Balance - by Scott Alexander

Nov 11, 2015

Balance is a part of life that we usually learn early.  Getting upright is one thing.  Staying on two legs and not leaning too far to the left – or leaning too far to the right is another thing altogether.  It takes some practice to get the balance thing down.  And yet mastering balance seems to be a lifelong endeavor.  Once we’ve gotten the hang of just staying on two feet, we find there are more things we must learn to balance.  Like our time.  Or our diet.  Or the checkbook. 


The word balance comes from two Latin words bi – of course, meaning “two” and lanx referring to “pan scales.”  (It’s hard for me not to imagine the statue Lady Justice standing with her blindfolded eyes and the two pan scales held out before her, symbolically weighing the evidence in the scales.)  Learning balance tells us we have two choices.  Either spend less or earn more.  Eat less or exercise more.  More of one and less of the other – to keep from leaning so far in one direction that our endeavor is futile. 


Anyone who is a follower of Jesus is also faced with another life choice that undoubtedly requires learning some balance.  Jesus clearly calls those of us who follow him to invest ourselves in helping those in poverty.  At first blush, this seems like a pretty straight-forward kind of thing.  You see someone who needs something and you share what you have with them.  And yet it can get a little more complex when you feel compelled to repeat your gift, seeing the same person with the same need, and you begin to wonder if what you are doing has any true benefit.  Or when there are so many people with a need that you aren’t quite sure if, when, or how to manage the needs you see around you with the resources you have before you.  A true dilemma.


The Bible is far from silent on this topic.  My understanding is that Jesus’ followers are called to a radical generosity – as in I Timothy 6:18 when Paul says, “be generous and willing to share.” At the same time, we are called to expect the ones we help to have a traditional responsibility as Paul describes in 2 Thessalonians 3:9 saying, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”  But when to give and when not to?  When to give once but not thrice?  When to give a little but not a lot?  Entire books are written for instructing us about how we answer these questions.  And there are some good ones.  (When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert & Steve Corbett is a fairly recent one with some very helpful teaching.) 


Balancing radical generosity with traditional responsibility doesn’t have a simple answer.  Obviously, that’s the reason books are written about it.  But I have learned in the school of hard knocks that there is a foundational idea that helps me make choices about the if, when and how of giving to someone in need.  That idea is relationship.  Much more is involved, but I’ve seen that with consistent, intentional, face-to-face interaction with the one in need, judgments about how to share what I have become much more clear.  A distant and disengaged plan of simply making an online gift or writing a check doesn’t just fail to satisfy our desire to help, it may not actually be a help.  Actually walking with a person through a difficult time is the baseline, I believe, so that the resources that are shared are effective and not squandered. 


So, a little to the left.  A little to the right.  Balance is essential.  There are the “bleeding heart liberals who give to anyone who asks and totally disregard the economic truth that money alone is not the answer” (very radical generosity) and there are the “tight-fisted conservatives who are reluctant to give to a person who is lazy and irresponsible, and are unwilling to compromise economic realities” (champions of traditional responsibility).  And no one I know would accept either one of those descriptions of themselves, though we’re likely to use one of those descriptions for someone else.  Throwing money at something (or someone) does not work.  Nor does waiting for someone to “pull herself up by her bootstraps.” 


When the Bible speaks of giving to those in need, it is almost always done in the context of relationship.  In I Timothy 5, when Paul gives a young leader named Timothy instructions about how to help those lacking resources, most of the conversation is about the relationship between those in need and those who are helping.  Of course, you could point to the story of the Good Samaritan and note that the “neighbor” was not “in relationship” with the man left for dead – however, it seems that Jesus’ point was to answer the question, “who is my neighbor, “ or rephrased could be “who am in relationship with?” Relationship trumps all.


In a sermon I heard recently, the teacher spoke about this very idea of helping those in poverty.  He said, find a person (or maybe two) and choose to do life with them over the long haul.  Be willing to invest significantly in the life of that one person.  Making any impact will only happen with a focus of relationally investing with your time and money.  The line he kept repeating in his message was, “do for one, what you wish you could do for everyone.”


So, if you’ve wondered about how to balance the left and right of sharing with someone in need, I don’t have many answers, but I have one.  Invest in someone with your time and money