Have you ever noticed how your ears perk up when you hear a name you recognize? When a conversation involves someone we know we take an interest in it. We can listen to a news report of a terrible tragedy and never raise an eyebrow, but as soon as it involves somebody we know we’re all ears, and our heart is moved with sympathy.
That’s how it was, in a measure, when I heard about the tornado that ripped through Joplin, Missouri, and killed at least 125 people. I was born and raised in Springfield and often visited Joplin, mostly to play ball –so I have lots of memories about the place. My two sisters live near Joplin, so it’s only natural that I was concerned about the path of the storm and relieved when my sister called to say they were fine.
When I hear about disasters in places unknown to me I don’t pay too much attention, but if it happens in a place that I’m familiar with or to people I know, I have an entirely different point of view. I can read the obituaries and not be moved emotionally–until suddenly I see a name that I recognize. Then it’s a different story.
Maybe there’s a lesson in this for us. Everything I’ve said so far is natural. It is impossible for us to feel the same way about a stranger as we do those we know and love. However, we must not treat people as though they have no needs just because we don’t know them. We would do better to view every contact with others as an opportunity. There is not a person on earth that God isn’t concerned about. God loves the world, Jesus tasted death for every man, and we are sent to the whole world to preach the gospel to every creature. How then can we be unconcerned about anyone? We have a God-given ministry to everyone we meet. It might be for just a fleeting moment where we have time for nothing more than a smile, or a nod, or a kind word, but hopefully we make a good impression.
Everyday we meet people who have great needs and are deeply troubled. They don’t wear a sign around their neck saying, “Help”, and they won’t tell us what’s going on in their life, but we should never assume that they don’t have any needs. They don’t know you and they’re not going to tell you about their troubles. They would resent it if you tried to pry into their private life, and they aren’t looking for your advice. But everyone appreciates good manners or a smile. It’s just a little thing, but it’s something. And little things can sometimes accomplish big things. Even if they derive no benefit from their brief encounter with us, it is helpful for our sake to think about them as a person with needs.
Some of the people we meet are rude and inconsiderate, and some are as mean as a junk-yard dog, but they’re that way for a reason. If you knew their whole story you would view them in a different light. I suspect you would be shocked if you knew what was going on in the lives of others. Chances are good that some of them are handling their situation better than you would were you in the same boat. So, let’s not be too hard about judging them.
Since we are the “light of the world” and the “salt of the earth”, we should be concerned about making a good impression so that we might impact the lives of others. Do you really want to be a blessing to others? Then be considerate of them. Sometimes a random act of kindness shown to someone we don’t know can have a more powerful effect than a expensive gift given to those we know. Everybody expects kindness from those they know, but they are surprised and greatly pleased when they see a good deed from a perfect stranger.
You don’t have to know someone twenty years before you take an interest in their life and do them some good. Every person who crosses your path has a story to tell and a need.Consider your “chance” meeting as a God-given opportunity to bring a ray of sunshine into someone’s dreary life. Even if it helps nobody else, it will do you good–you will be blessed for having done so. All the needy people don’t live in Joplin, Missouri–some of them live right next door, or under the same roof with you, and some of them you will meet later today–be ready. It shouldn’t take a tornado to make us aware of people’s needs. Think about it!