We read in Matthew 25:31-46 that helping others is essential to living a Christian life. Jesus said those who do not care for the downtrodden could face expulsion from His kingdom. The types of people He expects us to care for include the poor, destitute, sick, strangers, and prisoners. Many people shy away from these types of people in our society today. One of the things Jesus is telling us in Matthew 25 is that all humans have the potential to become part of the family of God. God will not exclude anyone who repents and follows Him. Therefore we need to be cognizant of this fact and treat all our brothers and sisters equally. But volunteering to help with these types of people can also teach us things that can build our character.
Hopefully we are all volunteering in our communities in some way. If not read Matthew 25; James 1:27; and Galatians 6:9-10 for some motivation. But what is our motivation when we volunteer? Are we volunteering because we have been directed to do so by our school, family, or church? Regardless of our motivation, participating can help create motivation for you. There have been times when I did not feel like participating in volunteer activity, but I carried through on my commitment. I remember one day in particular when I had promised to play sports with physically and mentally challenged kids and teens. I remember getting there and feeling like it was the last place I wanted to be on that particular day. I was just not motivated and not feeling enthused. But as I started to interact with the challenged athletes I noticed their positive attitudes. They were laughing and smiling and truly enjoying themselves. I looked at some of them in wheelchairs, suffering from Down’s syndrome, autism, retardation, and a host of other issues. My attitude began to alter as I worked with them. They didn’t seem to care they had all these “issues.” It helped me realize how insignificant my problems were. I believe this is one of the reasons God wants us to work with the seemingly less fortunate. It helps us learn about our attitudes and mind-set, and it also motivates us to change those attitudes.
Those of you who do volunteer, is it always the same type of service that you perform? For example, if you always serve at a soup kitchen why not write a letter to a prisoner? For some, there may be a fear of dealing with someone in prison or jail. We may have a perception that people in prison are bad or dangerous. This is true in some cases, but there are many people in prison or jail because of mistakes and bad choices. Some are there because of mistakes by the justice system. Remember that Jesus mentioned prisoners as one of the categories of people we need to deal with. What might we learn by communicating with them? One thing we could learn is how easily one mistake can impact the rest of your life. I had the experience of visiting and writing to someone in prison that was interested in our church. The reason he was in prison was because of assaulting two individuals with a baseball bat. The incident occurred after the two individuals in a bar assaulted him. The easy lesson to learn from this is mixing alcohol with anger and the costs that are incurred. Talking to this man helped me learn other things about prison life from someone on the inside. Once again, as with the physically and mentally challenged, I became aware of how easy I had it. It also helped me not take for granted all the little things in life a prisoner misses out on.
In Matthew 8:3; Mark 1:42; and Luke 5:13 we read of Jesus healing a man with leprosy. Those with leprosy were outcasts in the society in which Jesus lived. We see in this example Jesus did not abide by societal norms when it came to helping others. In today’s society some would look at AIDS/HIV victims as outcasts. When the disease was first breaking onto the scene there were many in society who wanted to keep these individuals away from others because of their fear of the disease. Would you be able to visit with a person with AIDS if necessary? Or are you afraid? I had to answer this question a few years ago when the daughter of someone in the Church came down with AIDS. The disease was contracted through the use of drugs. I had to overcome a little fear going into this situation because of the impact the media had on me years before. Once again the experience helped alter my perception as I listened to someone suffering more than I ever had. I was also profoundly altered during visits to a sick friend who was dying of colon cancer. As I watched him wither away I realized how important each day is in our life. How we need to be doing the things God wants us committed to now.
I have learned much from putting myself in uncomfortable situations in trying to help others. I am far from being a complete individual, but each of these experiences has helped me get closer to God and realize more fully who He wants me to be. Those of you who do volunteer, try to expand your volunteer efforts and helping experiences beyond what you feel comfortable with. Those of you who don’t volunteer, start now and you will find that these experiences will teach you things you can’t learn in any other way.