I moved up to the cashier, paid his bill, said “God Bless you and your family,” and ran to my car, still crying. This time my uncontrollable sobbing was a joyous sob. It was crying that was full of love and happiness. My tears indicated to me that I had just done ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ and following God’s will was life changing for me that day.
I think each person has to find his or her own ways to reach out to people. But Andrea and I have found over the last few years that when we pray and ask God to show us how to love the people in our lives, it is incredible how situations come up in which it is right and natural for us to care for people and help them in ways we never would have thought of before. But as unusual and off the wall as some of our experiences have been, I can’t think of a time when the act of loving didn’t change our lives, lift our mood, make us stronger in our faith and bring us closer to God and to other people. And hearing our friend’s story this week opened some new windows of hope that my life can become more loving and real.
Dear Lord, thank you for making it so clear that if we want to show our love to you, we can do so by loving the people around us. In Jesus’ name, amen.
“Then the King will say …. ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! …. And here’s why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me….’
“‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:35-40 The Message)
How have you responded to situations that seemed to be opportunities to help someone else?