I saw him as I slowed for the red light. He was a disheveled elderly man sitting cross-legged on the ground next to a red duffle bag. I didn’t bother to read his cardboard sign; it didn’t matter what it said. With my right hand, I reached for the two dollars I keep in my console for just this occasion, and with my left hand I rolled down my window. I motioned him to me, but he was distracted. He had turned to what appeared to be a small dog sitting behind his duffle bag. I was struck by the wide smile that creased across his dirty face as he tenderly scratched the neck of his best friend.
Hungry. What more do we need to know? (Photo by Ashley Jones)
When he did look up, I motioned him over again. I was afraid the light would change before he could manage to unfold himself from the ground and walk over to me. I handed him my meager donation as I said, “Hey there. How are you doing today?” It’s my standard question, and I’ve received many answers, mostly involving complaints about the weather, not having enough food, or insufficient clothing. This man answered differently.
“Thank you! This is really needed. You see, I’ve got this little 7-week old puppy there to take care of….” He turned in the direction of the dog and, again, his face lit up with a smile. I sensed that joy and happiness were new emotions for this man, or at least ones he hadn’t felt in some time.
The light turned green, so I told him quickly as I drove away, “Take care. I’ll pray for you today.” I didn’t even catch his name. But as I drove past his duffle bag, I saw the cutest little blonde puppy sitting on the ground and, I swear, that puppy was smiling. I have never seen a dog more content or a man more overjoyed.
The Blessed Beggar
I drove away a stunned. I couldn’t help but think that perhaps God had placed that puppy in that man’s life to give him something to care for and to love. He now had a responsibility – not just to himself, but to another being – and he was not taking it lightly. I smiled, convinced that little puppy will be fed, even if it’s the last morsel of food that man has to his name.
The Blessed Giver
I then felt God’s presence as He opened my eyes to a bigger picture. Here, this man was taking on the responsibility of feeding another living being, even though he had very little to give. How did my two dollars compare to that man’s generosity? Was I as concerned for his wellbeing as he was for his dog’s? Perhaps God placed that man in my life to give me someone to care for and love, if only for a moment. Was he, as a fellow man, my responsibility? Was I taking that too lightly? Would I be willing to share my last bite of food with him?
I had given that man a couple dollars, enough to help him get a cheeseburger but not so much that it hurt me financially. I had intended this to be a small blessing to him, and I believe it was. I believe I did exactly what God intended me to do.
However, I received a bigger blessing that morning than he did because he reminded me how important it is for us to look beyond ourselves and take care of one another, even when we don’t have much to offer. And I was reminded of the inexplicable joy we receive when we truly give of ourselves in the name of the Lord.
Jesus tells us to serve Him by serving others:
Matthew 25:31-40, NAS “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’”
I’ve always loved this scripture, which reminds us to serve one another as we would serve the Lord:
Hebrews 13:1-2, NAS Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.
Have you ever been in a situation where you wanted to give but didn’t have any cash on you? Don’t miss out on these opportunities! Keep a few dollars in your car or in your purse at all times, designated for donations. I like to use some of my tithe money, which is already earmarked for God’s work. For safety reasons, I keep this cash separate from my wallet so I can pull it out quickly and avoid having to expose all of my cash and credit cards. I also keep my doors locked, and I only stop during daylight hours when others are around.
I know a couple dollars doesn’t stretch very far, so I also like to keep “cracker packets” in my car. These are easy and fun to make, they’re immediately helpful, and they show the recipient that I cared enough to make them in advance. To make them, simply use a rubber band to wrap a couple dollars around a pack of peanut butter crackers. Then add an individually-wrapped hand wipe and a note of encouragement. A business card for the local food pantry, clothes closet, or shelter, can also be added. Be creative and thoughtful, but avoid anything judgmental.
Don’t miss out on serving God! Pray for the Holy Spirit to give you guidance on who you should bless and how. No, we can’t do it all; we can’t save the whole world by ourselves. But we have an important role to play, and God has put needy people in each of our lives for a reason. Seek God’s wisdom. Then serve Him by serving others.