Best Practices of Benevolence

Are there times when we shouldn’t be generous?

It’s a provocative thought, but one I’ve grappled with over the years.

Almost two decades ago, our family moved to the inner-city to start a church. While the ministry opportunities here have always been great, I vastly underestimated how many needs would be thrust before us. Nearly every day, when I’m out and about in our community, I encounter someone seeking help for hardships. Yes, they usually ask for money.

In that moment, I’m forced to decide whether or not to get involved. Should I be generous?

I’ll admit that the years have hardened me. Over time I’ve heard nearly every story imaginable from people asking for help. I’ve been lied to quite often. I’ve been approached by people from the neighborhood I’ve met multiple times, but they try to convince me that they’re from out of town. Perhaps the worst is that a man faked the death of an imaginary child in order to get money for her funeral.

In instances like these, generosity feels like bad stewardship. If I don’t have an existing relationship with the person asking me, I’m forced to decide on their need just based upon how I feel. Knowing that, sometimes, helping actually hurts, I try to be strategic with whom I help.

This is a complex topic, one much bigger than can be addressed in a short article. Nonetheless, here are some things I’ve learned over the years.

1. It’s OK to pause and consider the request

Just because we’re skeptical doesn’t mean we’re heartless. In Matthew 10, Jesus encouraged his followers to be “as wise as serpents but as innocent as doves.” Generally, I’ve learned that my hesitation to help with requests is less about my lack of a giving spirit and more about my trying to be shrewd with the resources I steward. A yes to one person is a no to someone else. We should never feel rushed when making financial decisions and benevolence is included here. It’s valid to ask for clarity when giving.

2. Trust churches/organizations that better understand the need

If our motivation to help is because we believe we’re the only solution, then our faith is too small. There are always others serving on the front lines who have more experience than we do. I’ve made it a point to thoroughly research those ministries that help the less fortunate. Even if I ultimately decided to give to someone in need, I always want to provide them with a connection to another resource that can help them even more.

3. Don’t worry if you’re being lied to

People will justify any lie if they believe it’s important enough. Sometimes those in need fabricate stories because they are desperate. We shouldn’t prioritize confronting the sin of lying over another’s well-being.

Earlier I admitted my struggle with meeting needs in the city. It takes work to keep your heart from becoming hardened. That’s why we must trust the Lord to honor our benevolent efforts. In the King James Version, Ecclesiastes 11:1 reads, “Cast your bread upon the waters for you shall find it after many days.” Scholars aren’t entirely sure the meaning behind this verse but it’s more than just making soggy bread.

As I understand the teaching of the Bible, the stewardship of resources comes down to faith. Occasionally the Lord thrusts us into situations that tests our trust in him. From the giver’s perspective, this is the challenge of benevolence. Jesus encourages us in the journey, telling us that, “freely you have received, freely give.”