Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Tension by Keith A. Giles

A friend of mine once noted that following Jesus is about finding balance in the midst of tension rather than attempting to seek resolution. This means that we are constantly being forced to evaluate every situation against the Word of God, and to go to our knees in prayer often to discover the answers and find our way. It means there are no formulas when it comes to seeking first the Kingdom of God.

At the moment I'm wrestling with something that doesn't have an easy answer. My wife and I are attempting to help someone who is in need. This person clearly needs help in several areas of life, but how to help is what I'm struggling with. I am walking in the tension between pure compassion and enabling a self-destructive, dependent behavior.

For me, to be a follower of Jesus involves sharing your life with those in need. I can't read the words of Jesus in Matthew 25 any other way than this. Those who truly belong to Him simply cannot walk past someone who is hungry, or naked, or poor, or lonely, or broken, and keep on going. For someone who has surrendered their own life to follow Jesus, compassion is automatic. It's who we are.

Honestly, I'm a bit of a push-over when it comes to helping people in need. If a stranger comes up to me and asks me for help, I really can't justify refusing them help, especially if it's within my ability to do so. I think this is because Jesus just doesn't ever provide any exit strategy for us when it comes to this. Jesus says, "Give to anyone who asks you and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." (Matthew 5:42) He also tells us to go the extra mile and to give away freely our shirt to the one who wants to sue us for our jacket. (Matthew 5:40)

Of course, this doesn't mean we have to give foolishly. If someone is begging for money because they want to eat, I'd suggest taking the time to buy them the food yourself and to sit down and spend time with them too. This is actually closer to what Jesus had in mind, I believe.

In fact, one friend of mine actually bought a homeless man a pack of cigarettes once, just to talk to him and get to know him. That's probably a little radical for most of us, but I don't think it's wrong if it means having permission to speak to someone about the Kingdom and demonstrate the compassion of Jesus to someone.

Over the years I've learned there's a difference between giving people what they need and giving them what they ask for. Often people ask for what they want (food, a place to sleep for the night, money, cigarettes, etc.), but what they really need is something else (like a job, freedom from their addictions, and a real friend for example).

The trick is, you won't learn what the person really needs unless you spend time with them, and that probably means, at least at first, giving them what they ask for. It will also mean an investment of your time and a sincere friendship with the person in order to arrive at the place in the conversation where you can communicate what is really needed and offer them real help.

Doesn't that mean you'll get ripped off once in a while? Of course you will. One fellow servant in our motel ministry once suggested that we try to help newbies to avoid getting burned. I vigorously disagreed with them and argued that getting burned is probably the best thing that could possibly happen to someone who takes a step towards the poor. Without getting burned you'll never learn the difference between a con and the truth. I've learned most of what I know from getting lied to, played and tricked by the people I was helping. And I still get burned sometimes. It goes with the territory.

The trick is to get burned and not loose your heart for the poor. If you can get ripped off and tricked and still completely love the next person God puts in your path, then you're on the right track.

I read a quote the other day that floored me. It said, "If all of the world's wealth were redistributed, there were still be two kinds of people: those who would use it and replace it because they could earn the replacement, and those who would use it and then be just as poor as ever." (Ralph Winter, editor of "Mission Frontiers")

The question then becomes, "What is the most loving thing I can do for this person?" and then doing whatever that thing is.

I love the verse, "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?" (1 John 3:17) The real challenge, after you see your brother and take pity on him, is to determine what they really need.

How do we define "Help"?

I notice that Jesus often asked those whom he was about to heal if they wanted to be made well. (John 5:5-6) It seems like a silly question at first, but after attempting to help people over the years I've learned it's almost the only question that matters. "Do you really want me to cure you?"

The honest truth is, a lot of people who are homeless or in places of despair do not want you to remove the cause. "Do you want me to take away your desire for alcohol?", "Do you want me to remove your need for heroin?", "Do you want me to heal you?", sometimes the answer, surprisingly, is no.

I've actually had these sorts of conversations with people. When they are offered a free program to help them escape their addictions, they refuse. When they are given the chance to let go of their grief over a lost child, they cling tight. When they are faced with the opportunity to have their demons cast out, they admit that they like their demons. In cases like this, all you can do is walk away and pray that, when the day comes that they want to be healed, there will still be an opportunity for them to receive it.

In the specific case that my wife are dealing with now, we have a friend who may or may not be ready for their healing. It remains to be seen at this point, but I have hope that this person will respond and accept the chance to be made well, to find a way out of their destructive lifestyle, and to be healed of the wounds of the past.

So, what about you? Is there anything in your life right now that you're refusing to be cured from? Are you hanging on to an old grudge, or a tragic situation, or even an addiction or an illness? I would encourage you to let go of that and to receive the healing that Jesus is holding out to you right now.

He is near. The Kingdom is near.

"Do you want to be healed?"

My article "JESUS' FAVORITE QUESTION" is now online at


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