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How do you respond to beggars?

How do you respond to panhandlers and beggars?  Do they represent an interruption and an inconvenience in your day?  I walked by one on my way to dinner in Sacramento a couple of nights ago. He had lost a leg and was in a wheelchair.  I was with three other people and thought, “I…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
How do you respond to panhandlers and beggars?  Do they represent an interruption and an inconvenience in your day?  I walked by one on my way to dinner in Sacramento a couple of nights ago. He had lost a leg and was in a wheelchair.  I was with three other people and thought, “I’ll talk to him on the way back” as I walked by him.  But on the way back, he was gone.
Our own needs sometimes feel overwhelming when suddenly the needs of a stranger intrude in our reality.  And in our better moments, when we’ve got our wits about us and we pause to assess the stakes, we may even pray about it.
World Racer Matt Snyder spent a month in one of the most misery-ridden places on the planet – Delhi, India.  He and his team experienced the heat, the press of people, the filth, the stink, the spiritual darkness. He sums up the turmoil in his soul in this encounter with a beggar:

I’ve found that my compassion for beggars has tended to wane. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. I think Jesus would gravitate towards people like this, but I just don’t much anymore. The beggars here never see a cent that they earn anyway. They sit and beg and at the end of the day turn all of their money into the begging syndicate, a council that more or less is structured a lot like the mafia.

Imagine begging for eight hours a day and never seeing a penny that you earn.

I sat there and wrestled with my conscience for just a few seconds.  But I kept seeing this man out of the corner of my eye, sitting on the ground, one leg curled in with a clubbed foot, the other sticking straight out, stiff as a board, with yet another clubbed foot. He dragged a small wooden cane along with him. His clothes were rags and his beard caked with dirt.

He just looked miserable.

And then there arose this battle in my spirit, almost as if the forces of darkness were grappling fiercely with the power of Light within me. I swear there was a physical battle in my stomach.

Through the sea of white people, bicycles, and salesmen, I made my way towards this child of God who perched himself on the ground, reaching his cup as high as he could for some spare change. Tourists were dropping in coin after coin as I began raising my voice. I just locked my eyes on this guy and started speaking life into him.  Next thing I know my hands on this man’s shoulder, as I’m hunched over, looking directly in his eyes, he in mine, and I won’t move.

I spoke life into his bones, I prophesied the day he would pick himself up and walk.

And even though I spoke English, I think he heard Hindi because he listened with that much intensity.
I stood, while he sat and stared.

Time ticked.

And then I moved. I began walking away, allowing myself to be caught up in the movement of the world. I didn’t see a man walk. I didn’t reach out my hand and invite him into a world of faith, into the grace, mercy, and love of Jesus Christ.

I’m always one step behind.

And so I wonder if I keep up this lifestyle of always being one step behind myself if I’ll ever see a difference made in this world. I mean I should have reached out my hand and seen if he would have grabbed it, if he would have put down his cup and pulled himself to his feet, but I didn’t. He didn’t. I just walked away with a varying lack of faith resonating in my bones and his. Or did I?

Postscript: The following month, Matt had another experience with a beggar like this man on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. Having thought through his response for a month, Matt left that interaction with no regrets. I love how God is all about second chances.

Comments (4)

  • I was driving to church last night and as I was stopped at a red light a woman walked up and begged me to roll down my window. My first reaction was to ignore her and keep talking to my friend in the passenger seat. Reluctantly I rolled the window down and she asked if I could spare a dollar or two because she had run out of gas. I reached into my purse and realized I had only change. In my haste I quickly scraped as much change as I could which probably equalled about two dollars. The light had already turned green and I was in a hurry to leave because I hate being late anywhere I go. As I drove to church I thought about how I had done the right thing in giving this woman the change that I had. While I was in church, though, God convicted me. Anyone can give to someone who asks for a small amount. God wants us to go above and beyond our comfort levels. Like going with her to the gas station and using my card to fill her entire tank. That would have been a blessing she would have noticed and an opportunity to share with her the abundance of what God has given to me. I’ll be watching and waiting for my second chance!

  • What an emotive subject this is! How easily the guilt of not stopping for every beggar assails us to the point where we say no all the time. Love the generous idea in Kim’s post above. Love this story about Matt in Delhi. I think he did what Jesus did.

    Jesus climbed over a lot of sick people and beggars the day He spoke to the guy at the pool of Bethesda. He went for that one. I don’t think it was random. It says Jesus only did what He saw the Father doing.

    My friend Lidia I worked on a street team with used to suddenly home in on someone and say “God wants us to talk to that one.” I asked her how she knew. She said “I feel a warmth towards them. I believe it is the interest of God in that person for that moment, and it tells me He has something to say or do.” I asked God to teach me that and I found it was true.

    He loves them all, but at any one moment He probably has a divine appointment via you with one of them at a time. It’s doing what you see the Father doing. If you feel that warmth towards them, that prompting whisper in your spirit, go with it and see what He wants to do. If it’s guilt talking, ignore it. The difference is how you feel in your spirit. Guilt disturbs you, His prompts may feel risky or scary but they carry His peace deep in your belly.

    Here’s to second chances and hearing the voice of the Father, showing us what He is doing!

    lol Carol xxx

  • I was in New York for a worship conference at Brooklyn Tabernacle several years ago. Our hotel was on Time Square and one evening while we were sight seeing we stopped to eat at a restaurant. I was in the restroom when a man walked in, he looked at me and said, “can you spare some money?”, I asked him why he needed money and he said, “I’m hungry.”. I’ve done some work with the homeless in Atlanta and normally I don’t give them money, but most of the time I’ll buy or bring them food. I sensed the Holy Spirit prompting me to meet his need so I did. We walked back into the restaurant and I ordered a big steak for him, paid the tab and tip etc. He was extremely grateful, where I dropped the ball was in just leaving him there with his meal…the rest of our group was wanting to go shopping. Usually I like to sit with them and learn about who they are, where they’ve been, how they got here. The response is always the same, they’re amazed that someone is actually interested in getting to know them. If they’re open to it, I’ll pray with them…if not I do it anyway, just not in their faces. 🙂

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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