Several years ago I came across a peer-reviewed article by a sociologist who studied socioeconomic classes. What caught my attention is this researcher referenced work by a different researcher, Dr. Ruby Payne Ph.D., on whose work I had written a research paper several years before in college.
This researcher (whose name I don’t remember) identified a particular demographic found mostly in West Michigan but also in several communities in Iowa, South Dakota and southern California.
The members of this demographic shared three characteristics. First, they were generous with both their time and money. And their generosity wasn’t motivated by a need to be recognized in the community. Instead, they tended to keep their giving anonymous when possible.
Second, these members tended to think of themselves as independent and self-made. They believed in their ability to be self-reliant.
Third, when a peer in this demographic did need help, they tended to be too ashamed to ask, and this resulted in an apparent disconnect between the person who wanted to help and the person who needed help.
So how to bring the two parties together? The author noted pride and shame often kept the person who needed help from asking the person willing to help. A possible solution? If you are eager to help, don’t wait to be asked; instead, you ask them in a way that protects their dignity and self-respect. To do that, you need to be sensitive to the lives and needs of others that God brings into your life.
This approach works best when you can offer spiritual and emotional support within the context of friendship and genuine care. If you suspect someone you know needs your prayer and fellowship, then ask them. If they say no, remember to stay sensitive to that person’s life as he or she may not yet be at the point where they feel comfortable with accepting the fact they do need your prayer and ministry.
Financial support is different as the person in need of this resource may feel like they cannot ask without being judged or shamed. In this case, don’t wait to be asked, just give but only in a way that protects their dignity and often that can be done anonymously.
As I considered the findings and conclusions in this article, I wondered what, if any, congruence there may be with the Christian model of giving.
A lesson in being sensitive to the needs of others is found in 1 Timothy 5 where Paul tells us to give proper recognition to widows. This instruction was in a culture that placed emphasis on social standing. So it probably would have been out of place for a widow to speak up and say, “Hey, what about me?” The lesson is for those who have social and political standing to be aware of those who don’t. And we also find instructions to the early church to appoint deacons to minister to those in need in a respectful way that protects a person’s dignity.
So how do we minister to those in need in a way that protects their dignity? “The One Anothers” series from 2017 is a great place to start. (That series is still available for download on Hillside’s website.) Pastors Ron and Daniel provide us with some great insights and instructions.
And in Daniel’s message on Oct 14, 2018, “Care for One Another”, he touched on this theme again when he expressed his family’s gratitude for the unsolicited generosity from our Hillside family after their house fire.
In that message, Daniel shows us in Galatians 6 that Christians are required to fulfill the “law of Christ” by bearing one another’s burden. When you do that, you are being used as a blessing from Christ to another person. To do that, you need to look for those opportunities, not wait to be asked.
In closing, I need to set aside my own pride and share a personal story: several years ago during the recession, I went through a time of unemployment. I knew help was available from Hillside, but I was too proud to ask. But someone at Hillside, and to this day I don’t know who, sensed Kim and I needed help as a couple times a month, I would find in our mailbox at church an envelope with either a Meijer gift card or cash. Never more than $40, but that generosity helped more than just financially. I knew there was someone at church who had taken particular notice of Kim and me and God was using that person to provide more than financial help. The knowledge they were also praying for us helped even more than the financial gifts.
Looking back, I realized two things: my sense of self-reliance, i.e., pride was having a toxic effect on my own relationship with God. Second, when it comes to someone who needs my help, I need to set aside my pride and entitlement to judge and meet that person on their terms, not mine.
-By Bob VerBurg
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else… “