I have had the wonderful honor of participating in ministry to the homeless. Now before I get too far into this, let me say that the mere admission of being involved in homeless ministry will evoke statements from others like; “that’s so nice of you” , “you are such a saint”, to list a few. But I say with all sincerity of heart that the homeless have been used by God to school me. Although I might be nice, I am no saint and if the underbelly of my godless thinking was exposed, well, I get faint thinking of what you might say to me.
I was initially a little nervous to interact with the unknown. Having conversations with ‘them’, the homeless, seemed like it would be very uncomfortable. What would we really have in common? What shared experiences would we really have?
After plugging in with the ministry for a while, I strove to find a place where I felt like my contribution was of significance. I had already been actively involved in putting our small collection of clothing out to be claimed, so logically, this was going to be my area of impact. The clothing we brought we piled on top of a table and it was complete chaos when the time came for the needy to see their available options. Were someone peering in from outside our circle, they might think there was a golden egg at the bottom of the clothing pile...it was much like that feverish pitch of chaotic activity that can happen the morning of Black Friday after waiting in line for 4 hours in front of Wal-Mart.
Racks were built to hang the clothes on so that those coming would have the dignity of looking through clothing and putting their choice in a bag as if they were at a department store.
In preparation of using the new racks, I can recall carefully going through my closet, shirt by shirt, choosing things I’d not worn in a while and graciously deciding to ‘gift’ them to the homeless people. The third Saturday arrived and with great pride and anticipation of completely making someone’s day, I displayed the clothing on the new racks, taking particular care to hang those items that came from my closet within easy reach.
Here they came. Those with little to nothing were about to choose from the bounty I’d provided for them. Woman after woman enjoyed going through the racks of women's clothing, picking things out as if she were actually shopping. I was so pleased with myself. As each woman inched closer to the items that came from my closet, the excitement in my spirit was palpable. I was looking without looking, not unlike an undercover detective, wanting to capture the very moment when the homeless woman realized what treasure she’d actually stumbled upon. One by one, each woman looked at the items from my closet, held each item up with an inspecting eye, only to put each back and move to the next item. I was crushed! “How could they pass up the jewels I’d left for them to uncover?”
I would be embarrassed had I actually shared my prideful thoughts with those that were serving alongside me at the time. Not even the homeless person wanted what I had to offer. That day I heard from God. I clearly felt the Lord cement into my heart, ‘Anything you have to offer is as filthy rags. I AM the TREASURE. I AM the gift. Share ME with them'.
Isaiah 64:6a - “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.."
Filthy rags. Have you heard a lesson on filthy rags?
Original language for filthy rags: iddah beged - menstrual cloth.
I'll leave that there, but needless to say it was a humbling lesson to realize what God thought of my ill intended good deeds.
Those items I took such pride in giving away, hung around for months before someone actually chose them. Funny enough, some of my carefully chosen 'jewels' may still be in our collection of clothes, but the lesson will stay with me a lifetime.
From that humbling moment on, the Lord continues to mold me into a servant that realizes, “I got nothin”. It's ALL about Him. That was lesson ONE.