I was walking down Market Street near Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia one day last spring, and happened by a man whom I assumed was homeless by his attire and position on the sidewalk. As I walked by, I realized out of the corner of my eye that he was working on a project. I paused after passing him, weighing whether the expected request for spare change would be worth satisfying my curiosity. My feline-killing feelings getting the better of me, I turned back and found myself looking at a table of intricate sculptures. What was even more intriguing was that the man not only didn’t ask me for change – he took no notice of me at all. Anyone who knows the streets of Philly knows that THAT’s unique. In fact, I was the one who started the conversation.
“What are these made out of?”
“They’re really cool.”
This made me all the more engaged in what he was doing. After asking him a few more questions, I realized that I actually wanted one to give to a friend. So, I paid him the price he asked (only ten bucks), shook hands with him and left with my new treasure.
About 20 minutes later I saw a man limping badly near City Hall. He too may have been homeless. I have seen Jesus heal people of this stuff before, so I thought to ask if I could pray for him. I lightly touched his shoulder…
“Excuse me, is your foot in pain?”
“Don’t touch me again or I will f***in’ beat you up.”
“Sorry, I just wanted to know if I could pray for you!”
“You f***in’, what? I’m gonna, I don’t need none of you. If you touch me again I will stab you.”
As he backpedaled away, I tried to explain that I didn’t mean any harm and that he was awesome, but I could see it wasn’t really getting anywhere. He just kept threatening and cursing me out till he had made his way around the corner and out of sight.
Two encounters. Same day. Very different outcomes. And I learned a very important lesson.
You see, you can have exactly what someone needs, but they may never realize it unless you let them come to you first. I, the “needy” one, was the one who approached the guy selling sand sculptures, and he not once tried to convince me I needed something of his. Whereas from my perspective, when the limping man was the “needy” one, I, the “giver”, approached him with my offer, and because of whatever preconceived notions he had, this made him immediately defensive and threatening. This is also why telemarketers, creepy stalker men and pop-up ads aren’t generally all that successful. They try to tell us what we need, and this kills trust.
You’ll notice Jesus didn’t chase people down nearly as much as the other way around. He was actually trying to get away from people half the time (Mark 1:45, for example). Why? Partially, because he KNEW that he had something valuable. He could cure sick people, cast out demons, and preach stuff that gave people life. He didn’t have to sugarcoat it. People were already crowding him to the point of him sometimes having to preach out on a lake from a boat (Luke 5:3).
Jesus never said to feed someone who isn’t hungry. Or even someone who is hungry but doesn’t realize they’re hungry. He actually said the opposite – “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Mark 2:17). Who were the “healthy” he was speaking of? The Pharisees – probably the most spiritually unhealthy people that Jesus dealt with! The point is, if someone doesn’t think they have a problem, you can’t really help them solve it. Cuz they sure ain’t asking you for help, and if you offer, they ain’t gonna take it.
The goodness of God may sound like a scam – I wrote an article about that here – but if we can truly just make ourselves available to people with what we’ve got, it won’t take long before they’ll come knocking. That isn’t to say that we should ignore God when He tells us to step up ourselves and go “knocking”, but we shouldn’t just do that because we think we have to. Bill Johnson explained it like this in his May 22, 2011 message:
“The church has a habit of having the right answers to questions that the world isn’t asking. It’s true, people should be asking questions about eternity and their relationship with God, but often they don’t. So you answer the question they’re asking; in the Bible this looks like Samuel helping Saul find his lost donkey, in Solomon’s time it was dividing the two women’s baby.”
Grace is addicting. We’ve got an eternity of riches within us. Let’s just live our lives in such a way that allows people to see the beautiful sculptures that are being made. In the end, it’s always up to the other person to make that decision.
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)