Opinion—How Holiness Keeps Us Focused on the Needs of Others
By John Christopher Frame
Editor’s note—Views expressed in the following op-ed do not necessarily reflect those of Church of God Ministries, Inc., or its affiliates. We publish op-ed features to provoke thought, stimulate healthy discussion, and inspire us to be with Jesus, become like Jesus, and do what Jesus did. We’ve asked to hear from a diverse range of voices across the Church of God movement. This op-ed features one of these voices.
Not too long ago, when my wife and I were grocery shopping in our neighborhood in Istanbul, we each noticed a fifty-something man carrying a large plastic bag and a handful of coins. He was much shorter than I, and seemed to be noticing if people were noticing him. When we passed him the first time, he was counting his coins. He looked up at me quickly, embarrassed, as if he felt the world was looking down on him. I nodded my head and half-smiled, the way you do when you catch someone’s eyes for a moment, and you want to signal you acknowledge the person but you don’t want to make things more awkward. I didn’t want him to think I’d been staring.
I thought about how those coins were maybe all he had to buy his groceries. I wondered if he needed more money. Then I thought how people, especially in some cultures, like Turkey’s, might be insulted if I offer money they don’t feel they need. I reasoned with myself, “He may need money, but his personal honor could be insulted if I assume he’s poor. I don’t think he would want my money.” With those thoughts, I let myself off the hook. I listened to the beast of resistance, fed by an assumption the man wouldn’t want anything from me. As we continued shopping, I didn’t forget about him. “Will we see him in the next aisle? Will I feel compelled to help him?”
A few minutes later, my wife noticed him looking at tomato paste and vegetable oil—two important staples of Turkish cuisine. He studied the prices and looked down at his coins. Then he walked away. My wife pulled out her wallet and told me she was going to give him money.
I have asked her several times to help me be more generous. That day, she was modeling generosity, helping me be the person I want to be. Her generosity was also matched with discernment. In this case, she sensed this man’s kindness—his goodness, she would tell me later—and she wasn’t worried he’d take the money and run to the alcohol aisle. I felt relief—that she, as a Turkish person and woman, would help this man who I had convinced myself didn’t need any help.
I’m not sure if it was the voice of reason or the beast of resistance, but I cringed at the amount she said she was going to give him. “I think that’s too much,” I said. We quickly agreed on an appropriate amount, and she chased after him, money in hand.
“Here, I want to help you. Please take this,” she told the man.
“Oh, I must have disturbed you when I was counting my money. I’m so sorry,” he replied.
“No, you didn’t disturb us.” She held out the money. She could smell his body odor.
He took only half. “It’s too much.”
“We’ve all had difficulties, so please take it,” my wife replied.
It was enough to convince him. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,” the man said.
He walked back to the tomato paste and vegetable oil and selected the cheapest items on the shelf. Later, he was walking around with a multi-pack of small facial tissues, the kind poor people in Istanbul sell on the street. Women buy them to carry in their purse.
“He was so gentle, so humble,” my wife said to me. “He didn’t even want to accept all the money.” She looked away and began to cry, overwhelmed by his need and demeanor. “It breaks my heart. He just has so little.”
Encountering God through Generosity
I wonder, when we help those in need—financially or otherwise—if we’re taken to a place within ourselves where we feel closer to God. In this way, we not only connect with those in need, but also allow God’s love in us to grow and our love for others to expand.
As for my wife that day in the grocery store, I wonder if her act of kindness allowed her to encounter God in a new way, more deeply feeling God’s heart for others and making her more holy. I think, by helping those in need, we’re somehow changed—made more holy—through our acts of generosity. In short, being generous can lead us to a closer relationship with God.
Holiness is living a life that pleases God in the things we do and don’t do. Holiness leads us to generosity, and generosity helps us to be holy. Yet, while there’s a connection between helping others and feeling closer to God, it’s more accurate to think in terms of obedience to God as making us holy, not simply acts of generosity. Holiness is living, and living out our faith, in a way that pleases God.
If my wife had stifled the feelings that led her to help the man in the grocery store—pushed them away like I had, with rationalization or excuses for not helping—she would not have been blessed by the encounter with God that resulted in helping someone.
Holiness Keeps Us Focused on the Needs of Others
Holiness is keeping our hearts clean and in tune with God. If we aren’t holy, we’ll feel disconnected from God, which can disconnect us from others. This can impact the way we touch other people’s lives.
Holiness is, of course, connected to our love for God. It is also linked to our sharing love with others. I’ve realized that sin not only steals peace and joy from me, but it can also steal something from other people. It stops me from sharing a friendly smile, from saying encouraging words, from thinking about the needs of others. It hinders my capacity, or God’s capacity through me, to effect people. Sin takes away what I could freely give to others.
Since feeling closer to God can help us feel closer to others, holiness can lead us to greater generosity. It enables us to more easily love people. When we are holy, we are likely to be more compelled to be generous in different forms. We are more focused on God’s love and concern for others. People and their needs stay in our hearts.
Questions or comments? Dr. John Christopher Frame can be reached through his website: www.johnchristopherframe.com/contact-john. John is an author and a faculty member at an online university. He has lived internationally and holds a PhD from the University of Oxford and a master’s from Anderson University School of Theology. This preceding op-ed an edited excerpt from the book, 7 Attitudes of the Helping Heart: How to Live Out Your Faith and Care for the Poor, by John Christopher Frame. The foreword to the book was written by Jim Lyon, general director for Church of God Ministries. John’s passion is combining his interests in theology and social concerns to help Christians become more aware of global issues so they can better live out their faith. John is the author of two books, including 7 Attitudes of the Helping Heart: How to Live Out Your Faith and Care for the Poor. He loves traveling on the cheap, visiting outdoor markets, balcony gardening, and working in quirky cafés in his neighborhood. He also enjoys spending time with his wife, whom he met while buying a carpet at a souvenir shop in Istanbul, Turkey. You can download his free prayer action guide, 7 Days to Upping Your Prayer Life, Loving Others, and Having More Joy, at www.johnchristopherframe.com/prayer-guide.
Feature (top) image © Can Stock Photo / lightkeeper.