The past few weeks have been cold. The temperature wasn’t above 20 degrees and the wind chills were dozens of degrees below zero. It’s been cold, cold, cold.
I’ve been thinking about the cold weather lately. As I look back at the sentence I just wrote, it strikes me how revealing it is. The fact that I have the ability to think about the cold tells you that I am privileged. I am privileged to have a warm home, a warm office and a warm vehicle in which to ponder the cold as opposed to so many people who do not possess the luxury of thinking about the cold; they spend their days and nights trying to survive the cold. CDC data shows that between 600 and 1000 people die each year from cold weather. This doesn’t account for all of the people whose lives are shortened by illness or other problems that are the result of bitter cold temperatures.
When I think about thinking about the cold weather, it leads me to a couple of other thoughts. I realize how seldom I give thanks for blessings. I rarely stop to thank God for these warm places—for a roof over my head, for warm clothes, for warm shoes, for warm places to work and live, for a comfortable bed with warm blankets, for food and drink, for all of my blessings. We have a 6-month-old puppy that loves to explore the yard when I take him out. He doesn’t seem to be affected by the cold as I am. I am always attempting to convince him to expedite our trips outdoors. Nevertheless, even when he wants to stay out longer than I do, I can handle the cold because I am able to put on layers of clothing to keep myself warm and I have a warm, safe place to go when he is finished.
My blessings also lead me to think about the millions of people who aren’t warm, who don’t have warm clothes, hot food, a roof over their head, or any of the safe and secure things that I do. My heart goes out to people in this predicament, but I also feel convicted about my meager efforts to help them. I do not know what precipitated their need—decisions they have made or decisions that others have made—but it doesn’t really matter. My role is not to judge if others are worthy of assistance. My calling is not to examine people to see if they have a good enough reason to be in the situation in which they find themselves. My calling, your calling, is to help people in need.
Mark 6 records the story of Jesus feeding 5000 families with five loaves of bread and two fish. In this moment of need, Jesus doesn’t ask the disciples to survey the crowd in order to determine if they are worthy of being fed. He doesn’t chastise the crowd about their lack of foresight and preparation. He doesn’t check to see if the people can afford to go somewhere and purchase food. He simply says to the disciples, “You feed them” (Mark 6:37).
I’m not exactly sure what I (or you) can do about the thousands (or more) people who are in need, but I think that it starts with prayer. We pray prayers of thanksgiving for God’s generous, undeserved blessings. I am convinced that thinking about others and being generous toward others starts with recognizing the abundant generosity of God to us. But we don’t stop there. We pray for God to supply warmth and food. We pray for God to give us courage to seek ways to help—giving to organizations who have developed programs and have built relationships. We pray for wisdom to know how to most effectively help people in need. We can’t help everyone, nor can we address every need; prayer helps us discern, prayer puts us in a position for God to open our eyes to the needs we often ignore.
Prayer is the most important start. Prayer keeps our hearts soft to God’s Spirit. But as James writes, prayer is often not enough. We must pray and do. We must pray and serve. Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it (James 2:15-16)? When the gospels speak of Jesus being moved with compassion (Mark 6:34)—that he feels the pain and hurt and need of others—it always leads to action.
As you contemplate the needs of the world, as you ponder the struggles of so many people—many struggles that are not your struggles—give thanks for God’s grace, pray for God to give you wisdom, courage and compassion for people in need, and pray for God to help you do what might most clearly look like Jesus. And we will find that there is joy in caring, joy in giving, joy in doing what Jesus calls us to do, joy in being channels of God’s grace to people in need, whatever the need may be.