Every few years, I share a story about a missed opportunity to help a mother attempting to buy $7.43 worth of baby food in a grocery store. There are no acceptable excuses. I messed up. $7.43 serves as an ongoing reminder to be more vigilant for opportunities to help someone in need. After telling this story, I received some interesting responses:

“A couple of weeks ago I took my family to see London. As we were coming down the stairs at Westminster Bridge there was a homeless man begging for money.  Without thinking I pulled my son near to protect him. Only then I realized that my instant reaction was entirely wrong. I treated that man like he was about to attack rather than needing help. We later tried to find him to offer food, but he had gone. I felt even sadder that I missed my opportunity to help.”

“I met a family who just moved in. I noticed there was little there. The next day after church, my son Max and I went to the store and bought everything from paper towels to peanut butter. We delivered the food, and they were surprised! Things were tight and they needed help. Now if a single Mom and five-year-old son can do that imagine what an entire church could do.”

“I think every opportunity is a way to show forth God’s goodness even when you’re being taken for a ride. I know situations where people came to cheat and end up being saved.”

But my favorite response came from Tom Riddle, a boss who always knew how to get the best out of me. Over the years, he became a close personal friend. On a trip home, I stopped in to visit Mr. Riddle and talk about my first book and old times. But instead of small talk, I received a unique lesson on giving and ministry.

At one point, he said: “I read your book last night and loved your story on “$7.43.”  Mr. Riddle looked at me for a moment, smiled and said: “Well, Larry, what have you done since then?”

“Well, I’ve helped a few people personally” I replied, not really knowing what he wanted me to say. 

“I’ve got an idea,” he said and picked up the phone and instructed his office manager to bring him a check for $743.00. Then he handed the check to me and said: “I want you to take this money and put it into one hundred different envelopes and give it to 100 people in need.”

As I took the check and began to thank him, Mr. Riddle asked me another question. “Larry, this is my gift and I’m happy to do it. Now, the question is… what will you do?”

Again, I didn’t know what to say, but knew he expected me to do something. Mr. Riddle had given something of value and it was now my turn to respond. But how could a preacher give a gift that would make a real difference?

Peter wrote in 1 Peter: “Each one should use whatever gift they have received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” The message is that all of us have something to give of great value. We simply need to find it and use it.

A soft voice inside me kept saying: “The best gift you can give is your new book.”

“But Lord,” I weakly replied: “I haven’t even paid the printing bill yet!”

Several days later at a community gathering, I shared the story of Mr. Riddle’s gift and passed out 50 envelopes each filled with $7.43 along with fifty copies of my book. The instructions were to give one envelope and one book to someone in need and tell the story of $7.43. On the following Sunday morning, fifty people in our church were given the same opportunity.

Two weeks later, Mr. Riddle visited our church and heard stories of lives touched by his special gift.

  • One woman experiencing a divorce used the money to take the kids to a local restaurant and then read the book for continued devotional support.
  • Another gift was sent to a man in prison who used the money for his daughter’s Christmas present and then passed the book around to fellow inmates.
  • A third gift was given to a family struggling through a recent job layoff.
  • Another was sent to a missionary family in Sri Lanka.

One person after another stood and told a moving story of a gift given and how they felt compelled to become even more involved in someone else’s life. They spoke of the joy of offering something encouraging to a person in need.

We were given the opportunity to participate in a miracle. In addition to helping at least 100 people, Mr. Riddle taught a valuable lesson on the importance and the joy of giving: All for $7.43. Try it for yourself and watch God make your gift grow and grow! The lesson of $7.43 means God is calling us to be alert for opportunities to make a difference in the community around us. How will you respond?