A few weeks ago, I was surprised to come across an article in the New York Times about my hometown—Sycamore, Illinois. An hour west of Chicago, few people from Illinois know the small town, but it caught the attention of one reporter because of a touching story about a farmer and his wife.
Glenn Bolander had fallen behind his harvesting schedule because his wife, Carol, is battling cancer. That's when nearly 100 volunteers from the farming community came to their aid, and a great number of combines harvested the Bolanders' fields in a little more than five hours. It would have taken Glenn four weeks. When the farmers finished, they shared a potluck dinner together and even set up a meal plan for the Bolanders during this difficult time.
My heart swelled for my hometown, the Bolanders, and their generous farming community. I wondered if there were any believers in the group of volunteers that day. I hoped so, because I find the story to be a perfect example of what the church should be—sacrificing our time, money, possessions, and even business (those farmers had their own fields to tend to) for those in need. Everyone who had something to contribute did.
Do our church communities live up to the Sycamore farming community? I'd venture to say: sometimes. I've experienced the church community at work. In my last semester of college I totaled my car. I lived only a mile from school so I was able to get to class with my ten dollar vintage Schwinn bicycle with one good brake, but I had other commitments outside of school that required alternative transportation. A couple from my church offered me their car for more than two weeks. I was touched by the Lord's provision, their generosity, and remember thinking at the time that this is the church community in action. Now that I live in a new town and attend a new church, I still see other believers intervening for one another.
But I know that excuses can keep me from helping others. I often have to force myself to ask is there some way I can help? Can I sit with them, cook a meal for them, offer to pay a bill, watch their kids? Not only has God gifted us in specific ways to meet the needs around us, but our responsibility to one another stems back to one of Christ's greatest commandments, "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Acts 2:44–47 offers a convicting description of what it looks like to live in community with believers and nonbelievers. "And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (ESV). These believers offered themselves to the Lord, to one another, and to those as they had need, and God did great things through them!
For believers, sacrificial actions bind us together in greater unity. For nonbelievers, our actions represent a larger story of a saving Christ who gave up everything for us. When we choose not to help someone in need, we miss the opportunity to unite the church, be a vessel for God's provision, and spread the good news of Jesus who died for us. Maybe we wouldn't pass up as many opportunities to care for others if we had these eternal repercussions in mind.
Do we hold too tightly to our money, our possessions, and our time even to be available to help others? Next time an opportunity surfaces to help someone in need, will you exhaust all your options before you conclude there's nothing you can do? Will you assume you're the only one there to help? It's likely we can do much more than we think.