If Jesus was willing to give up his position as an equal to God, what do we have that we can give? This is not a rhetorical question. An actual list can go a long way to helping us serve well. Knowing what we have and what we can part with can help us both develop a healthy view of our possessions, but also help us identify specific ways that we can help others. Take some time and look around your life. Make a list of the things you have. Then find a way to identify those things on the list that you are able and willing to part with. This may be an eye-opening experiment. Seeing the list of things you have and comparing it to the things you are willing to part with will allow you to wrestle with differences. Why are you unable or unwilling to part with certain things? With the example of Jesus in view, there probably isn’t much that shouldn’t be marked as available for use to serve others.
This list shouldn’t be kept to possessions. It should also include an examination of our calendar to see where our time might be available (or can be made available). An honest look at our budget can be an opportunity to rearrange our finances. What skills do you have that can be used to serve someone else?
Pray as you make these lists. Ask the Spirit to help you see these things as both the blessings they are from God and the potential blessing they may be to others. Allow the Spirit to move you and try to be sensitive to where he may be leading you.
None of this is new. We’ve all been challenged to look at our resources in such a way that we can part with them to serve the needs of others, to think broadly about what we can give, or give up. We have been encouraged to stretch ourselves to “give until it hurts,” following the model of the woman in the temple who “gave all she had to live on” (Mark 12:41–44). Or to emulate the believers in the church in Macedonia who pleaded for the opportunity to give even though they themselves were poor (2 Corinthians 8:1–7). We all know that we should look at our resources, beyond just our money, as things that can be used to serve or given to others.
But our tendency to revert to looking to our own needs makes reminders like these necessary and helpful.
List in hand, we can explore opportunities to give and serve. Let’s be honest, the needs seem endless and there are opportunities near and far to be involved. From helping to provide clean water, to rescuing people in modern slavery, to providing education, clothing, shelter, meals, teaching a class in your church, visiting the lonely/shut-in . . . we cannot list all the ways we can use our resources to serve others. Our list allows us to plan for how we can use the things God has blessed us with to bless others. But what happens when we are confronted with an unplanned need?
Meeting the Needs in the Moment
Let’s go back to Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan.
In the story, a Samaritan man comes across another man who has been attacked, beaten, and left for dead. In the Samaritan’s actions we see all four categories of resources used at a moment’s notice—time, possessions, skills, and money.
The Samaritan sets aside his own agenda to tend to the needs of the injured man. “But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him . . .” (vv. 33–34a). The Samaritan was traveling that road for a reason. He was on his way to somewhere. Whatever his destination and whatever his reason for travel, that could wait. He gave his time to serve someone in need.
Taking his own possessions and skills, the Samaritan cared for the man’s wounds: “. . . and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him” (v. 34b). Why the Samaritan was carrying oil and wine and where he got the cloth to bandage the man’s wounds are fun questions to ponder (although this is a parable and shouldn’t be pushed for too many details). But the point Jesus was making in the details he does give should not be missed. The Samaritan willingly used his own possessions to care for the man. Surely the Samaritan had planned to use the oil and wine for another purpose. Perhaps he himself was riding the donkey. And it may not have been a sterile or doctor approved treatment, the Samaritan used the knowledge and skill he had to succor the man. In the end we learn that the actions saved his life.
But bandaging his immediate wounds was not the end of the Samaritan’s generosity. He also provided for his ongoing care. “The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have’” (v. 35). Out of his own pocket the Samaritan provided for what was needed not just for the moment, but to ensure that the future of the man was more secure as well. Imagine the Samaritan was a merchant, and the oil, wine, and cloth were his wares. The cost of this act of kindness grows exponentially as not only does he use his money to care for the man, but he also loses whatever income selling those items would have generated. It’s not necessary to think of him as a merchant; either way, the Samaritan would have to replace the supplies he used in caring for the injured man. This act of compassion cost him a great deal.
Whether we are planning to serve or are confronted with an unexpected need in the moment, asking ourselves what we have that we can give helps us serve the needs of others well.