“You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” Matthew 25:21
I love my church and my pastor. (That’s apropos of nothing. Just sayin’…)
He’s been preaching a great sermon series about taking the words in red from Matthew, chapters 5, 6, and 7 – the words of Jesus – outside the church and putting them into practice. Along with each sermon, there is an assignment for the following week to help us do just that.
The first week’s assignment was to buy a $5 gift card to a restaurant (that doesn’t serve alcohol) and give it to someone. He didn’t put any stipulations on who we could give it to – the idea was to trust that God would provide that direction. From the outset, though, I felt my goal was going to be to give it to someone in need.
I had actually been thinking about keeping gift cards in my car to hand out, as I typically see people holding hand-lettered cardboard signs asking for help on my way home from work or on the drive between church and home. Besides the fact that I never have any cash, a restaurant gift card ensures that someone will at least get something to eat. And since I’m all about healthy eating, I decided Subway gift cards would be a good choice. Their sandwiches are filling and can be loaded with all sorts of healthy veggies. Plus, their restaurants are ubiquitous.
So at the beginning of the week I dropped by one of the many Subway locations I pass regularly and bought ten $5 gift cards. (I wasn’t trying to be an overachiever – that was the number God laid on my heart. It was pretty clear that He meant this to be an ongoing project and not just a one-time thing.)
Subway gift cards come in a bright yellow fold-over envelope with a blank line on which to write the amount and one on which to write who it’s from. I thought for a moment then wrote “Jesus” on the From line, hoping that the person who received it would get the reference rather than think that it was my name. (pronounced “Hay-zoos”…)
I also decided to insert some sort of gospel tract in the fold-over with each gift card. I rummaged around and found cards with a salvation message on them that were the perfect size to fit in the gift card envelope. I counted to make sure I had enough – there were exactly 10.
Excited at seeing what God was going to do, I put the stack of gift cards with gospel message inserts in the console of my car, asking the Lord to provide the opportunity for me to share with someone in need.
And I waited.
Every day during my Prayer Time (capital “P” capital “T”) I would remind the Lord that I was armed and ready to spread turkey or meatball sandwiches to the hungry and needy. However, the week passed and not a single opportunity presented itself. During the entire week I didn’t see anyone asking for help on the side of the road, at an intersection, in a parking lot – nothing. It’s like the needy all traded in their cardboard signs and went on a much needed vacation to Disney World. But I never doubted God would provide that opportunity.
And He did – and more – the following Sunday.
During the morning service, my pastor talked about all the emails he had received that week and the stories that had been shared from church members who had been blessed by passing out gift cards. Uncharacteristic of me, I didn’t get all anxious that God hadn’t given me the opportunity to receive a blessing so I could send an encouraging email to my pastor. Instead, I thanked Him for what He had done through our church and for what I knew He would do through me on His own time schedule.
Little did I know…
After the service I got in my car and, before pulling out of my parking space to head home, had a little Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know” moment, expectantly asking God to show me what to do. I reached into the console of my car and, not knowing why at the time, pulled out three gift cards.
My route home from church takes me through a pretty busy intersection where people with cardboard signs asking for help typically stand in the median between the east-bound and west-bound lanes; strategically, it’s a prime spot, as this puts them adjacent to a left-turn lane where cars generally have to stop. As I approached the traffic light, I saw a woman standing in the median across the intersection, hoping for help from drivers in the left-turn lane. To be able to hand her a gift card from my car window, though, I would need to be in the opposite lane heading the other way, so I decided to turn and circle through a large shopping center parking lot so I could get in the left-turn lane nearest her and hand her a card.
As I was turning into the parking lot, there sat an elderly woman in a wheel chair right next to the entrance holding a sign asking for help. Thanking God for His goodness and this second opportunity, I pulled into a nearby parking space, got out, and took her a gift card. She was really sweet. As I turned to go back to my car, I saw a man sitting nearby eating a sandwich. Although he, too, looked to be in need, it seemed like he was already set for food, so I got back in my car and backed out of the parking space.
In that way that I know when God is speaking to me, though, I knew I needed to give that man a gift card, too. I pulled back into the parking space, got out of the car, and did so. He smiled and thanked me.
I pulled out of the parking lot back onto the highway and into the appropriate left-turn lane, handing the first woman I had seen in the median a gift card out my car window. The traffic light turned green and I was on my way home.
Three gift cards; three different stories; three people in need directly in my path. In Matthew 25 Jesus says that doing things for those in need is the same as if we were doing them for Him:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink…” (v. 35)
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?’” (v. 37)
“The king will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (v. 40)
God had provided in a great way.
I have to tell you, though, that this story doesn’t end the way I imagine you’re thinking it ended. Although that experience affected me in a powerful way (as I suspected it would), what I didn’t expect was the way I felt as I drove away from there.
I expected to feel really joyful and full of the warmth of human kindness, but that’s not what I felt – we’re supposed to help those in need as a regular part of being a Christian. Even if I had given all ten gift cards away, that would have been nothing to get all self-righteous about.
I expected to feel buoyed in spirit at seeing God at work – and He definitely was, but that’s not what I felt either.
What I felt was small for wanting to feel that way, selfish for thinking only about what was in it for me; I felt ashamed for just wanting to check the gift card project off my list, sorry that all I wanted was to get back to doing whatever it is I do.
None of that is what God has in mind for me; none of it is pleasing or honoring to Him; none if those things are evidence of someone who, more than anything, wants to be a good steward of the many blessings God heaps on him day after day after day.
It was obvious that the gift card project was about much more than providing a meal for those three people. It was a training exercise to see if I could be “faithful with a few things,” including the proper attitude in my heart, so God can “put me in charge of many things” without my prideful self getting in the way. Apparently I need more training – I couldn’t even give five bucks worth of sandwich to someone without waiting expectantly for a gold medal.
Whatever next step God is preparing me for in my walk with Him, I feel certain it’s going to take me outside the walls of the comfort zone I’ve carefully constructed over the years. Maybe I will continue to hand out gift cards; or maybe He will call me to do something that will require much more from me than that, something that will put me in situations where I won’t know how to respond, being forced to depend on Him in the moment for wisdom and strength and the words to say – words I can’t spend hours writing and editing in the comfort of home before clicking the “Publish” button.
I wish I could say that I’m ready, eagerly waiting on God to give me direction – but I can’t. In all honesty, I have to tell you that I’m having trouble surrendering myself to that idea. There’s an ongoing struggle between the side of me that wants what God wants for my life, no matter what that is, and the side that wants to just hang on to the status quo, sitting here writing in my blog about being a follower of Jesus without totally being one.
I also wish I could tell you that I’m pretty sure I know which side is going to win. I know which one I want to win. I want the side to win that trusts in God with no reservation and serves Him without hesitation. I want the Holy Spirit to whisper Paul’s words from Philippians 1:6 in my ear as encouragement:
He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Only time will tell.
Pray for me, will you?
Heavenly Father, when the time comes, please give me the courage to step up and do whatever You want me to do. And not just the courage to do it, but the courage to agree to do it in the first place; the courage to abandon myself to your will; and the courage to resign myself to the fact that I bring nothing to the table except my trust in you, my obedience, and whatever you’ve chosen to give me.
And help me to have faith that, along with your grace, those things are enough.