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.
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!)