Not all who are in need needed help — The Importance of Discernment in Ministry

Last evening, “The Father’s Heart for the Homeless” concluded with a multitude of youths offering their lives to serve the needy. The sanctuary was filled with over 800 enthusiastic young adults with a burning passion to serve the needs of homeless people; opening doors for the needs of the homeless and whoever who appears to need help.

But as we admire the Spirit’s work at stirring the hearts of His sons and daughters to serve, are we certain that that stir in the heart is sufficient to serve the society’s destitute?

Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives.
— 1 Timothy 5:3, 5-6, NIV.

Over the course of a year and a half participating in the ministry of Hopehome Family Welfare Association in Kluang, Malaysia, I have concluded that indeed there is a need for the wisdom of discernment, discerning true needs and plain laziness. Not all who appears to be needy, needed help. Given, they may appear like a derelict for a while when you encounter them. Given, they may even be at the verge of suicide. Still, the wisdom of discernment is required to determine the help they needed – and to what extent should the help be rendered. For all you know, they may only be in a period of transition; finding their way through the vastness of life but have met with an obstacle too big that they could not cross… For that time being.

Paul teaches us to discern the needs of these people through their age, family background, and their lifestyles.

Paul teaches Timothy to discern the needs of these people through identifying their age, family background, and their lifestyles. He writes:

No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds. As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry.
— 1 Timothy 5:9-11, NIV.

I will not go into the detail arguing why Paul wrote what he wrote. But given my limited experience, I saw the importance of evaluation coming to light. Indeed, there are people of all ages who are desperately in need. There are many children left roaming the streets when their parents are either imprisoned or advancing their careers in another city. There are children who are left homeless when family members are physically or mentally ill. There are children who are homeless because their parents abandoned them. There are illegitimate children who are born of illegal immigrants.

Sure, they all needed help. So, naively as we were, we provided the help we thought they require. We opened our doors to the homeless and offered them a place to stay, food to eat, money to complete their studies, place to contribute, and almost all of our time and energy. Over the course of many months (many years for my co-worker), we tutored them and we disciple them. We saw their lives turned for the better; some even devoted their lives to full-time ministry. We praised God for all His work in these children under our charge.

Then things changed.

They were affected by the outside world. They wanted the lifestyle that others led. They wanted to drink alcohol. They wanted to hang out late at night. They questioned why they could not have the lifestyle that they see others enjoy on social media.

They begin to harvest hatred within their hearts. They caved in to the temptation of laziness, causing troubles of all kinds. They mess up the home, they wasted electricity and food. They fed our pet dogs and cats poison, and caused an accident that almost led to the death of a co-worker.

“They needed help. They needed family — their own family.”

We were distraught. We were helpless. We questioned God’s calling for us to serve the needy and whether what we are doing is right.

Those were the hardest times.

Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to. So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan. If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.
— 1 Timothy 5:13-16, NIV.

I guess they need help too. But not of the kind that would require us to devote that kind of energy on. They needed family — their own family.

But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
— 1 Timothy 4: 4, 8, NIV.

Discernment is important. Likewise, a method of evaluation is just as important. Needs of the needy need to be critically evaluated to determine the type of help that should be rendered so as to not affect the entire progression of the ministry. For this to take place, there must also be a certain structure in the setup of the ministry so as to prevent the crossing of lines.

“People need to be trained so that they are prepared to face the issues that may arise as they open their arms wide to serve the needs of this fallen world.”

This is where institutionalized education come into play. People need to be trained so that they are prepared to face the issues that may arise as they open their arms wide to serve the needs of this fallen world.

Give the people these instructions, so that no one may be open to blame.
— 1 Timothy 5:7, NIV.

That said, there are different types of needs among the needy. Those who truly needed help and others who are merely transitioning. Who are you called to serve? This calls for the wisdom of discernment so as to offer appropriate platforms to cater to specific needs of the people.

Wisdom is needed to discern who we are called to serve.

Given that there will always be poor people in the land (Deuteronomy 15:11, Matthew 26:11a). The question now lies in our ability to discern.

May God grant us the wisdom required to be good stewards of the land. May the Holy Spirit open our eyes to the ones who are truly in need. May all that we do glorify He who sits on the Throne.

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