This past Sunday I preached from Luke 10:25-37 (Parable of the Good Samaritan) on how showing mercy is the pathway to truly expressing love. In response, I received this excellent question sent in via text during my sermon.
Question: What happens when you get close to someone in order to show mercy & then you see that they're in their situation mainly due to their own choices or lack of action? Should mercy end so as not to enable foolish behaviors? It feels unmerciful to stop helping, but what would wisdom say? How can we still help without enabling?
I was really encouraged to receive this question, because it started by saying, “What happens when you get close to someone…” This person gets that the only way to really show mercy is to be in a relationship. You can be kind to those that you don’t know, but mercy is deeper than kindness. As we saw with the Good Samaritan, he went to where the beaten Jew was and journeyed with him, stayed with him, and promised to come back for him. There was an ongoing relationship, not just a one off random act of kindness. Also, without having a relationship, you can’t really know how to show mercy to that person. It is easy to judge a homeless person as just being a drug addict and not want to give them any money to facilitate their destructive lifestyle. However, that is not every homeless person’s story. If we don’t take time to get to know them, then we really won’t know how to show mercy to them. So I love, love how this question starts.
Now, as you are in a relationship with someone and understand more about what is going on behind their need that can lead to the question that is being posed here. If mercy is doing good towards someone, the good that you do can look different depending on their situation. Enabling someone’s sin and self destruction is not doing them good. However, neither is turning your back on that person. Here are some general steps to consider in this scenario.
1. Pray for them
The reality is that your knowledge of what they need is limited and your power to meet their need is limited. But God is unlimited and he desires to work through our prayers to meet people. It can be very easy to lose faith over the effectiveness of our prayers for people in need as we don’t see them change. However, remember that God’s timing is often different than ours and his way is always best. God does not tell us to try to interpret how he is answering our prayers, but rather to pray with great faith that He will answer our prayers. So pray.
2. Pray for yourself
Again, we do not have all wisdom and so we need to ask the God of wisdom for wisdom. Also, our hearts (definitely mine) can become easily discouraged and jaded. The needs can be overwhelming, the response can be slow and the path forward can seem unclear. We need to continually be filled by the Spirit so that we can continue to bear the fruit of the Spirit in mercy towards this person in need.
3. Get counsel from people with experience
There is usually someone who knows more about how to help someone in a certain situation than you. Ask them for their advice and counsel. Also, if there are other people who have experience with the person you are trying to help, ask for their advice and counsel. It takes a community to really see someone’s need met with lasting change.
4. Make the “good” that needs to be done clear
After having prayed and gotten counsel try to arrive at clarity at what would be the best possible scenario to really see this person’s need met. Then consider what steps can be taken to move them forward. Have those steps clear in your mind and make them clear to the person. Don’t just stop helping them, but make it clear how you are trying to help them.
5. Keep the relationship going
Some people don’t want to have a relationship with you once you stop giving them what they want. However, try to work as hard as you can to keep the relationship going. Pray with them in person. Continually remind them of how you are trying to help. Verbalize your love and affection for them. Speak your faith in what God can do in them. Spend time with them. Continue to invite them into your life (unless it is dangerous to do so). Remember though that, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” Do not fail to be their real friend by capitulating to whatever it is they want that is ultimately hurting them. Remember it took the prodigal son sleeping and eating with pigs in order to get his attention. Sometimes it really does take someone hitting rock bottom in order for them to seek out the help they need. If you deny them that fall, you are actually denying them the opportunity to grow. Yet, when they fall, be there with them.
In outlining these steps, I don’t want to make it seem like there is a cookie cutter answer to the complexity of the question that was asked. These are just some general thoughts about how to approach a situation where someone is in their need, because of their sin. Every situation is unique though and should be treated as such. Christ Church, let’s continue to be people who are willing to get to know others in need and respond to them with mercy in whatever shape the Lord directs that mercy to take place.
Grateful for you Christ Church!
- Pastor Jeff
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