It’s been on the news the last few days—a picture of a New York City cop kneeling by a homeless man. The first thing that you notice is that the man is barefoot. By all accounts, it was a frigid night and when the officer saw this elderly man sitting on the sidewalk, he was concerned for him. A tourist from Arizona saw the exchange between the two men and snapped a photo without their knowledge. She listened as the officer questioned the homeless man, and as he assured the officer that he was okay, but “God bless you anyway.” She waited as the cop went into a nearby show store and came back with a new pair of boots and socks in the homeless man’s size, and watched as he once again knelt down and helped the man put them on. The act of kindness by this NYC police officer so moved her that she sent the photo to the police department. It wasn’t long before the picture had made its way onto the worldwide web and gone viral.
It reminded me of a similar incident that happened years ago when we were in Colorado. Bob was in seminary but worked, as well, on the second shift. He was on his way home around midnight when he saw a homeless man shivering in the street. Bob stopped the car and took off his own warm coat and gave it to the man. Then he drove home, rushed into the house and out again with a good pair of boots in hand, and went back to find him. He bought the man a warm meal after giving him the boots, and finally came home. I was not surprised at Bob’s actions. It was not the first time he had provided shoes for someone in need, poor as we were ourselves back then. That was—and still is—his heart.
This is the time of year when folks are more moved to give to charities and help others in need. There are many great causes and not a day goes by when we are not deluged with different mailings asking for help for Wounded Warriors, Samaritan’s Purse, Salvation Army, Compassion International, disaster relief, famine relief—and on and on. As much as we would love to, we cannot give to everything. It is hard to pick and choose where our giving should go.
According to The Charity Navigator, non-profit organizations throughout the country raise 30-40% of their annual income during the last few weeks of the year. One survey tells us that 57% of respondents said they do donate to charity in some way over the holiday season. Of those who do, 46% said they make a monetary donation directly to an organization, 64% donate to a third party like a bell ringer or store that collects donations for a charity at checkout, 24% buy gifts for people through an angel tree or adopt-a-family program, 63% donate items like home goods or nonperishable foods, and 22% donate time by volunteering. Another report says that the average donation amount is much higher during the holiday season: in December 2010, the average gift was $142 versus an average of $91 for the year. The average American gives 4.7% of their income to charities—although those who tithe give much more, of course.
I prefer to give through our church or other faith-based organizations, where I know the Gospel and spiritual help as well as physical assistance go hand-in-hand. Help for our wounded veterans is near and dear to Bob. Helping someone in a more personal way, such as giving the boots, even if it is done anonymously, is a special blessing. However we give, it is as much a joy and blessing to the giver as it is to the one who receives the gift.
God has this to say about giving inII Corinthians 9:6-10: But this I say, he which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work: (As it is written, He hath dispersed abroad; he hath given to the poor: his righteousness remaineth for ever. Now he that ministereth seed to the sower both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness.) As my husband likes to say, we cannot out-give the Lord. When we give, He blesses and supplies our needs, as well.
God loves it when we give out of the abundance of our hearts, not necessarily out of the abundance of our wallets. When the Bible says to “sow bountifully,” it is not speaking of how much we give, but of how much we give in proportion to how much we have. Remember the widow’s mite in Mark 12:41-44? And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and smith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living. We may not have much to give, but when we share cheerfully and willingly, even a widow’s mite is a worthy gift.
Jesus said when we give to the destitute, the homeless, the orphan, the hungry, the disabled—those whom society considers at the bottom of the heap; those whom He called “the least of these”—it is as if we have given to Him. “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:34-40) One more blessing—we bless those to whom we minister, we receive blessings ourselves, and we bless Jesus, as well. I love that!
We cannot think of giving at this time of year without thinking of the greatest gift of all to the neediest of all—the gift of a Savior to a world lost in sin—salvation given personally for you and me if we but reach out and accept it. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” A Savior, salvation, eternal life—we cannot out-give God. The best gifts we give pale in comparison to His.
Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift. (II Corinthians 9:15) Let us follow His example and give out of hearts of love.