Sucker or Cynic?

“Be as shrewd as snakes, but as innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:16

You may be familiar with the Winston Churchill quote, “If you are not a liberal at 20, you have no heart. If you are not a conservative by 40, you have no brain.”

I don’t know if that quote pertains to my understanding of “liberal” and “conservative,” but as a  Christ follower, I don’t want to have a heart with no brain, and I certainly don’t want a brain with no heart! Jesus’ admonition to “be as shrewd as snakes, but as innocent as doves” sounds great, but how do we achieve that divine balance in a world with both the genuinely needy and the con artists?

Suppose a man is standing by the side of the road with a sign asking for money for food. The stereotypical “liberal” might think, Aw, poor guy! I’ll give him my cash. The stereotypical “conservative” might think, I’m not giving him money. He’d just spend it on drugs or alcohol.

What would you do?

Scripture has much to say about being kind to strangers, and that in doing so we might even be entertaining angels! (Hebrew 13:2) But in the story of the prodigal son, who had made some very poor choices, it wasn’t until he was totally destitute and “no one gave him anything” (Luke 15:16) that he finally “came to his senses.” (verse 17)

We know that someone who keeps helping another person continue to make bad choices is an “enabler,” and when God is delivering someone a wake-up call, we certainly don’t want to be that person who keeps helping him hit the snooze button.

On the other hand, there’s the chilling prediction that at the Judgment Jesus will tell some of us, “Depart from Me! I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat. If you didn’t do it for the least of these, you didn’t do it for Me.” (Matthew 25:41-42, 45 -paraphrase)

When Jesus walked this earth, He was the picture of compassion, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, even preaching that we should love our enemies. At the same time, on at least one occasion He bluntly told the crowds, “You are not looking for Me because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” (John 6:26) He rebuked hypocrites and chastised those with ulterior motives.

Jesus had an advantage – He knew people’s hearts. Usually, we don’t, and when we think we do, that’s when we get into trouble.  So, how do we get “the mind of Christ,” when our minds are finite, and the issues are so murky?

Ask Him.

Prayer is always a good idea. Talk to God, and don’t forget to listen for His voice. If we don’t hear an audible voice, He could be speaking to us through Scripture. The book of Proverbs is chock full of wisdom. So are a great many other passages, but be sure to read them in context. We need to study all of God’s Word, or we will be more confused than ever. That’s why some people speak of “contradictions” in the Bible or quote only certain Scriptures to support their side of an issue; they’re reading only part of it and missing God’s perfect balance.

One of my favorite promises is found in James 1:5, which tell us that if we ask God for wisdom, He’ll give it to us. I’ve seen that promise fulfilled when an idea seems to get dropped into my mind. Sometimes the idea is relatively simple, such as giving a generous donation to, or volunteering with a reputable ministry that helps the needy with food, shelter, and employment.

As for the person on the street with the sign, I usually stop and give him/her a gift card for a fast food place. (I always try to carry a few in my purse.)  Usually the person is appreciative. If I don’t have a card and the person is asking for money for food, I try to find a way to provide some food. Sometimes the experience gets interesting…

One day when I was visiting my daughter at college, we encountered what appeared to be a homeless man on the street. He asked us for some money so he could “buy a sandwich at the McDonald’s over there.”

My generous-but-smart daughter said sweetly, “I’d be happy to buy you a sandwich. What kind would you like?” The man didn’t want us to bother and said we could just give him the cash, but Kelly insisted on buying it for him. Finally, he said he’d like a fish sandwich, and we headed over to get in line.

After quite a wait, we got back to the spot only to find that the man had left, but another man was sitting on the curb, his head bowed and his long hair dangling around his knees. We offered him the sandwich and a prayer, and he accepted both. After the prayer we asked his name.

He replied, “Gabriel.”

I got a chill.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us when we have used our cynicism as an excuse not to help the truly needy. Forgive us when we have given with wrong motives, not wisely, just to make ourselves look or feel good. Show us how to be “as wise as serpents but as innocent as doves.” Give us pure motives and “the mind of Christ” each day to do Your will, in Jesus’ name. Amen





27 thoughts on “Sucker or Cynic?

  1. Hi Ann, my wife is the one who normally gives to the poor and darn if she doesn’t have me doing in now, even when she’s not in the car. We also support kitchens for the poor etc and outreaches through our Church. I like your idea of gift cards, I may try that!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I believe that the organizations that help the poor all the time are much wiser than a typical soft-hearted random person on the street. I would rather trust them to do good with my money than try to figure it out myself. Meanwhile, the gift cards work out pretty well.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Hummm. What a thought. Entertain angels unawares? I had a similar experience one time. It involved stopping to pray for a man – too long for comment. But after I obeyed and did so, I asked his name and he said Michael. Same feeling.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you SO much! I post just once a week on Fridays, so I guess it’s a type of weekend devotional. 😉
    My sister has suggested that when I get enough posts I should compile them into a devotional book, so your comment is VERY encouraging! Bless you, and you keep up the good work, too.


  4. I have given money to strangers when I felt prompted to do so, but I agree that most of the time it is best to use organizations that help the poor all the time. They know who needs help the most. Blessings Annie!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The ending was beautiful and chilling.
    I am often torn between giving and not giving for the reasons you describe. Whenever I have food on me, I share, otherwise, it depends. Having gift cards, though, is a great idea I’ve never thought of. Thanks for the suggestion.


  6. I love the idea of fast food gift cards!

    I live in Colorado and this state tends to attract young drug addicts (you know, the stereotype of everyone smoking legal pot here). Unfortunately, that’s not where they stop, and now we’re starting to see more young people passed out on the streets. Coming out of a Taco Bell summer 2019 we encountered what looked like a dead body on the sidewalk and several people calling 911. I think he survived, because we didn’t see him on the local news. It was pretty shocking. This young man looked… dead.

    So… I often ask myself, “Do I want to be the person that gives them that extra $20 that allows them to overdose?” I don’t know if that sounds “conservative,” but I just couldn’t live with myself if that happened.

    That’s why I like your gift card idea. Every summer we get lots of young homeless because the weather in Colorado is nice and they can lay about in public, so it’s not like being homeless but more like camping. They look more like travelers with their hiking backpacks and equipment. They look like they need addiction help, not always food.

    It’s hard to know how to help them except by going via local church charities. Anyway, sorry for the long comment! It’s just that I’ve lived in several states, and Colorado has a very strange addiction / voluntary homelessness? problem.

    Liked by 1 person

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