The gas station, the hungry man, and a lesson in provision and generosity.

One of the marks of a good book (in my humble opinion) is its ability to set up a filter or a lens. From that point on, it changes not necessarily your entire worldview but perhaps how you view certain events or situations.

Over the last couple of weeks I read Timothy Keller’s Generous Justice, and it’s done just that.

The day before I finished the book, the following happened:
I was strapped for cash, gas, everything – I had to do a mobile transfer just to put ten bucks worth of gas into my car so I could get to Berea the next day. I had two dollars in cash – a one dollar bill and four quarters – and I wanted to have a Pepsi, so I was going to go into the store afterwards to get a Pepsi.
As I went to pump gas, a man approached me. He was tall, skinny, he had tattoos, and his face looked a bit long. He told me the typical story – he didn’t have a home, he lost his wife (I can’t remember if he said she left or if something bad happened to her) and he just needed a hot meal.

I remember the gears turning hard in my head – harder than they ever had before. This guy could be out to get money for drugs. He could be lying. Damn it, I’ve had a long day, and I want a Pepsi. But man, it’s my job to take care of people. There has to be a reason God has entrusted me with a certain amount of money. You can do without a Pepsi, can’t you?

I made a choice.

I’m just disappointed at which one I made.

“Sorry man, I’m afraid I don’t have any cash.”

I lied to his face.

Then an emotion or a thought came over me that hadn’t ever before. It was lighter than guilt but heavier than “you’re wrong.” It’s difficult to describe but it feels a lot like simply missing the heart of God in a situation. I knew I wasn’t suddenly condemned. I knew I was still a Christian – I just didn’t think I was acting like one. I went home marinating in this emotion until I popped open my journal and wrote a choice few words for myself and how I felt.

Admittedly, however, part of the entry stemmed from being angry and frustrated financially.

Earlier in the week, I had to go get my tires replaced – first because I had popped a big hole in one of them, but also because it was about time I did so, and after that I was out $170 (it was only two tires.)

$170.

But that’s my utility bill and my phone bill combined. Like, the exact same amount. [insert unseemly word.]

So I’ve spent the last week walking on financial eggshells, but in the meantime, God has used this time to bring some perspective to who He is as provider.

See, I still see myself as my own source of provision sometimes. I still worry that somehow I have to make it all show up at once. In the middle of this, God said two things to me.

First, what do I think it means if I have to dip into emergency funds to make ends meet? I think that ever since I blew a whole lot of my savings by being frivolous in high school and college (we’re talking several thousand dollars,) I’ve thought it was some sort of idiocy on my part or an indication that I can’t manage money if I dip into savings/my emergency fund. But is that not perhaps a source of His provision – to give me the foresight to save some money for when things get really tight? That sounds like wisdom, and wisdom sounds like an attribute of God to me. Maybe it’s really practical provision.

Second, He shared this with me. At my job, I get the pleasure of doing the orders and establishing pars for the shop. I have a degree of control over what comes in and what doesn’t. And sometimes I like to keep things really close to the vest – sometimes I don’t order completely up to par in order to save space and money. Sometimes that means that through the week, it looks like we might run out of something. Maybe a bottle of syrup is running really low, or it looks like we’ll use the last of our ice before I get a chance to go to the grocery store. But 9 times out of 10, we get the thing we need just when we need it or we have a way of supplementing a need.

Maybe that’s how it is with God – maybe He lets us get to the point where it looks like it’s not going to be able to work, maybe it doesn’t look like bills are gonna get paid or such like, but God in His wisdom and timing has a way of making it come together [and, I realize, sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve been blessed that God always seems to take care of the bills at some point or another – whether through the generosity of someone else or through timely paychecks. I don’t know how to explain when it doesn’t line up as we’d like without sounding cliché and perhaps callous.]

But those are connected because I let myself believe that I had to take care of myself in the moment when the man approached me. It was a very atheistic view of stewardship in which I held what money was on my person with a clenched fist instead of being generous. I was so caught up in what I wanted that I didn’t help someone who had a legitimate need. After all, a bottle of Pepsi is in no way a need. Who the heck did I think I was to put my wants before another human’s needs?
So I was not only not trusting God to meet my needs (as I was stressed and frustrated about upcoming bills) but also choosing to be frivolous (even if a bottle of pop is only 1.79 and that won’t make a big difference to my utility bill.)

I sinned. I think I missed the heart of God by a mile.

But I also know I’m still a son, and I know that God isn’t going to beat me over the head with this, and it’s a learning experience. A lesson in provision and a lesson in generosity. And, I’d venture, a lesson in being generous even when provision seems like it’s not coming.

After all, God has the storehouses of heaven at His disposal. And God didn’t withhold generosity from me when I needed it most – when Jesus died in my place and for my sin. He knew I’d abuse the gift that was – heck, in that moment with the man at Speedway I abused His grace. But He gave anyway.

I hope I continue to learn that so deeply that it changes how I pay bills, save money, bless my friends and bless total strangers who don’t even know who God is.

Jesus, keep changing me.

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