Exercising Wisdom When Helping People in Need

Seek to treat the causes of a person’s problems, not merely the symptoms.

For someone who needs financial help, you need to ask: Where is your family? Do you have extended family that can help? Have you tried government assistance? Are you a member of a church, and have you approached your deacons?


In my time as a pastor I regularly encountered people who were in dire straits—unemployed, homeless, struggling with addiction, and the like. I feel sorry for people when they suffer and always did what I could to render assistance. Our church always reserved funds, for example, to purchase food for people if they were struggling to make ends meet.

Yet, at the same time, an experienced ruling elder made an important observation that has stuck with me. When people came knocking on the church door, more often than not, they were typically at the end of a long series of broken authority structures in life.

Gather pertinent information to more effectively help people.

This elder reminded me that people seldom have calamity randomly fall upon them. There are certainly times when this does occur, and so in each case you have to ask a lot of questions and do your best to evaluate the specific nature of a person’s problems. But God places numerous authority structures in our lives to assist us along the way: parents, extended family, school teachers, local authorities (e.g., government and police), and for Christians, the church (pastors and elders).