The following true story more than any other reminds me to be alert for opportunities God continually gives to help others in need. I blew it. I missed a valuable opportunity and learned a critical lesson. Over the next few weeks, I hope to share some of those lessons learned and offer ways that we can all become more involved in helping those who are caught in the fierce grip of poverty.

The checkout line 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 ten to fifteen 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, typed in the information and slid the check 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 look at the cash register but instead picked up the check and began to talk quietly to the customer while gently moving her toward the exit. I could feel the muscles in my stomach tighten as the reality of what was happening struck me.

The check she wrote for seven dollars and forty-three cents was rejected and the manager was gently escorting the young lady out of the store. The clerk quickly set the groceries aside, closed out the account and started 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 the flimsy excuses would not erase the picture in my mind of a grocery basket filled with jars of baby food – baby food.

God offered me a chance to minister to someone in need and I missed it.

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 from God to help someone. Our light shines when we seize the opportunity to witness our faith by reaching out and getting involved. There is nothing dramatic about these day-to-day encounters but collectively 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 baby food. It was the right thing to do. I don’t have much money, but I can afford seven dollars and forty-three cents. But I was in a hurry. So, I missed a God-given opportunity for ministry and basically hid my light under a bowl. There are no acceptable excuses. I messed up.

Over the years, this story has inspired me to do better. God taught a valuable lesson. What we believe as Christians only works if we turn our faith into action. How about you? How many opportunities has God given you to let your light shine by helping someone in need and instead you hid it under a bowl?

The 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.

Next: An update to $7.43 and how you can become more involved in helping those in need.