The Bible talks a lot about standing up for those in need but what does it mean for us today? So often Christians can fall into the trap of two ways of thinking:
(Oh dear, what a sad story!) “Here, take some cash” (phew, that’s my bit done)
Savior mentality often results in running ourselves into the ground, taking the weight of the world on our shoulders. Other times we do just enough to get that pleasant sensation of helping but without necessarily helping in the most useful way.
I personally have felt both of the above at times, but I must ask myself “what would be the most helpful way to help others?”
Often the truth about how we can impact the world is found in knowing our place in the world and understanding how we can help those around us that God has placed in our lives.
It’s extremely common to hear of people running themselves into the ground, often putting others before themselves and their family. This is often due to some misguided idea that we somehow are the saviors of the world and forget that we are part of one large body made up of many individuals. We think too much of ourselves and pursue piety when in reality we are but a mere tool in the hand of God.
We often speak of ourselves making a “bodily sacrifice” or loving others before ourselves, but we forget that if we’re to be of use to others then we also need to care for ourselves. Mark 12:31 – one of the great two commandments from Christ – actually says to love others AS you love yourself. Some may wonder if this is placing too much attention on ourselves, and we should be loving others MORE than ourselves. However when you think about it, we make sure we feed ourselves, clothe ourselves, do things we enjoy; but what if we made sure others had this as well?
Now that would be a lot of love.
So remember we are but human, one part of many… care for yourself as you care for others.
On the other hand Christians wanting to be helpful towards others often aren’t looking at what will help others the most. We can resolve ourselves to a Christianity-from-a-distance approach to helping others. For example; we give money to others or as the old saying goes “give fish to others to feed them for a day”. Sadly we can sometimes believe ‘our bit’ is done. We tick the ‘helping others’ box and get a bunch of warm fuzzy feelings to go with it, but often we aren’t actually helping them as they need it.
The old saying continues; “teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. How often are we willing to help someone to the extent that they can (to the best of their ability) get on their own feet and be able to support themselves, rather than giving them a gift that will only perpetuate a dependency cycle on others? If anything that only serves us, because we keep others dependent on our pious generosity. Stroking our ego.
To take this a little further; it may be that teaching people to fish isn’t the best way to help them either. It may be more appropriate and often is the case today that we need to clean up the poisoned rivers before we teach others to fish. What I mean by this is; we may need to become more politically active to help others. We can often have a view of helping others but do little more than setting them up to fail in political systems that do not allow them to flourish, even though they may know how to fish.
Understanding Our Sphere of Influence
I am often wrestling with myself about the best way to help others. Sometimes this is as simple as asking someone how they are, or working to build relationships with those who are outside of our cliquey groups. Paul and Jesus gave us many hints on how to help others like caring for the elderly, caring for our families, and going out into the beyond to reach those we would not normally rub shoulders with.
Reaching out to the needs of others doesn’t necessarily mean becoming ‘super missionaries’ travelling to the ends of the earth and beyond (though some are called to do so). The people in our everyday lives or in our very community are the ones we are especially responsible for. Jesus even said that caring for our family is one of our top most priorities. Starting in this area can be a beginning to a wider circle of influence.
Let us not think too highly of ourselves by saving the world to our own or our family’s detriment. Neither let us gratify the feel-good-about-helping-others sensation without actually meeting the needs of others. Helping others will look different for each person as we all bring different gifts and passions to the table. We all rub shoulders with different people.
I want to encourage each of us to pray and learn our part to see how we can reach others, all the while remembering that God is the one who saves and we are His helpers.