What can we do?

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts.

When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.

When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

– Acts 3:1-10

Good morning, Friends.

How do we respond to situations where we don’t have the answer? Or, how do we help, when we really don’t have anything to give?

It’s a problem we face all the time We want to help, but there is so little that we can really do.

We feel this way when there are disasters around the world. The news media swamp us every day with stories about people who are in terrible trouble, who we can’t help. There are TV stations that our family refuses to watch any more, because all they show are wrecks and rapes and robberies.

We might feel this way when we meet someone with an incurable physical problem, a handicap, or a chronic disease. It confronts us any time somebody we know is dying or terminally ill.

One response is, don’t read the news. Turn off your TV and your computer. Don’t listen to what’s going on. Cut yourself off from the world, numb yourself somehow to all the sad stories and all the problems.

Here at the meeting office, we get phone calls every week from people who say, “I’m out of food, can you please get me some food?” Or, “I’m behind in my rent, and they’re going to kick me out. Can the church help pay my rent?”

Whether it’s someplace else in the world, or right here in High Point, some days it feels like the whole world is saying NEED! NEED! NEED! And we don’t have the resources to even begin to address them all.

Peter and John were in exactly this kind of situation. They were minding their own business, going up to the Temple to pray, when they met a beggar by the entry.

I never know what to do when people panhandle me. Should I give them something, or not? Am I really helping them? Or am I enabling them and encouraging them to stay in poverty? Will they spend it on drugs, or alcohol? What should I do?

That’s not quite the situation that Peter and John faced. This guy was just an ordinary beggar, with an obvious physical problem. He had never been able to walk in his entire life.
Anyhow. Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, WALK.”

I wish that I could just say that to people! I wish that I could just say a word, and people would be healed.

I wish that no child in the world would be abused. I wish that no woman in the world would be battered. I wish that no one in the world would be in need or afraid. I wish that I could heal them all.

But there comes a point when we’re going to be like Peter and John and say, “I don’t have what you need. I don’t have the silver or gold or whatever it is that you’re asking for.” What can we do then?

The first thing that we can do is pray.

I don’t want that to sound trivial. Jesus and the disciples said prayers that had real power behind them. Short prayers can be very intense, and I have seen amazing things happen. Some of those prayers were really short.

“WALK!” “BE WHOLE!” “COME OUT!”

My short prayers tend to be more along the lines of, “Yes, you ARE forgiven!” or “Yes, God truly does love you!” I’ve seen many burdens lifted with those short prayers.

But prayer can also be longer. Sometimes, instead of saying something, prayer can mean listening to the person who is in pain or in need. Prayer often means lending an ear to somebody who feels they have no one who will listen to them.

I spend hours listening to people. And while I listen, I’m actively praying for them. Sometimes I pray out loud in words. But sometimes I pray silently, in the Spirit.

Sometimes I pray inarticulately. I may not only have nothing to give, I don’t even have the words to pray sometimes.

When we listen, God can open up new avenues to us. Prayer can open up new doors. It can show us new possibilities. It really does happen.

But even if all the doors stay closed, prayer is still a gift we can give. It’s like lifting that other person up, and holding them in the Light of Christ. Sometimes that’s all we can do.
Praying that way isn’t an act of despair. It’s saying, “Lord, here is this person. I don’t have what they need. I don’t know what to do. But I trust in you. I hold them up to you, Lord, to do the best that You can.”

One of my favorite Christian authors is Madeleine L’Engle. She wrote a wonderful book called A Ring of Endless Light. It’s one of my favorites, and I’ve re-read it many times.
In A Ring of Endless Light, a teenage girl and her grandfather are talking about prayer. The grandfather admits that his prayers don’t always work, don’t always seem to be effective, don’t always seem to be answered.

“Then why,” asks the girl, “why pray at all?” And he answers: “Because it’s an act of love. . .”
I could say a whole lot more about prayer, but I don’t think I could improve on that. It’s an act of love. We don’t just pray because we expect things to go our way. We pray, because we love, and because God loves.

Another thing we can do, besides pray, when we have nothing else to give, is protest.

I want to tell you, for just a minute, about somebody you’ve never met. My wife’s grandfather died about 30 years ago, and he was a wonderful man. He was in his 80’s when I knew him, and he always got up late every morning, about 9 or 10 o’clock.
He would shuffle downstairs, in his bathrobe and his slippers, and he would look at the morning paper, and he would snort at it.

He had a dog named King, and every morning he would reach into the pocket of his bathrobe, and take out a piece of candy and tell King to sit up. Then he would balance
the candy on the end of King-dog’s nose, and they would both sit perfectly still. Then he would say, “OK!”, and the dog would flip the candy up into the air with his nose, and gulp it down on the fly.

For breakfast every morning he’d have a couple of Shredded Wheat biscuits in a bowl with boiling hot water poured over them. Every day. He had one of those giant-sized coffee cups that held half a quart of coffee. And he’d have a grapefruit, with a quarter of a cup of brandy poured all over it. He was a real character.

He was a veteran of World War One, and he was very interested in veteran’s affairs. Whenever he thought something wasn’t right, he’d write to Congress about it. I remember one week he sat down at his typewriter and typed out 435 letters, one letter to each member of Congress. It worked, too!

He always smoked unfiltered Camels, so he had this really raspy voice. And every now and then he’d say, “When you see something wrong in the world, you know what you gotta do? You gotta SQUAWK!”

And you know, he was right. Some things have to be protested. They should not be taken lying down. Evil and wrong need to be named for what they are. Some things should not just be tamely accepted.

Violence and injustice. Oppression and robbery. The destruction of people, and homes, and communities, and the environment. Arrogant actions by people in power.

One of the things Christians can always do, when we think we can do nothing else, is to SQUAWK. We can say, clearly and plainly, “What we are seeing here is not the will of God. It is not the teaching of Jesus. It is not the fruit of the Holy Spirit.”

Not having power, not having resources, doesn’t mean silence. We are called, in the power of God and in the Spirit of Christ, to protest against evil and injustice and neglect.
In this morning’s Scripture, Peter and John’s response was to heal the man who was lying at the Temple gate. They healed him, in the name of Christ.

But their response might also have been to ask, “Why does this man have to beg? Why is the community neglecting him? Why does he have to demean himself in this way? Why can’t he live with dignity?”

Protest is an authentic Christian response. Even if we don’t know what to do, sometimes we can see what not to do. That’s protest.

A third thing that we can do, a third way we can respond, when what we have isn’t enough, is simply to be there with the other person.

Many times, when I visit people, I can’t fix their problems. That bothers me, because I’m a “fix-it” kind of guy. All my life, I’ve wanted to do something practical to help.

I want to provide knowledge. I want to offer advice or a referral. I want to lend people the tools they need, and roll up my sleeves and work the problem and help them.
But sometimes all we can do, maybe the best thing we can do, is not to do anything, but simply be there. It’s called the ministry of presence.

When someone is dying, I can’t heal them. But I can try and see they don’t die all alone. When someone is in prison, I can’t get them out. But I can visit them, or I can write to them.

When someone is going through a time of grief, I can’t undo what happened. It would be wrong for me to say, “There, there! Don’t cry! It’s all right!”

Because it’s not all right. Something is terribly wrong, terribly painful. One of the worst things we can do, is to offer well-meant words of comfort and explanation, when there is no good explanation. But we can still be there.

People often feel when they’re in trouble, that God has abandoned them. Grief, illness, poverty, depression – whatever the problem, people feel alone. It can be very hard to believe in God, when it seems like God isn’t there.

And part of what that “ministry of presence” says is, “OK, I know you can’t see God. God’s invisible. But you can see me, right? And I’m here because I care. And even if you can’t see God right now, and maybe you think that God doesn’t even exist, you can take a chance on God, because I’m here. I won’t leave you alone, and God isn’t leaving you alone, either.”
That’s what presence is all about. Testifying to the love of God, just being there, even if that’s all we have to give.

So, that’s it. Be present. Protest, if that’s the right thing to do. Give, if you’ve got something to give. And pray – pray all the time, every time. God does amazing things when people pray!

Copyright © 2016 by Joshua Brown

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