Will you serve or swerve?

You’ve likely had an instant, sometime in your life, when you felt compelled to do something. You knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was the right thing to do, yet you hesitated. Maybe you made an excuse or allowed yourself to become distracted. In short, you found a way to duck and missed the opportunity to do what you needed to do.

I had a chance recently, and it reminded me of a great gift that God has given us, one that we seldom thank him for in our list of many blessings.

Conscientious examination

Recently we visited our younger daughter at her college campus. As I pulled the car off the interstate and stopped at the traffic signal at the end of the ramp, I noticed a man sitting on the ground and leaning against a sign post. He was holding a piece of cardboard asking for help saying that he was out of work and hungry. I felt compelled to give him money for food.

I tried to gauge how much time I had before the light would change and my stopped car would put my family and others in a dangerous situation. While I sat and stewed over what to do, the light remained red for what seemed an eternity. It eventually turned green and I drove off, knowing in my heart of hearts that I’d blown the chance to serve one of God’s children.

In the course of that day we drove through or near that intersection several times. Each time I found myself looking for a way to stop and make up for what I had failed to do. Each time I was in a position that was inconvenient or potentially unsafe to reach out to that man, yet I knew I was called to do it. I headed home the next day with the sinking feeling that I had disappointed the very God who had given his only son for me and my salvation.

I had four hours on that drive home to reflect on what I’d done and hadn’t done. I felt a depth of brokenness and resulting sorrow. Instead of wallowing as I might have done before, I resolved to take the lesson as a man, acknowledge my sin and commit to responding promptly and obediently when I received another opportunity.

Let’s be clear about a few things. First, this isn’t about every single person who comes across a homeless or needy person. While the Gospel is clear about that, I experienced a specific situation and chance to serve. I chose to swerve instead.

Second, in my walk with God, I’ve learned to distinguish his voice from the noise that fills our lives. He clearly called and I clearly ignored.

Third, we have an internal meter known as the conscience that indicates unerringly whether we’re following God or something other than God. As it fully develops, this conscience provides a clear signal when we’re doing the wrong thing, looking in the wrong direction or passing up on an opportunity to serve one of God’s children. It’s not just a guilt-generating mechanism; the conscience also affirms when we follow through and do the right thing by God. God uses this as the still small voice from within to speak clearly and forcefully and to help keep us on track as we move through our days.

What I’ll do differently

With this experience seared into my memory, here is my corrective action plan. I will do the following in the event that I get another such opportunity. I will:

  • Immediately and clearly recognize the face of Jesus in the face of the person seeking help.
  • Take action to give as generously as God has given to me.
  • Pull the car off to the side or even up on the curb and out of traffic to eliminate the safety hazard for the few moments needed to do the right thing.
  • Smile at this person, give cheerfully, ask for his or her name, promise to pray for this person and follow through on the promise.
  • Give thanks to God for the gift of my conscience and a second chance at obedience.

Carroll is an author, consultant and entrepreneur based in Mount Pleasant. Contact him at john@johncarroll.com.