“I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox, more than a bull with its horns and hooves. The poor will see and be glad—you who seek God, may your hearts live! The Lord hears the needy” (Psalm 69:30-33 NIV).
This coming Thursday is Thanksgiving and generally this isn’t a Christian holiday, but we should think of it in Christian terms…I mean, come on, it is thanks and giving in one word. That can pretty much sum up how we should live our lives daily! We should be thankful for grace and giving grace and charity to others in His name.
I want to start off by talking about what it is like to be needy and just how giving can make a difference during this season. You see, we should be “giving” all year, though for some reason we don’t, but giving during this time of year means more. Giving during the holiday season gives hope. I have spent time on the streets as a person in need, and it is tough. I was so blessed by gracious friends so I actually only slept “on the street” a few times, but I went through a period during the holiday season where I was homeless. Friends, being homeless can feel hopeless.
For me, it was by God’s grace I already had a job at this time. Have you ever tried to get a job as a homeless person? No physical or mailing address to speak of; employers don’t like that much. Then there is the hygiene issue. Again, thank God I never really had to deal with this because I have wonderful friends, but have you ever tried to “wash up” in the sinks at the library? OR, even more humiliating, washing up in the sink where you are interviewing for the job? It’s not fun.
Now, I know most of us have this mindset that if a person has time to beg on the corner of the highway then they should have time to get a job. I know I have thought that same thing even though I have experienced homelessness. Jesus tells us that doing for “the least of these” is doing for him (see Matthew 25:40), so when did doing for the least mean turning our nose down and having zero empathy. I actually know people who won’t visit our local library because that is where some of our local homeless population hangs out. I was once told that homeless people don’t have God’s grace else they wouldn’t be homeless. Because, you know, they know God’s plan for these people’s lives and of course God wouldn’t use a homeless person to do his work, right? (Hmmm, I wonder if that is why I am a former homeless person with a call to minister to children and families and to write and share my story with people in prayer that it reaches someone who needs to hear it). Nope, God doesn’t use the homeless. At all. Never mind that many of the lepers he healed were probably homeless considering they weren’t allowed in the town walls after they got the disease. I KNOW Christ used some homeless lepers in HIS work!
Anyway, so I KNOW that a few bad apples seem to ruin the bunch, but how fair is that, really? Do you have any idea what their story is? Not every homeless person is an addict, though the rate of addiction is quite high among the homeless community. You know why? I mean, I haven’t done a formal study or anything, but being homeless stinks in a way you cannot imagine if you have not experienced it. There is no stability, no sanctuary, no safe place to lay your head; I mean you have no home. No home means you probably also have no belongings to speak of save a few key pieces you tote in a tattered bag from place to place. It makes sense, sad as it is that people find anything to escape the pain and horror they feel. It isn’t a humbling feeling, it is a humiliating experience. To know that people walk by and instantly judge your situation without knowing what happened in your life to get you there can beat you down. All this anti-bullying campaigning is useless in reality, because bullying will always be prevalent when there is a community of people being judged for their situation and basically told it is their fault and that God doesn’t love them.
Have you ever felt hopeless? I know I am painting a gruesome picture here, but I want everyone to understand just how much little things mean to this community AND to the Great Commission. We are ALL the least of these because we ALL fall short of His glory. Not every homeless person is an addict or a loser. There is this guy who is a disabled vet, that girl who escaped the sex slave industry, the woman and her children over there are in hiding from an abusive husband, and how about that family lost everything they owned trying to fight off cancer. Have you ever gone to war and come back to nothing? Have you ever lost everything to disease? Have you ever been in hiding in fear for your life?
When I was nine my mother gathered me and my brother and sister up and fled Arkansas literally overnight staying at women’s shelters along the way. We left with the clothes on our back fleeing from a man who had been physically, sexually, and mentally abusive to us all. I can’t imagine how it felt to be my mom at that time. She had to hide us from a predator and literally do it at the grace of others without a penny to her name. Now, my mom is no saint and we have come a long way in our relationship, but doing this…there are no words to show the respect I have for her. My mom is not an emotionally strong person (I love you mom, don’t hate me), but she found the courage to gather up her children and flee knowing the consequence would be us losing everything but essentially saving our lives. That is what a homeless person looks like.
How about the girl who aged out of the system, an easy target for the sex slave industry (which is VERY alive and thriving, friends, please research this and be aware) because she is alone, penniless, and vulnerable. The man who lost all hope because he was laid off so maybe he left his family thinking they’d be better off without him. These are the faces of the homeless. It is real and these are their stories, I know because not only do I have a story, but I have talked to people and learned their stories because I am not afraid of them.
So, friends, this holiday season I encourage you to give without ceasing. Show love to your neighbor who has lost all hope because you could be giving them hope. This doesn’t mean give a ton of money to the bell ringers outside Walmart, this doesn’t mean take every angel off the angel tree…those are nice gestures, but gestures don’t have to be grand. When you are making banana muffins, wrap some individually and go to your local shelter hang out and hand them out. It’s probably been awhile since they’ve had a homemade muffin. How good do you think that will taste to them? Bake mini loaves of bread and get little bottles of water to hand out and add Scripture to them with ribbon or tape to remind people of the hope they have in Christ (bread of life and living water verses are perfect for this). Make up little toiletry baggies with deodorant, toothbrushes, and mini tooth paste tubes to hand out; this will really help lift spirits and give them courage for that job interview!
Friends, we are called to “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind…because they cannot repay you” (Luke 14:13-14 ESV). Let us follow Him in doing these things. Let us be thankful for what we have by sharing with those who have nothing. This is not just a blessing to them, but to you as well. It will fill your heart with joy because you will be living out the Fruits of the Spirit.
Are there homeless people at fault for their position, yes? Is it our job to punish them? No. We are all the least of these, and whatever we do to them, we do to Christ. It is our job to love them and show them what hope looks like, and that is what your generosity can do.
“Then the King will say to those on the right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?’…The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ [and to those on his left] he said ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these you did not do for me.’” (Matthew 25:34-45 NIV).