We’ve all seen the signs…we drive across an intersection, and there to the left, on the island, we see the dirty cardboard…maybe two by two feet with frayed edges…and in big block printing, it says something like, “Will work for food…God bless.”

We’ve all heard the stories…We get an earful from an angry, jaded individual and he or she says something like, ”They don’t really want to work. They make a bundle just standing there!” Unfortunately, some of the stories are true. I listened to a reputable Pastor relay a story about a personal experience he had with a cardboard carrying entrepreneur. He had stopped at the intersection and told the man to get in because he had some work for him. The man responded that he could not leave and miss afternoon traffic because he could make $40.00 in just a couple of hours.

If you are anything like me, you feel a bit uncomfortable as you pass by; especially if you get stuck at a red light, and the person is standing and staring right into the driver side window. I find myself not wanting to make eye contact. I want to avert my eyes, as if redirecting my focus will prevent the small twinge of guilt from settling in my stomach. Don’t worry, I get over it fairly quickly and you probably do to. And for that matter, I’m going to go on record and say that I don’t think God wanted us to feel that guilt in the first place. I think it is a false guilt…that doesn’t make it any better, because, I think that false guilt can be indicative of another character deficiency. But, I’ll touch on that in a moment.

How can we know when we are really helping and when we are just being hoodwinked? What exactly does Jesus mean in Luke 6:30, when He says, "…give to everyone who asks?" Ever wrestled with that verse before? I mean, am I really suppose to give to everyone? Well, yes and no. Now this is where it behooves all of us to have a working knowledge of the word of God. We must apply scripture in light of other scripture. According to Romans 12:2, a working knowledge of the word of God gives us the discernment to know what is, ”The good and acceptable perfect will of God.” When we consider the whole counsel of God’s word, we can understand that we are to be generous and give to everyone who has a legitimate need. But, we are called to help not hurt. We are not to use God’s resources in a way that would enable someone to continue a deceptive or destructive lifestyle.

Let’s face it, when Jesus said, “Give to everyone who asks”, we know He didn’t mean giving five bucks to the dude with alcohol on his breath, in front of Circle K.

Compassion is something we must always maintain, but it must be tempered with discernment. Years ago, my zeal outweighed my good sense. I was generous to a fault, not understanding that in some instances, my help, well, it wasn’t helping. Truth is, I was giving so that I would feel better, and you know what? In many instances, that was just plain selfish. God wanted me to make a sacrifice. But the sacrifice he wanted from me was more costly than handing someone a couple crumpled bills or some pocket change. God wanted me...wants me…to make a sacrifice that involves imparting my life.

Physical needs are important and we are called to provide for those, but spiritual needs are greater. In the book of Acts, scripture gives us a clear picture of how we can give effectively to everyone that asks. One day Peter and John encountered a lame beggar on their way to the Temple. The man was looking for a hand out. Peter and John had the discernment to give the man what he needed, instead of what he wanted. The man wanted pocket change, but he really needed a new life. I can picture the man with his palm upraised and shaking. Peter’s response, “I don’t have any money to give you, but I will give you what I do have. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, walk." (Acts 3:6 paraphrase).

We need to heed Peter and John’s example. We need to stop giving people what they want, in order to appease our own guilt, and give them what they need, so they can really get their feet up under them. It will cost us more…our time…our comfort…our convenience… but it will be worth it and we will be smack dab in the middle of God’s will.

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