When Sympathy Isn't Enough

Sometimes, prayer and kind words alone don't cut it. We need to get our hands dirty to help others.

The Bible's book of James presents an interesting challenge: “Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, ‘Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!’ and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?” (James 2:14-17,

The Message


Nancy is a Christian who knew this Bible passage. She even went to a Christian college. She remembers a campus joke she and her friends had about the verse. "We know-it-all students used the verse to tease other students who came into our dorm hall and asked for help. ‘Anybody wanna give me a ride to work?’ ‘No, but be warmed, be filled, go in peace.’ ‘Can someone lend me some money?’ ‘No, but be warmed, be filled.’ We seemed to delight in showing our friends that we could quote the Bible, but we weren’t all that interested in lifting a finger to help them."

Then Nancy had an experience that reminded her vividly of James’s illustration. It started as a simple prayer request. Nancy is on a prayer team at her church. This team prays for all of the requests written down on little white cards her church uses to track addresses, visitor information, and congregational prayer requests. The requests get divided up among the staff and others. One particular week, a prayer request seemed rather urgent to Nancy. She shares, “I tried to contact the woman by phone, but her phone was disconnected. So I decided to write her a note of encouragement and drop it by her house.”


When Nancy drove up in front of the woman’s house, she saw smashed pumpkins on the driveway, trash cans dumped over, and lots of egg yolks running down the side of the house. “I had to be careful where I walked as I went to the front door.” She tucked the note inside the screen door and prayed that this woman’s problems would be resolved. “As I drove away, I wondered how long it would be until she came home from work. I wondered whether it would be too dark for her to notice my little card. I wondered if she would see the smashed pumpkins or trip over them.” Nancy’s car slowed down as she came to the realization that leaving the card inside the woman’s door was like saying to her, “Be warmed, be filled, go in peace.”

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Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson
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