If you follow me on Twitter, you know that a funny thing happened on the way to the guitar shop yesterday.
I was driving in south Austin on my lunch break when my fuel light came on. I noticed an old 7-Eleven about a block off of South Lamar and whipped in to get gas. Within a minute or two, a thin, frail looking young man in his twenties approached me, introduced himself as Gene, and asked me for change.
“Are you the kind of person that would help out a complete stranger? I’m pretty embarrassed about this, but my car ran out of gas a few blocks away and I’m out of money. I sold my phone and laptop so I could get back to Texas to try to find a job...”
How many times have you heard that story?
I offered to give him a few bucks for gas…but I only had a dollar in cash. Noticing the ATM sign in the store window, I stopped the gas pump and we kept talking. As his story expanded, it turns out he had hit up a mechanic down the road who offered to let him use a gas can…but Gene wanted me to give him a lift to the shop to get it, then back to get gas…then out somewhere to get his car.
For whatever reason, I was prompted to do it. He was a nice enough guy and, although it’s rare I ever pick up strangers when I’m alone, there was a peace about him. I asked him to wait to the side of the vehicle while I made room in the front seat for him.
“Ok. Wait a minute. Actually, I don’t really need gas money…”
Ah…there it is. Here comes the pitch. Or the scam.
“I’m sorry I lied. My name is Eugene and we are filming a documentary. My film crew is in the parking over there…and we’re doing a film on how faith impacts a person’s tendency to give to strangers. Kinda like the Good Samaritan thing…is it OK if we interview you?”
My head spins, expecting Ashton Kutcher to pop out from behind the ATM. I’m reeling at how, for whatever reason, I was compelled to help this guy. As we talked, we shared stories of our faith and for the reasons we feel responsible to love others, show kindness to strangers, and to help bring the Kingdom.
And sure, if I’m honest, I was glad I was in a giving ‘mood’. How tragic would it be if the film would have been distributed with clips of me being less than compassionate!
But what about the times when there is no film crew? What about the men and women I pass at the intersection with cardboard signs? When I feel prompted to help, and yet don’t do it, where is my obedience then? Why do I worry if the person will use the money to buy beer or drugs with the money I give? While I am called to be a good steward (and to “be shrewd as snakes”), if the Holy Spirit prompts me to do so, shouldn’t I freely give and leave the outcome to Him? I have freely received. And Jesus commands us to give freely also.
But how far are we willing to go? Like the Rich Young Ruler, I sometimes wonder if we should sell everything and give it to the poor. Sell your stocks. Sell your SUV. Cash in your 401k, withdraw all your savings, and put your new flatscreen on Craigslist (Luke 12:33). Give to those who are truly needy and put your real security in Jesus.
And, how much do I really believe Luke 12:22-34?
Watch the YouTube promo for the upcoming film "Panhandling Faith".