I’ve learned the hard way that helping opportunities are often unplanned and if you are not careful unnoticed. I share this story occasionally to remind me and others of the importance of being alert for God-given opportunities to make a difference in real and tangible ways.
The checkout at the local grocery store was long and I was in a hurry. Seeing another line nearly empty, I walked over and stood behind the only customer still to make a purchase. A young twenty-something woman was holding a small basket with fifteen to twenty jars of baby food. There was nothing else in the basket: just baby food.
“This is great,” I thought. “She’ll only be a minute and I can be on my way.”
The clerk took the woman’s check for seven dollars and forty-three cents and efficiently typed in the numbers and slid it into the proper slot on the register. At this point the cash drawer was supposed to open while a receipt was printed, but not this time. A light began to blink: “See Manager.” The clerk called on the intercom for the supervisor while running the check through again on her register. The same sign kept flashing: “See Manager.”
“Oh no!” I thought. “Not another delay. I’m in a hurry and don’t need for the cash register to break down.”
When the supervisor arrived, however, he didn’t even look at the cash register, but instead picked up the check and began to talk to the customer. I could feel the muscles in my stomach tighten as the reality of what was happening struck me.
The check for seven dollars and forty-three cents was no good and the manager was quietly saying she could not buy her baby food here. The clerk quickly set the groceries aside, closed her account and began to ring up my purchase.
“She should manage her money better!” I tried to convince myself while leaving the store. “She’s probably an alcoholic or a drug addict.” But my flimsy excuses would not erase the picture in my mind of a grocery basket filled with jars of baby food.
Jesus teaches: “You are the light of the world…we don’t light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead we put it on a stand and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine so they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mat. 5:14-16)
Every day, you and I receive opportunities to help someone in need. Our light shines when we use those God-given opportunities to witness our faith by reaching out and getting involved. There is nothing dramatic about these day-to-day encounters, but they emphatically tell the world what kind of Christians we really are.
At this point, I want to finish the story by writing how I approached the manager and offered to pay for the purchase of the baby food. It was the right thing to do. I didn’t have much money, but I could afford seven dollars and forty-three cents. Instead, hiding my light under a bowl, I turned my head and walked away. There are no acceptable excuses. I had an opportunity to help someone and failed.
“Dear brothers and sisters, what’s the use of saying you have faith if you don’t prove it by your actions? That kind of faith can’t save anyone. Suppose you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, and you say, “Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat well”-but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, it isn’t enough just to have faith. Faith that doesn’t show itself by good deeds is no faith at all-it is dead and useless.” (James 2:14-17)
God has taught me a valuable lesson. What we believe as Christians only works if we turn our faith into action. How about you? How many opportunities have you missed to let your light shine and instead hid it under a bowl?
Next time… you are in a check-out line at your local grocery store. Instead of worrying about your schedule, look around you. Maybe God will give you the opportunity to help someone who needs seven dollars and forty-three cents to buy some baby food. Please, in the name of God, let your light shine and give them a helping hand.