I had an interesting experience this weekend. I was leaving Wal-Mart on Saturday morning after finishing my shopping, and sitting in front of the stop sign by the gas station was a older man with a sign that said "Need Help Please".
It stresses me every time I see that for a couple of reasons. First, I keep hearing stories of how people panhandle like that and make more money in a year than I do. They're not really poor or homeless, they just don't want to work. I hate being taken by someone like that, so I'm always a little suspicious even when they really look homeless. (I personally have moments when I look rather rough, so that in and of itself doesn't warrant an intervention.)
Second, I am uncertain about what to do because I don't know what that person needs. What if he needs a meal? I can handle that. But what if he needs a place to stay and a way to get there? The closest shelter is an hour away, and while I want to be obedient and offer help to someone who really needs it, I don't want to be careless and unsafe. Let's face it, these days you just never know.
I drove by and went on my way home, but kept feeling, very strongly that I needed to turn around and go back. I knew that feeling was from God so I really didn't want to ignore it. I prayed. I told God I didn't know what that man needed, and that the only thing that would make me feel worse than not stopping at all would be finding out what he needed and then having to drive off again without helping him.
God just kept saying "I know what he needs, just trust me."
I'm asking him to help me be brave and bold, but when he gives me chances to do that I want to run the other way. I don't mind being brave as long as it doesn't come with any fear. In other words, I'm just a big wimp.
Well, not wanting to miss an opportunity to be used by God, I turned my car around and went back to Wal-Mart. As I went I called a man from a local ministry that I had met only two weeks ago at a meeting. He said they would help the man get to a shelter if he wanted to go and asked me to call when I knew more. I felt better and pulled into the gas station parking lot to go meet the man.
As I pulled up I saw the older man getting into some kind of SUV, but before I could feel relieved that someone else had helped him, a younger but equally scruffy-looking man got out of the same SUV and took his place at the stop-sign. Yep. Tag-team hustling! That's what that was.
I sat there for a moment, totally stunned. Then I was a little mad. As I started to drive off, I thought about that whole situation. God knew what was going on and he sent me back there anyway to do...nothing.
Nothing but obey.
Was it a test? Maybe, although God already knew what I would do. I think it was a chance to exercise my spiritual muscles, to see if I really mean what I've been praying, and to take me a step closer to where I need to be.
Could I have done something more? Yes. That man at the stop sign needed Jesus. Even knowing what was going on, I could have stopped to talk to him about Jesus. I didn't. I didn't even think about it until I was already down the road again. I hope to do better next time. I hope that I am less focused on my own fear and more on the opportunity in front of me. The only way to do that is to obey God when he tells me to act, and to trust that he already has it worked out. It really is not up to me.
I feel God calling me to ministry to just such people. I have to remember that I am not responsible for the outcome or their responses, only for my responses to the leading of the Holy Spirit. I'm grateful for the experience and that I didn't totally fail the test. I'm also grateful that God is gracious and patient and forgives our weaknesses.
It's your turn: have you missed an opportunity to serve or obey God because of fear or doubt? You're not alone. What have you found that helps you to be obedient in times like this?