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.

BY: Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson

 
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.”

Nancy found herself at one of those life intersections. At all intersections there are choices to make. “I had planned to run some errands, but somehow my car ended up back in my driveway. I changed my clothes and gathered a bucket, some rags, and a scrub brush. I prayed that there would be a hose and a faucet outside her house, as I got back into my car to return to her house.” She rehearsed a speech in case the woman had arrived home. Nancy and the woman didn’t know each other, but she was going to clean off her door, porch, and driveway anyhow.

With still no one home and the sun beginning to set, Nancy began cleaning. Suddenly, the next-door neighbor and three young boys joined her. “I began explaining that I didn’t really know this woman, but I didn’t want her to have to come home to such a mess,” Nancy says.

“We’ll help,” the neighbor said. She sent the kids in for a trash can and some shovels. “I don’t know why I didn’t think of doing this,” she admitted to Nancy.

Well, it wasn’t my first thought either. Nancy recalls, “Even after seeing the mess, I just planned to deliver my prayer note and head on my way. I’m really thankful that God’s Spirit nudged me (well, truthfully, more like clobbered me) so I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to demonstrate my faith.”

Did the woman who was helped ever respond to the generosity of neighbors and strangers? The answer is yes. But the point of this story is not about that response. The point is about Nancy’s response. "On that day I realized that if I just left my note and drove away, I would be living a hollow and shallow faith. I had to take the next step. Whether or not she ever thanked me, I needed to clean her porch simply as an offering to God for how he has blessed my life."

Was Nancy’s good deed a way to get her into heaven? Is there a colossal scoreboard tracking who is leading the charge in good deeds to be first in line for Heaven when the doors open? No. God’s gift of salvation is a gift. It’s free. You cannot earn it. If you have accepted that gift, you have discovered his grace because you recognize that none of us is worthy of it. You’ll naturally begin to live your life differently. If you say you are a follower of Christ, and that you have faith, then the Bible says you are God’s workmanship—you are a life on loan from him to do good things that God has already prepared for you to do. If you have tasted God’s grace and love, then good news and good deeds go together. They are hand and glove.

Have you ever had an experience like Nancy’s? Have you ever realized that you need to take the next step and get involved in someone else’s messy life? If you keep your eyes open, the opportunity is sure to come.

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