My wife, Princess Bride, is very good at buying the right gifts for family members on birthdays and holidays. The reason she does such a great job is because she asks people what they would like beforehand. I don’t like to know ahead what people want because for me it takes the mystery and surprise out of giving. This is the reason why there’s usually an awkward silence after my gift is opened at a party. “Is everyone ready for some cake?” Princess Bride will then quickly ask to help save the day.
In my car there is a gift card for McDonalds that I never gave away. I bought it a few weeks ago when I noticed Traveling Homeless Guy waiting on a bench outside a restaurant. (I don’t often notice people other than myself, but on that particular day this guy stuck out.) While ordering food at McDonalds I noticed there were a few extra bucks in my pocket so I thought, “What better way to help the poor man than give him a gift card to McDonalds?”
As I slowed down to give him the card, I saw he had a sign that said “Help needed.”
“What do you need help with?” I asked.
“I’m trying to get to ——- place” he replied.
It suddenly occurred to me that he needed money more than a meal card so I sheepishly hid the card and handed him a small bill instead. “I hope this helps a little,” I said.
He said “God bless you” and it was over.
During our exchange, I made the same mistakes I often make in my attempts to help others: (1) I intended to give an easy gift — one that wouldn’t cost me much at all. (2) I assumed I knew what the man needed instead of first asking him how I could help. (3) Worst of all, I tried to give a gift that didn’t require an ounce of conversation or time on my part. I wanted to commit “drive-by” ministry by simply slowing down and wishing him a good day while tossing him my meager left-overs.
How much should a gift cost? C. S. Lewis says that true giving should always hurt the giver at least a little bit. In other words, a gift should cost me something; it should require an element of sacrifice on my part. Because one of the most precious things to me is time, maybe time is what I need to give more of. So was my drive-by better than no ministry at all? I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that whenever Jesus met people’s needs, He took time. He spoke with them and He touched them. Jesus first met the person — and then He met the needs.
Calvin G. Roso © January 2014
*In his book Tangible, author Chris Sicks calls similar actions committed by Christians unwilling to stop and listen “drive-by evangelism.”