His name was John. He was a tall, strong man with a bright round face, salt & pepper hair and beard, and a smile that made his eyes shine through the weariness and the sun exposure that left his nose and cheeks pink and his frame droopy from the heat.
John was homeless. We met him on a street corner between our rental home and the elementary school the year we moved to south Florida. He was not alone. There were several others who would stand on those corners faithfully, day after day, in the baking sun, holding their signs, pleading for help.
Those signs made our hearts ache. The faces of the ones who held them made us ache even more. The whole scene was new to us – and startling! We couldn’t bear to imagine the true depth of their needs, we couldn’t bear to look away. It gnawed at our insides and we prayed for help to know what we could do!?
Our kids asked me about those people and their signs. In their kind-hearted innocence, uncomplicated by hesitation or caution, they wanted to act – right away! They get their intensity honestly from two determined parents, so when they insisted “we have to do SOMETHING!!!” I knew it was time to stop agonizing and be brave!
So on one particular day, we passed by a man with a sign that simply read “HUNGRY, Please help.” We didn’t have anything in the car to give him, so we made a u-turn to stop at the Dunkin’ Donuts across the street. We purchased a breakfast sandwich, a few donuts, a bottle of water and a jug of juice. The kids could not wait to drive back to his corner and offer our feeble help to that man. Their own mouths watered at the thought of sinking their teeth into a fresh donut and they couldn’t wait to share their favorite treats that day!
As we pulled up to the curb, they eagerly rolled down the window in the back seat to say HELLO and to hand the man a bag of warm food. “We saw that you were hungry and we want to help you! We LOVE these donuts and we just know that you will love them too!!” He smiled so kindly and thanked us profusely. I asked him what his name was so we could pray for him. He told us his name was John and he would very much appreciate our prayers. After a brief conversation, the light turned and we made another u-turn to head toward home.
In just those few moments, John had disappeared. He wasn’t standing on the corner anymore and the kids were concerned. We finally spotted him on the side of the road, sitting in a shady spot in the grass, eating the food we had given him. “I guess he really was hungry!” the kids said with a big smile, feeling the deep-down joy of bringing help to someone who couldn’t help themselves or offer anything in return. “Yes,” I said, “he was truly hungry! I’m thankful for your determination to “do something!” that made me stop and find a way to help him today.”
During the months we lived in that rental home, we put together bags of non-perishable food, bottled water, and a few hygiene items to keep in the car, in case we drove by someone who was in need. Each time we met someone new, we asked for their name and added them to our list for prayer. My son, who was only 8 years old, insisted that we purchase a paperback copy of the Bible to place in each gift bag. “They need to know Jesus, Mom, they need all of His Word, not just a New Testament or a Bible-story paper.” So we ordered Bibles in bulk and handed them out!
When friends, neighbors or coworkers heard what we were doing, they were concerned. “It’s not really safe, you know!?” “Those people are playing on your sympathies, making 6-figure salaries and driving away in their million-dollar cars parked behind the gas station!” “It’s all a scam!” “Just don’t look at them and keep driving.”
I can be a bit too trusting for my own good. But I can’t walk away from someone in need, either. So I lived with this knot in my stomach. I certainly didn’t want to put us in danger, but I couldn’t just drive away. When the Lord Jesus walked this earth, He told us that whatever we do for the “least of these”, we do for Him. We couldn’t just look away. But the need was MUCH greater than we could ever meet!
As we prayed for the Lord to show us what to do, we felt assured that it was important to persevere in our efforts, even if we could only provide one meal for one day. We prayed that He would lead us to those who were truly hungry. And we prayed that He would help us to be prepared, to give what we could, to follow where He led us and to be faithful in praying for those we met, by name.
We never knew the end of the story for any of those dear people. Some of them we only spoke to one time. But we trust the Lord to continue to provide for them, and we pray that they will be drawn to Him!
Through our study of Revelation this year, we were impressed with a very different need – but one that is no less desperate – our need for a Savior. God used another man named John to write what he saw – the grand plan of redemption – how God sent His only Son Jesus to die for us and restore the relationship with Him that was broken by sin. All through Revelation God calls people to turn to Him, to repent of their sin, to find salvation and refuge and abundant eternal provision in Him alone. All through Revelation, there are people who refuse Him, who reject His mercy, cast aside His gracious and abundant provisions, who cling to their own hopes of fulfillment or protection, only to experience devastation and death.
When we see the result of anyone’s choice to reject God, our hearts ache. We have a pit in our stomachs as we see them grasp at things that continually disappoint them, leave them empty, struggling with no real hope. We long for them to find true life and peace, salvation and provision in the one and only living, eternally unchanging, trustworthy God.
There are so many around us who do not know God, who claim that they don’t want to know Him. How can we reach them? How can we urge them to make a more informed decision? The need seems so MUCH bigger than we could ever tackle. Many of them don’t want any help. They are convinced they are doing just fine. How can we share God’s truth in a way that sheds new light, touches them deeply and impacts them right where they are?
As I wrestled with this new ache in my heart, I thought of our homeless friends. There are obstacles in reaching the hungry and the homeless – and obstacles in reaching those who do not know or want to know God. But it is so important to keep trying. We can’t look away. The answer seems very much the same – to pray that the Lord will lead us to those who are truly hungry – hungry to know Him, to be reconciled to Him, those who are desperate for peace.
We need to pray that the Lord will help us to be prepared – to deepen our knowledge of His truth by studying His Word, to know the thrilling reality of His mercy, grace and transforming power by our own experience so we can’t wait to pass it on!
We need to pray that He will prompt us so strongly that we can’t ignore it – to take the time to stop in our path, meet even total strangers face to face, make a personal connection and offer what we have been given, share our own story of the reality of God in our lives.
We may meet some of these dear ones only one time. We may never know the end of their stories until we reach heaven one day. But we can offer the “non-perishables” of His love and His truth on any given day and the Lord can use those encounters to draw people to Himself! We can faithfully pray for them, by name, whether or not we ever see them again.
We only lived in that rental house a few short months. When we moved across town, our normal commute didn’t take us past those corners anymore. Life moved on and I have to admit it has been a long time since we put together any “blessings bags.” It makes me sad to think about that. It makes me realize that we still need to be prepared. We still need to pray that the Lord will lead us to the truly hungry! [maybe this will be one of our summer projects!?] And we need to remember that the greatest need of anyone we meet is to know Jesus, to accept Him as their Savior, to experience the abundant provisions He supplies now – and for eternity!
Lord, give us the desire to meet the practical, but more importantly, the spiritual needs of those in our path. Help us to notice them, take time to make a personal connection with them, get to know them by name, and follow Your example as You walked along side of real people in real life situations – to impact them with human touch and Your words of truth! Help us to be prepared to offer what You place in our hands and in our hearts to give… and lead us to the truly hungry… one meal, one person at a time!
“ O God, You are my God. I earnestly search for You. My soul thirsts for You, my whole being longs for You, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Psalm 63:1
Jesus said to them, “I am the Bread of Life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will not thirst.” John 6:35
Read more here! – Proverbs 14:31 – Isaiah 58:7,10 – Matthew 25:35-30 – Luke 3:11 – Acts 4:12 – I John 4:14 – Revelation 1:5 – Colossians 1:9 – I Samuel 12:23
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16