What to Do When You’re Afraid to Give

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This article is part of the MH4C Writers Challenge. Since I’m taking a little break over the next few weeks, I’ve chosen ten guest articles to feature on this blog. I’d like to see which articles you like the most. If you like an article, please take a moment to ‘Like’ it on Facebook, ‘Tweet’ it, or give it a ‘Plus One’ on Google +. (To the right of the title, you’ll see each of those buttons so it should make your job easier.) The winner of the MH4C Writers Challenge is the article that has the most social media shares.

The following entry is by Jason Jacobs.  He spends most of his time writing about his adventures with fitness on the slow-carb and paleo diets at his blog, FindingMyFitness.com. If you’re interested in grain-free living and recipes, you should check it out.

Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me. – Matthew 25:40

Have you driven through a city or town and seen someone with a sign asking for money? How often do you oblige? Are you more likely to wish the light would change before you got there? It’s a common dilemma. It isn’t that you don’t want to help; it’s that you don’t want the money you give to be misused. There’s no question that as Christians we are called to be generous, and there’s really no question that we want to be generous. The question we struggle with the most is how to be generous. How can we tear down the walls in our minds so that we can open our hearts more?

An experiment in poverty

In the book Under The Overpass, Mike Yankoski and Sam Purvis describe how they set out to see how the Church responds to homelessness. Shockingly, often when they would go to churches they would be turned away. Once they were told that the church had gathered for worship, and Mike and Sam (who hadn’t eaten in a day and a half) were out of place asking for handouts before the service. A different time, two believers took sack lunches to a local park and then invited the folks to the evening service. When Mike and Sam went to the service, one of the believers took them to his car where he gave them two grocery bags full of food and enough money for bus fare to the next city. Which one would Jesus have been?

Should we be afraid to give generously?

When we begin to think about giving to the homeless, almost immediately we set up walls that inhibit our generosity. We decide who they are before even saying hi; making eye contact is an invitation to panhandle. We have good intentions, though, and we just don’t want to waste God’s money. But here’s the kicker: when God calls you to do something, He’s not asking you to put conditions on it. The truth is we can’t possibly imagine their pain. He’s the only one who can.

Then what do we do about it?

My answer is simple: we get creative. Bruce Wilkinson, in his book The God Pocket, suggests praying about being more generous. Let God lay on your heart an amount, and then let Him do with that amount what he pleases. Set it aside, literally, and ask God what He wants you to do with it. Then you won’t feel the conflict when you see someone in need.

Bringing it together

Being the owner of a fitness blog, another question I’ve pondered is how can I give nutritious options to homeless people?

The bottom line: take the money you’ve dedicated to God’s service and buy some type of gift certificate to places where homeless folks can get healthy, nourishing meals without you wondering how they’ll use the money you’ve given. A local grocery is a good option, but if you really want to keep the cigarettes and alcohol away, try places like:

  • Subway
  • Tropical Smoothie
  • Jersey Mike’s
  • Chipotle
  • Local sandwich shop

Getting more creative

Mike said sometimes he and Sam had to walk miles to find a cup of water. That got me thinking about several other ways we can use God’s money to bless others:

  • Buy cases of bottled water and keep them in your car. Hand them out instead of cash.
  • Put together care packages of healthy non-perishables like nuts, dried fruit, and jerkey. Keep several in your car so you’re ready to give without notice.
  • Buy some water bottles wholesale. You can even find places that will put some writing on it, so you could add a scripture that will bless the life of the reader.
  • Get your church involved! Organize a drive for things like soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and other hygiene products. Tell each person to take 5 and work on giving them out during the week.
  • Hold a coat or backpack drive. Both of these things are coveted items on the streets.

We were created to be a blessing

God blesses us specifically so we can bless others. There are too many people that don’t have even the basic "necessities" we take for granted, and while sometimes it’s due to their own choices, that’s not always the whole reason. If you want to be more generous in your Christian walk, pray about these things and ask God to show you how He wants you to help. When you do it, you’ll be astounded at how fulfilled you feel.

How has God challenged your generosity, and how have you grown because of it?


  1. Leesa says

    I don’t so much worry about what they would do with my money, i’m just scared for my safety. Maybe I watch Dateline & the news too much but i’m just scared to pull over for a homeless person. I mean people sometimes get hurt or even killed trying to help a hitchhiker or homeless person. I have a son who needs his mommy & i’m just too scared. I thought all of the suggestions in this article were great ideas. But would probably only try this if I was with my husband, even then i’d probably be scared.

    • says

      Hey Leesa, I never even thought about that! I guess maybe it depends on where you are. In my experiences, most of the time, there are a ton of people around, you’re in your car and they’re not, and it seems pretty safe (at least in Richmond).

      If you ever felt a calling to help out homeless folk specifically, contacting a local shelter and organizing something with your church would be a great, safe way to start!

      Thanks for reading my article and commenting. :)

  2. says

    I love the idea presented here. Having lived in a major city, a day didn’t go by when I wasn’t asked for money. Through the years, there were probably only a handful of times when I was positive the money would be misused, but I grew more cynical and judgmental due to those encounters. These days I just keep walking or driving. Thank you for prompting me to reconsider my actions and offering an alternative way for me to help.

    • Subway says

      There’s only so much food one can consume in a day. I know for a fact some homeless will trade McDonald’s or subway for cash, alcohol, or drugs. There’s no way to guarantee anything you give will not be retraded.

      • says

        I suppose that’s true, but I hope you’re not using it as a reason not to help if in reality you can. Especially if you’ve ever had a tugging to give, but this reason deterred you.


        • Subway says

          Even if it is a roundabout way, I don’t want to support enablement. There is a trust factor there. My other issue is that once you open the pipe, where do you draw the line? I live in Los Angeles and live in a bubble now. When I lived in San Francisco, I encountered the same homeless in my neighborhood. I made the mistake of giving. They’d always hit me up afterwards. It never ended. I’d see Jorge high, passed out, dirty… He’d clean up then the cycle repeats. Year in year out. If you ultimately know where your resources go, i think it is naive to think that somehow your giving is helpful or that it is not tainted as giving a drunk a drink directly.

          • says

            Your next comment (that I apparently can’t comment on) is exactly where I was going to go next. If a person really wants to get down in the trenches (like Rich), shelters are great places to help out. And they give you a safe place to start to form relationships with people. I taught computer classes at a shelter for a while, and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

            I do want to direct the attention back to the point I was hoping to make with the article. If someone feels a nudge by the Spirit of God to give to someone, whether in a shelter, on a street corner, subway, whatever, they should do it. We shouldn’t make excuses just because we think it might be misused. We often misuse the gifts God gives us, but He doesn’t stop giving them (thankfully, He also doesn’t just let us continue misusing, but instead helps us use them better – or He takes them away).

      • says

        I’ve always considered the act of giving to be a gift in and of itself. My concern in blatantly discarding someone’s request is the lasting negativity of the exchange. There is more power in providing a small item or a kind response. Even if they go to the trouble to exchange my gift for drugs, alcohol or money, it requires an extra step for them to perform and hopefully at some point they’ll remember that they weren’t discarded.

        • says

          Margot, that’s a lovely sentiment! I’d only add to it by saying that the lasting positivity of a gift could go way farther than we can imagine.

  3. says

    I agree – those are fantastic ways to give! I’ll often give a drink, or a piece of fruit (from my lunch) to a homeless person. I’m reluctant to give cash, because, not only do I worry that it’ll be misused, but I also worry about being robbed if I pull out my wallet.

  4. says

    You make some great suggestions in this article, and I love your idea about getting creative.

    I worked in urban ministry for four years doing homeless crisis intervention. I encountered a lot of panhandlers and people asking others for money. I found that most were “professionals” – in other words, they made a living by asking people for money. Unfortunately, the more we give them, the more we encourage and enable their asking.

    I learned over time to ask questions to discern whether the person was really in need (this may not work for every person or situation). I found that the more questions I asked, the more nervous the person got if their need wasn’t legitimate. Typically, those who had real needs were glad to talk and share their story and didn’t mind me asking them questions.

    I would start out by asking in a half-joking, lighthearted way, “So, do you make it a habit to walk up to strangers and ask for money?” Then they’d give me their story, and I’d get a little more serious and ask, “Do you have any family or friends who are helping you?” Then I’d ask them where they’re staying, how long they’ve been asking people for money, what their plan is (in other words, what are they hoping to do next to remedy their situation). Pandhandling is definitely not a long-term solution to anyone’s problem, unless they’re a “professional” panhandler.

    It really helps to be aware of the resources in our community that could help them. In our city, you can get at least five free meals a day from homeless shelters and meal programs, so I’d always ask if they were aware of those places, and if I could give them a ride over to one of them.

    One of my “favorites” were the guys who would ask for $5 or $10 because they ran out of gas. I’d ask them where their car was. Then I’d ask them if they knew where the nearest gas station was, and if they had a gas can. I’d always offer to give them a ride to their car or to the gas station to get a gas can. Every single time, the person would say, “No, that’s OK man, I don’t mean to inconvenience you. If you can just help me out with a couple of bucks, that’s fine, I can walk to the gas station.” WIth just a couple of questions, I was able to discern that they had no real need for gas, they were just looking for money.

    While the “pro” panhandlers were quick to come to us, we spent most of our time going out looking for people who were hidden and “fell through the cracks.” They were mostly the mentally ill. They were too paranoid to ask anyone for help, so they hid in abandoned buildings, under bridges, in camps along the river, etc. We’d bring them food, blankets, socks, toiletries, etc. (as was recommended above) as a way to get to know them and build trust over time – sometimes months and years, and then work to help them get the real long-term help they needed.

    I think the only way to really, truly help someone is to be in relationship with them enough so you can understand what the real needs are and how best you can help. Many of us aren’t going to go that far when we encounter someone on the street asking for help. But the more we can move in that direction, the better.

    • says

      Rich, fantastic comment! That’s the kind of stuff I love to do. I like your questions; I might start using them myself. What’s always astounded me is how many homeless people, once I took the time to talk to them, would say not to just give money to panhandlers.

      Finding some type of homeless resource organization (I bet they exist in every city) would be a great start for anyone who wants to get more involved and find ways to actually help homeless people. That way you can find the folks Rich talked about that are being exploited by the “professional panhandlers”.

      This discussion is fantastic! :) Thanks for commenting, everyone. Tell your friends! :)


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