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4

Pre-Decisions
Posted by Clare

I used to get caught flat-footed all the time whenever I saw men standing on street corners, or by the highway with “need work” signs.  I’d instantly go through all kinds of emotions ranging from guilt, to asking the, “What am I supposed to do?” questions, and oddly enough, even getting angry at them for making me feel guilty!  So, I’d stop for some and others I’d just avoid direct eye contact.  Obviously, I couldn’t stop for all of them, but I was sure there had to be a better way than my hit-or-miss method.

Living Intentionally

I love the word intentional.  It helps me draw a clearer distinction between a theoretical openness to follow Jesus and a carefully thought-out decision to obey.  A family therapist once gave me this wise advice when I was reluctant to change something I was doing:  “If nothing changes – nothing changes.”  Meaning that, unless I have thoughtfully and prayerfully considered how I ought to live and act differently, I’m likely to make the very same mistakes again.

One of the best ways I know to overcome indecision and prepare myself to obey Jesus more biblically, spontaneously and intentionally, in addition to Scripture and prayer, is to make what a friend of mine calls a pre-decision.  Simply put a pre-decision is a choice to formulate a specific plan of action for next time I’m faced with a temptation or an opportunity to do good, especially if I’ve failed in the past.

So, here are some pre-decisions I’ve made for, “men by the side of the road”, kinds of situations.

1. Unless there’s clearly an emergency, I’ll rarely stop if I have our young grandchildren with me.  I haven’t the right to put them at risk without the permission of their parents.

2. I’ll always identify myself as a follower of Jesus by telling them I stopped, because I felt God asking me to do so.  That gives God, and not my personal virtue, the credit for my obedience.  I then simply ask them what they need.  The most common response is food (or cash for food), or a job.

3. I have friends who keep $10-$25 gift cards in their car for just those kinds of need.  It’s a great idea!  Personally, I think it’s best if I can take them shopping for groceries.  Why?  It gives me time to hear their story, get to know them as a real person, and better determine what they really need.

  • I like to give them a dollar amount and suggest healthy foods, but I try to shut up about some of their choices except for alcohol.
  • I’ll generally ask them if they’d prefer I stay with them while they shop, or “Is it OK for me to get a cup of coffee?”  (I don’t want them feeling “big brother” is looking over their shoulder.)
  • I drive them home if possible, but I rarely go in with them.  (Can you imagine the indignity they must feel in front of their family, showing up with groceries paid for by this rich, yuppie-type guy?)  I generally suggest that they simply tell their families, “God provided for us today.”  Simple as that.
  • I’ll always ask if they have a Bible.  (I keep extras in my trunk.)
  • Finally, I ask how I can pray for them and do it right then, in the car with them.

4. Every now and then I feel prompted to invite these men to have a good meal, out of the cold, or rain.  Every man (or woman) has a God-given need for respect and having a meal to get to know them shows that someone cares.

5. If he needs a job, I’ll try to get some contact information, so I can make a few calls to see if I can find anything.  I’ve had a few men do some odd jobs for me at some properties I own.  If they don’t have a phone, I’ll give them my cell number and tell them to call me in a few days.  I’ve only rarely had anyone abuse that offer and call repeatedly.

6. I never invite a woman to have a meal, or ride in my car without another person present, unless it’s a real emergency.

7. I will occasionally give cash, if I really can’t take the time to help them in any other way.  Or I’ll ask them if I can return after my meeting to pick them up and take them grocery shopping.  I then set a time to return.  (About 1/3 disappear and are not there when I return.  But, I try not to let myself get jaded by that.)

8. I’ve made the pre-decision that I can’t be responsible for exactly how they will use, or misuse the funds I’ve given them.  My responsibility is to be generous, kind, respectful and leave the rest up to God.  “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.” Proverbs 3:37

9. Finally, I generally ask them what they believe spiritually.  (I rarely ask if they’re a Christian, because they’ll almost always say “yes”.)  By asking the question as I do, it helps me better assess what they really believe.  The small paperback Bibles I give out have a 6-8 page summary of the basic gospel message in the front and I try to point that out to them.  But, really what I want, is to leave them with a good taste in their mouth for both Christ and Christians.

So, those are a few pre-decisions I’ve made that have helped me meet the needs of people, preserve their dignity, keep my family safe and leave them thankful to God for whatever I did for them.  Chapter four in The 10 Second Rule, book has many other pre-decision ideas for all kinds of obedience opportunities and we’ll talk about other pre-decisions in the weeks ahead.

My question for you:  Would you please share with us your ideas for how you’ve been Jesus to homeless people or “guys with a sign”?

(Eventually, I’d like to write a pre-decision guide to help others obey Jesus more faithfully and wisely, in a variety of obedience opportunities.  Thanks!)

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Comments (4)
Comments
  1. Dwight said...

    Clare,
    Confession first. I’m a 40’s something guy who put a lot of stock in doing the “service of the church” high on my to do list. Problem was my definition and Christ’s, or perhaps my motive, for where I served, was wrong. Pride is an ugly thing.
    Having some leadership gifts, I would be asked to fill various key roles on committees. I’d love to admit those decisions were bathed in prayer but rarely was that the case.
    Raising a young family, God began to convict me of time spent away from home, especially evenings at church doing HIS work (or rather, my back-patting). In a talk given by a mega church leader essentially titled CHEAT THE CHURCH, he spoke of how nowhere in scripture does it say to love the church; rather, we as men are called to love our wives and kids. For the first, time I realized God didn’t need or want me where I was using my gifts.
    So as not to have anyone misunderstand, I’m not saying committee work is evil or of Satan (well, maybe sometimes), but it can, and often does, detract from the real work of what Chirst calls his followers to do in serving people. Chist values people. Period.
    We have a value in our church that says that we value people over programs. I’ve had to call our our leadership out on that value time to time since having stepped away from more visible roles of leadership.
    If the church would just BE the church rather than doing church, we’d spend a lot less time in committee meetings listening to ourselves and putting a spin on what Christ has already told us to do. We’d also end outreach committees as we know them as seats would be full with visitors.
    To your question, what our family does is help to coordinate, and more importantly, serve a local network of churches in caring for homeless mothers and their children. My wife and I enjoy it because we get to be involved in ministry together and teach our kids to importance of serving in our community. We also go as a family once a week to a local nursing home to visit, play games, and pray with residents. Our kids have been ‘adopted’ by several surrogate grandparents. It has taught me a lot about compassion and valuing the smaller things in life.
    Sorry for the lengthy preface to your question.
    Serving humbly in NC,
    Dwight

    Reply
  2. Duane said...

    Clare ,
    The church I am part of partners with another church and in mid-December we feed anywhere about 250-300 homeless men, women and children on the south side of Chicago. This started about 15 years ago and has been a tradition ever year since.
    I remeber the first few years the uncomfortablness of this event.
    The Homeless people would file in and line up on oneside of the room, made up of mostly impoverished african-americans.
    And on the otherside of the room our churches, made up of mostly white, middle class church going people like myself.
    They were there for a meal and we were there to serve. We have it figured out and they needed our help. I’m sure they saw right through us.
    The whole set up just made obvious the seperation and accentuated the differences. It looked more like people prepared for battle than a night of fellowship.
    You cant avoid that when you put yourself out there to try to learn to love like Jesus it will be very uncomfortable. You will run into people who are very different. It is hard to fight off thoughts of judgement and predjudice. (Alcohol on the breath, can’t hold a job, you got yourself here.)

    After a few years of this uncomfortableness, we decided to have a group serve and a group eat with them and switch.
    We try to mix it up and mingle and talk with them.
    It has turned in to a great night and looked forward to by all. Reminds me of what you said a few weeks ago with our motives being what are most important to Christ and what
    1 Corinthians 13 says about doing things in Love; What is done in love is sweet music, what is not is just wasted noise.

    Reply
    • Clare said...

      This a great reminder that compassion without dignity might feed the stomach, but starve the spirit of both the giver and receiver.

      Reply
  3. Bob Schuyler said...

    Hi, Clare:

    I am enjoying your blog and am looking forward to reading the 10 Second Rule. As you know, Brenda and I have opened our home to people in transition (temporarily or long-term homeless) since 1998. When we went to Uganda, God orchestrated getting a refugee family in our house; they are still here. We sized down to one bedroom (of the seven in the house) and created a “granny apartment” for ourselves. We moved in last month. The refugee family (from Burundi) of 10 has the balance of the house. They don’t live rent-free, but have, essentially, a six bedroom home for $600 per month. That pays about 80% of our mortgage. We partition the utility payments. Aside from occasional help extended to needy people whom we meet at church, our house is most of what we offer to others. Neither of us carries cash when we’re out driving, so we do what you do. If we offer anyone assistance, we make it clear why we’re doing so, then take them to the store and pay with a debit card. Thanks for the clear exposition of your preparations for giving in these situations. I think what you have written will help a lot of people become more confident givers during a time when more and more people will be begging on the streets. Blessings.

    Reply
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