December 18, 2006

Beggars Can't be Choosers

Last week someone called me with a problem and hoped for a solution. I felt helpless and didn’t have one. I prayed with the caller and when we were finished, I said, “That’s all I know how to do.”

Yesterday, someone we’d not seen for several months asked how I was doing. I said life had been hard the past few months. He asked how so. So I told him about some on-going challenges and some of my fears and struggles. Considering that he had been in active ministry for many years, I expected maybe a “I’ll pray for you” or some expression of concern. To my surprise, he joked with another nearby person that he didn’t “have his shingle out” and essentially offered me a ‘find someone who cares’ response.

This morning, I’m reading in Acts 3 where Peter and John encounter a lame man. The man was begging at the gate of the temple. He had been unable to walk his entire life and just wanted a few coins so he could survive.

Peter said to the man, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”

The miracle happened; the man did rise up and walk, and went walking and leaping into the temple, praising God as he went. A crowd gathered, and Peter seized the opportunity to tell many about the wonder of Jesus. He didn’t take any credit for this marvelous healing, but instead praised God himself as he preached about Christ.

The phrase that captured my attention is Peter saying, “Silver and gold I do not have, what I do have I give you.” The beggar wanted a certain kind of help, and Peter couldn’t do it, and instead offered him what he had, which turned out to be far more than what he expected.

When someone comes with a problem, most people wish they could wave a magic wand and solve it for them. Sometimes my reasons for wanting to ‘fix’ it are selfish. I just want them and their problem solved because I am busy or bothered. I don’t want to be rude and tell them to go away. Yet most of the time, I feel concern for folks in trouble and will at least listen to their distress and pray with them or for them.

Most often I think about the power of God who uses problems to test and build our faith, to bring us to Himself in humble dependence, and to show us that we need Him. When I experience trials, I sometimes see how God using that trial in my life. If not, and I share the trial with another person who reminds me that God will use it for good, I’m comforted. I’m also encouraged if they pray for wisdom, grace, strength, or whatever I need in my trial. Pointing me to God is far better than someone trying to ‘fix’ it.

I’m not sure what to do with people who are flippant about the trials of others, my own included. While it is a bit of a slap in the face and a big disappointment, I also feel concern for people who do it. Yesterday, I expected this person to be a burden-bearer and an encourager because of his title, reputation and our friendship, but he came up empty.

I’m sure the beggar at the gate got a variety of responses. People would ignore him, or give him a pittance. Some would be generous. I’ve heard said that beggars cannot be choosers, but my first response to putting my hand out and getting it slapped is that I should pick more carefully who I share with and when I share it.

But begging doesn’t work that way. Some who pass by will do just that. Others will be like Peter who “fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, ‘Look at us.’”

As a beggar, I am not in control of anything other people do. Ultimately, it depends on God—who gives some people silver and gold (which they may or may not share, and which may or may not help), and some people His caring heart, the thought to stop and listen, and even the power to heal.

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