From the time I was a little kid in VBS to when I was baptized as a 13-year-old to now, I have done a lot of growing. I have gone through various stages where I have thought different things and acted in different ways. At the best of times I have legitimately tried to do what God wanted me to do; at the worst I have striven for my own interests. But, I'd like to think that I have generally been open to new and better ideas, or at least deeper levels to good ideas I already had. Even now, though I believe that what I believe is right, I have no doubt that something will happen to make me throw out something I currently think for something better. This is not to say that I am fickle or wishy-washy; I carefully examine a new thought before I accept it. Nonetheless, I am open to accepting new thoughts. (Of course, it helps that I have a standard, the Word of God, by which to judge things.)
Something that has recently become a new thought to me is the idea of helping people. Okay, I knew that it was good to be nice to people and to help someone pick up their books if they drop them, but I have not always been willing to do the extra, uncomfortable things like visiting people in the hospital and talking to "weird" people. (Not that I haven't done these things at all, but I haven't always had the best attitude about doing them.) I guess I always thought that it was nice to be helpful, but that doing so was not actually a requirement of Christianity. After all, we are saved by grace, not by works. While this is still true, my eyes have been opened to the reality that the world's problems are my problems. The thing is that, if something is important to God, it should be important to me. I know that I can't single-handedly save the world, but if Christ is in the business of saving the world, and I am part of His body, I have a part in saving the world. I shouldn't be interested in helping people to gain my own salvation; my salvation has already been gained, so I should act accordingly.
Many Christians act like their "correct" opinions will be what gain them entry into heaven. However, Jesus speaks differently:
34 “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. 35 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; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 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.’
41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ 44 Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of [or serve] You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
—Mathew 25:34-46 (NASB)
People may have different thoughts about when this conversation with the King takes place, but the point is that God is interested in having people help people. Here is another example:
18 A ruler questioned Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. 20 You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’” 21 And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 23 But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.
—Luke 18:18-23 (NASB)
Again, we could quibble about whether or not Jesus wanted this man, or us, literally to sell all of his, or our, possessions, but we would be missing the point. The important thing to note here (besides the fact that what Jesus was asking is impossible and that only God can make it possible, as is shown in the rest of the passage) is that simply following rules is not enough to please God. He wants us to give everything for him... AND Jesus is concerned about poor people.
If you read enough about Jesus and his disciples, it looks highly likely that giving to the poor was something they used the money in their treasury for. When the woman anointed Jesus' feet with perfume and the statement was made about how the perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor, Jesus says something along the lines of, "You will always have the poor to help whenever you want to, but you will not always have me." I have heard this statement used as a reason not to bother with poor people. However, Jesus didn't say not to help poor people; he said that poor people would always be around for the disciples to help whenever they felt like it. When Judas went away to betray Jesus, the other disciples assumed that he was going off to give money to the poor. There are multiple verses (fulfilled prophecies, in fact) about Jesus preaching the good news to the poor. If you are really interested, put the keyword, "poor" into a Bible search engine and see what pops up. It will become obvious that God's people helping poor people is important to God.
Of course, there are other ways of being helpful besides giving to the poor. James talks about true religion being that of helping orphans and widows in their distress. In the book of Acts there is mention of the early Church distributing food to widows daily. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about giving to those who ask and going the extra mile. Again, the Bible is full of charges like this. Like I said before, I know that a person alone can't fix the whole world, but if Christ helped people during his time as a human, those of us who make up the body of Christ should be carrying on his work.
Now, how do we actually go about doing this? When you start looking into all of the different ministry methods, it can become quite overwhelming. There are many different schools of thought as to the best way to go about helping people, and I totally respect that. I think it is even possible to hurt people while you are trying to help them, so it is really good to know what you're doing before you start handing out stuff on the street. However, don't allow confusion over the form to keep you from performing the function. I cautioned against handing out stuff on the street. Well, truth be told, I myself have gone and done exactly that. Reevaluating the situation, I may or may not have done the same thing if I had realized then what I realize now. It's possible that I was simply enabling the people I was trying to help. BUT, at the time, it was very important for me spiritually to have done what I did. It was a milestone in my faith journey. I probably wouldn't use that same method again for helping people, but the experience was very valuable in that I learned that helping people is not as hard or as scary as I thought it would be. I learned that poor, homeless people can be very nice and grateful and that they don't necessarily want to kill me. I learned that making connections with people I would otherwise never interact with can be exhilarating. If I had hesitated to act on the Spirit's prodding (and that's what I believe it was) and had waited until I knew all of the ins and outs of ministering to the homeless, I never would have learned those lessons. It is possible that I made a mistake in my method, but my heart and my spirit were right on.
If we are to do what God wants us to do, we have to be willing to make mistakes. We certainly don't make them on purpose, but it is our mistakes that help us to learn and to do better next time. I started out this post talking about how I have grown throughout my life. We need to realize that ministries can (and should) grow too. We should always be looking to find better ways of doing things, but, in order to do that, we need to have started doing something in the first place. God wants His people to help other people. It it so easy to make excuses not to do this, but I think it is clear that this is what we will be judged upon when we die. All of our other sins just serve to make us "unproductive and ineffective," keeping us from doing the "good works" which God "prepared in advance for us to do." The Bible talks about sin being something that "easily entangles" us, in the sense that it keeps us from moving forward with what we should be doing. If you look at sin that way, with a goal in mind of doing God's work, it is harder to justify doing it. Anyway, again, as members of the body of Christ, the work we should be doing is trying to help people. We should expect to make mistakes and to grow in our thinking along the way, but the biggest mistake of all would be not even to begin.