Compassion without Control

A week ago, a photograph went viral which showed a nypd officer’s act of kindness.  Like many people I was touched by the officer’s act, as well as the response of many people to the picture that had been taken.  Since the picture was taken a more detailed story came out, indicating that the shoeless man’s story is a bit more complex. Cynics might say, the act of kindness was foolish. I think this would be a mistake.
I often feel a tension when I see someone who appears to be homeless or otherwise in need.  I don’t want to be a fool, to be taken advantage. I don’t want to empower or encourage bad decisions, but I would like to really help them. I am happy to pay a cost if it would make a difference. Sometimes I think I shouldn’t give people help directly, rather I should give my time and money to one of the many organizations that serve marginalize people on the theory that they are more likely to see to it that the money actually helps a person. Yet, I think this is  this is at best an incomplete solution.
I am seeing that when I am confronted by people in need, it isn’t just about the person or their apparent need. This is also about my heart. The question is “Can I give without strings attached?  Can I let go of the results, give up any sense of control?” A phrase that I recently heard (though I haven’t read the book so I don’t know if it taking about exactly what I am) is love without agenda. I find that I have a very hard time doing this.
So how do I resolve this tension? My answer recently is with prayer, by being sensitive to how God is moving my heart. The truth is that I can’t know how a gift, act of service, any help I provide might be used or what it will accomplish. I can’t see the future. What might appear good right now, might have unintended negative consequences down the road. Likewise, something that seemed to do good right now might not have a good long term effect. I find Ephesian 2:10 to be a great comfort:

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

This suggests to me that there is more at play that just my ability to assess a situation and make a good decision. That God himself is providing opportunities to love and serve. The question is not “what will the outcome be”, but “is this something God is asking me to do now”.  A focus on pleasing God rather than seeing a specific outcome, trusting that God knows what He is doing, and that I have the honor to participate in His grand work. What may appear to be folly right now, but produce untold blessings in the future. Imagine with me that the prodigal son in Luke 15 was a real person rather than a parabolic character. We can be appalled by the prodigal’s conduct, and that his father enabled such bad decisions.  Yet, that story has also  served to be a source of great encouragement and wisdom for nearly 2000 years.

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. (Galatians 6:9-10, NASB)

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