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I used to get caught flat-footed all the time whenever I saw men standing on street corners, or by the highway with “need help” or “homeless” 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. And with the Covid pandemic, it seems like many more are on every street corner.

Living Intentionally

I love the word intentional. It helps me draw a clearer distinction between a theoretical openness to following 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. However, with older grandchildren, this is an opportunity for them to see how Christians respond well, or don't.

2. I try to stop and have at least a short conversation with some of these people. (For me, men only.) It humanizes them rather than simply committing, "drive-by generosity." 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.

By the way, I stop for maybe 5% of the people I see. Maybe less. I'm no saint. How do I decide who I do stop for? I'm not always sure. I don't always feel some special impulse from God. By I know this about God, he is always giving to me, so If we're supposed like God, error on the side of generosity. I can't imagine God being disappointed with that.

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. A surprising number turn me down. (Frankly, It also weeds out those who don't really need food, but just want cash.)

• 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. I rarely ask them why they’re homeless, but I just ask them to tell me a bit about themselves and that question almost always gets answered.

5. If he needs a job and I believe he’s serious, I’ll occasionally 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. Occasionally, they tell me they and their family are staying in a hotel and need help. In that case, I’ll offer to drive them back to the hotel and pay for their room for a few nights or a week.

9. 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

Here's a great story I read, "My dad once gave $50 to a guy who said he needed to buy medicine for his kids. I told my dad he was probably going to use the money on alcohol. But my dad said this, "Whether he was lying or not says something about his character, but meeting someone in need and choosing not to help when I have the means to do so, says something about mine."

10. Finally, if I get to spend some time with them around a meal, 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 six in The 10 Second Rule, book has many other pre-decision ideas for all kinds of obedience opportunities.

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”?

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Brad, I’ve traveled many times to Haiti, Kenya and India. I’ve had the same internal struggle. One idea I’ve used is giving a local person, who is escorting me around, $20-30 a day, for them to distribute to those asking for money. You are right, they have a much better feel for the truly needy who cannot work, or the professionals, some of whom are trafficking kids, or women. I’ve also given out small bags of dried fruit, or nuts, high in protein . They are nutritious and their “pimps” don’t want them.


brad harrison
brad harrison

This is something I struggle with a lot! I work in Africa and on a daily basis you see panhandlers on the streets (at the stoplights in particular). One really troubling thing is that many will carry a small child with them or leave the small child to ask for money from the motorists. I am so fearful that actually giving leads more people to use children in such a way, and sometimes even to harm them to create more sympathy. My African colleagues are quite generous and sometimes they give and sometimes they don't. I try to follow their instincts in these matters - they know far better than I what might be a genuine need and what might…


Clare DeGraaf
Clare DeGraaf

Elizabeth, great ideas! You've really thought this out. Pre-decisions on steroids. Bless you.


Elizabeth Perry
Elizabeth Perry

I've been keeping one gallon ziplock bags in my car for the homeless people I see. In it, is a bottle of water, a chapstick, socks, knit cap, gloves, easy to chew energy bar (I was told not to give hard to chew things, as some people don't have teeth), an extra ziplock bag (again, was advised that the homeless like to organize their things and a bag helps) a booklet by Greg Laurie, called "How to Live Forever" and a listing of all the services (shelters, hot meals, rent assistance, etc.) that are available in our city. After volunteering at a local mens shelter for over a year, I found out from the guys, that most homeless men…

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