questions on a Sunday morning after getting back from teaching in Huay Pha

When we see needs all around us, overwhelming us, in the lives of our neighbours or friends or strangers, sometimes it’s hard to know what to do. The reality is that we can’t solve everyone’s problems but holding onto that one truth isn’t enough, is it?

If it’s an issue of money or a material need, there’s always the option of giving. However, in a hierarchal and patron-client type of society (like where I am), giving or helping to provide for someone else isn’t so clear cut. The end result can be sticky, awkward, can ruin relationships and can distort people’s understanding of… many things. Sometimes giving money or providing a material need is okay and doable but it’s all about how it’s done.

Sometimes it’s hard knowing what’s best to do and how the Lord wants us to be involved.

In James 1:22-25 it says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”

Later on in James 2:14-17, James writes, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

So how do we reconcile the cultural and societal difficulties and challenges with how the Lord wants us to be involved? To what extent do we get involved and what are the best ways to physically help people? Coming from the West, I think we too quickly think that giving money is the answer. Write a cheque and send it off and pat ourselves on the back. Is that the answer? Will giving, in some contexts, cause more problems than those which already exist? Will our helping actually in fact hurt???

But then there are other needs.

Aunty is sick. Younger sister is having trouble learning in school and the teachers don’t want her to come back – they can’t be bothered to take the time to help her. Two other younger sisters are in need of an alternate living situation – they shouldn’t be living where they are. Younger brother is walking a dangerous path and may veer away from the Lord. Another younger sister is feeling self-destructive and doesn’t see herself as valuable and loved in God’s eyes. Uncle speaks unkind words to his unbelieving wife and seems unrelenting – he doesn’t see how he needs to change and love his wife. Grandfather can’t walk and has a lot of hurts caused by his own relatives – he only wants to walk again and be self-supporting. Older sister fears rejection from her family and compromises her faith all too easily. Older brother leads another brother astray by asking for his help to do something illegal – now both face the possibility of imprisonment. Grandma has cancer – it went away once before but it’s back again. Uncle has fits of rage and his family lives in fear.

Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do but pray. Sometimes, the only thing you can do is be with these people and pray for them. Pray for the situation. And wait.

Because we know He’s the Almighty, the Creator of the universe. He’s our Redeemer, Saviour and Friend. He’s our Counsellor, our Shepherd, the Overseer of Our Souls. He’s our Father in heaven. He knows all of our needs already. He knows our hurts. He knows all about Aunty’s sickness, or younger sister’s broken heart. He knows the solutions to the problems in our lives and it would be so easy for Him to just fix them. But what will happen? What will He do when we pray? Will the lame be healed? Will the heart be mended? Will He provide enough rice for a family to eat? Or lead officials to extend mercy to individuals who have done wrong? Will He lead us to give? Or to be persistent in praying? Will He answer quickly? Will we have to be patient and just wait on Him?

We so badly want to fix things that we may miss out on giving God an opportunity to answer in a different way, or to do something in that person’s life. We may miss out on learning something in the process.

Paul wrote in Romans 5:3-5 that “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

He didn’t call us to an easy life. He never promised that life would be fun and happy all the time. But He did promise that He would never leave us nor forsake us (Deut. 31:6, 8; Psalm 94:14). He did promise that whoever believes in Him will not perish but will have eternal life (John 3:16). He did promise that Jesus will come again and God will dwell with His people and “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore…” (Revelation 21:3-4).

Come, Lord Jesus! And in the meantime, please guide us by your Holy Spirit. May we seek You and have the wisdom to know how to live out our faith in each situation. May we not rush to fix things but rush to bring these things before You in prayer.

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