Sometimes a story is the best way to make a point.*
A couple of years ago I had a good friend who was in a pinch. He was a regular volunteer at a mission center in my community. This mission center had a weekly food distribution day. The normal people he depended on to distribute food were going to be gone and he was afraid that he would not have enough people to sort the food, box it up and hand it out, so he asked me to help. I had a free Thursday so I said yes.
This was my first time, so I did not know what to expect. I soon caught on to the fact that this ministry was all about providing basic provisions to the poor and homeless. At 9:00 a.m. a very long line of recipients started showing up for their food boxes. Before they got there I had some time to talk with other volunteers. Many homeless people were already at the mission because they had nowhere else to be. The center served them all around the clock so they were hanging around, talking and many of them smoking cigarettes.
As I began to have several conversations, I noticed one woman who did not seem to be very happy to be there. I talked to her a bit and in the bits and pieces of our conversation she inserted phrases like “handouts to the poor,” “I wish I could get some government cheese like these people” and “can’t they find something to do?” When she worked with the distribution, her body language seemed to fit her commentary. She struggled to do the work and she never had a smile on her face. She seemed to treat the food like it was not valuable and when she interacted with the recipients she worked quickly never exchanging a pleasantry with anyone. It seemed that when she handed them the food, she did it grudgingly. It was clear to me that she was very disturbed to be around this “class” of people.
In contrast, I also conversed with a man who knew so many of the people at the mission by first name. He was a smoker and many of the homeless came over and bummed cigarettes off of him and he took the time to smoke with them and talk with them in a friendly manner. He was not dressed in his best clothing. I knew him and I knew he had an adequate income, but his good clothing was left at home. When he worked with the food, he handled it with respect; I overheard him say to someone else “They sure will appreciate this small canned ham.” When he distributed food he often carried it to their cars if they were elderly. I could hear him address older people as “sir” and “ma’am”. His body language communicated respect; he was not judging these people, he was there to help them and they thanked him. I heard some of those people say “thank you.” The words sounded heartfelt.
After my day was over, I wondered about the woman, thinking the mission center would probably prefer that she would stay home in the future.
The man was a different story. He understood how to help people and he was a good role model for all of us. He belonged at the mission center.
This example provided by these two contrasting people can just be an exercise in stereotypes. Who really knows why people act the way they do, why some people struggle to help others and some people have an ease about helping. It is too easy to come to conclusions based on a few smatterings of conversation and vague observations of a person’s body language, but this little story leads into a discussion of the Holy Spirit gift of “helps”. Some people have the Holy Spirit gift of “helps” while others don’t seem to have that gift at all.
Pastor Graham** refers to this gift that is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12: 28. Helps comes from the Greek word meaning supporting or assisting. Some might think that helping in a ministry of a church or mission center or some other faith-based institution might not be a big deal but it is based on the idea that work needs to be spread around; one person or a small number of people cannot do it all. People with specific skills can do The Lord’s work.
What makes the Holy Spirit gift of helps special is the “attitude” of those who help. In the process of helping others, there can be a powerful witness for the Kingdom of God and it is in the graceful behavior of the helper. Graham writes that when he began his evangelistic ministry, he wanted to be involved in all phases of the ministry and he soon found that he was exhausted. One of his closest friends came to him one night and said “Why can’t we go at this as a team?” Suddenly Graham saw the wisdom of this offer and began to delegate phases of his ministry to very qualified people who could help him with his mission. This type of Holy Spirit “help” is found in churches all over, as lay people step in and do the work of the church. Some prepare meals for the sick, make home visits to first-time visitors, some mow the church yard and others write letters of encouragement to the bereaved. Others serve as leaders of ministries, church council members, or they can chair important committees. God can and does use these people to do His work. Pastors just cannot do it all. They depend on helpers; they depend on people with the Holy Spirit gift of helps who take their skills and use them as they are needed.
One need not think that the only ministry that “counts” is the ministry of the pastor or the ministry of the evangelist. God is heavily involved in the lives of all His sheep and He has given each person special talents. Just because you don’t have a highly visible leadership role does not mean that you cannot help. If you have a cheerful attitude and you give of yourself to others, you can be a powerful witness for God; maybe the strongest witness some people will ever see.
Yes, sometimes little things like treating others with respect, carrying a box of food to someone’s car and saying “sir” and “ma’am” can do the trick.
That may be what someone needs, a little help and some moments with a Godly helper.
*characters in this story are not meant to represent actual persons…
** from his book The Holy Spirit