Tag Archives: helping

Matot-Massei: Crossing the Street

bsa_cross_street1And Nobah went and captured Kenath and its dependencies, renaming it Nobah after himself.

Numbers 32:42 (JPS Tanakh)

Why did the Almighty include this verse in the Torah?

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch elucidates: Throughout the world powerful leaders have wanted to leave monuments to themselves through statues and buildings named after them. Kings and conquerors have even named large cities after themselves. However, names can very easily be changed and then nothing is left, as happened to Novach. (Neither Novach nor the city he named after himself are remembered to history.) The good deeds of a person and his spiritual attainments are the only true everlasting monuments.

When you view the good that you do as your eternal monument, you will feel greater motivation to accomplish as much as you can. A life of spiritual attainments is everlasting. Feel joy in every positive act you do, for it gives greater splendor to your monument!

Dvar Torah for MatotMassei
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
as quoted by Rabbi Kalman Packouz in “Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Aish.com

Rabbi Packouz also tells a story about the consequences of doing good.

It reminds me of the story of the father asking his son, the Boy Scout, if he did his good deed for the day. The boy says, “Sure, I helped an old lady cross the street. It took 12 of us.” “Why did it take 12 boys to help her across the street?” asks the father. Answers the son, “Because she didn’t want to cross!”

Every act of kindness has the possibility of a personal benefit. We must work to divest ourselves from our personal interest and to do kindness just to help someone.

Often, we choose to do the good deed or act of kindness that we want done for us or that we define as “good.” This is like the small boy who chooses to buy a toy he’s always wanted for a Mother’s Day gift. It would certainly seem like a kindness if he received the toy, but his mother might have other ideas about what she wants.

Forcing a “kindness” on someone who doesn’t want it is not only failing in your attempt to do good to another person, but it’s actually causing them harm. Imagine how the poor elderly woman felt in Rabbi Packouz’s story, when she found herself forced by twelve well-meaning but misguided boys, across the street. She is now where she didn’t want to be and, if she has difficulty crossing the street unaided, may not be able to easily get back home or to some place safe. And what if, in attempting to re-cross the street (without the aid of twelve “helpful” Boy Scouts this time), she is hit and injured by a car? Is that kindness?

I sometimes feel this way about sharing the gospel or the “good news” of Jesus, particularly with people who haven’t asked for such “news”. I remember the conversation that eventually led me to accept that Jesus is Messiah and Savior. I’d heard the same spiel many times before, and each time it was unwelcome and uncomfortable. I never wanted to be rude, but I also didn’t want to have to listen to someone tell me that I needed to be saved from my sins.

Fortunately, it wasn’t the spiel all by itself that resulted in my decision. A series of highly unlikely “coincidences” occurred over a period of six or more months finally resulted in getting me inside a church and then it took months and months more before I felt uncontrollably drawn (dragged kicking and screaming, metaphorically speaking) toward a life of faith and across the threshold into that life.

Almost immediately afterward, my life fell apart in more ways than I want to describe. Then, every time I thought I was starting to get a handle on what I was doing and why, another roadblock or explosion occurred. In more recent days, I tend to experience fewer explosions and more detours and frustrations on my journey.

intermarriageWhen my wife and I first married, neither one of us were religious, so her being Jewish and me being a Gentile didn’t make it seem like we were “intermarried.” There really weren’t any Jewish members of her family on our side of the country, so I never experienced Jewish in-laws. Faith and religion wasn’t an issue then as it is today.

I’ve been a believer for over fifteen years now, and if I could find the youth pastor who first shared the “good news” of Jesus Christ with me and started this ball rolling, I don’t know if I’d shake his hand or hit him.

No, I wouldn’t hit him and I don’t regret my decision.

But if I were a secular Gentile instead of a Christian, who I am wouldn’t be such an issue for my wife as a religious Jew. There are plenty of intermarried couples who freely attend the local synagogues in my community. Certainly the Reform shul doesn’t have difficulties with intermarried Jewish members. There are even non-Jews on the synagogue’s board. And the Chabad’s mission is to bring secular or assimilated Jews back to the Torah. As part of that effort, their non-Jewish spouses are welcome within their walls.

I once told my Pastor that one of the reasons I stopped any sort of overt “Messianic” worship or lifestyle was that my wife found it embarrassing. He asked something like, “She isn’t embarrassed about you being a church-going Christian?”

Actually, I strongly suspect she is. She doesn’t invite Jewish friends over to our house. She doesn’t go to shul anymore. She hasn’t even volunteered at either synagogue in a quite a while. She and my daughter used to spend a lot of time helping the Chabad Rebbitzin with various projects.

Was it a kindness to my wife that I became a Christian? Does that seem like a good deed to her? Is it what she asked for in a husband, or is it the moral equivalent of twelve overly zealous Boy Scouts forcing a helpless old lady across a busy city street?

Someone recently said to me that love does not see religion but people do. Another person has said to me not to seek any religion but to seek an encounter with God.

I trust I speak in charity, but the lack in our pulpits is real. Milton’s terrible sentence applies to our day as accurately as it did to his: “The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed.” It is a solemn thing, and no small scandal in the Kingdom, to see God’s children starving while actually seated at the Father’s table.

from the Preface of A.W. Tozer’s book
The Pursuit of God

I would hope one thing my wife and I have in common is the pursuit of God. Our paths are quite different, but perhaps not as different as you might imagine. While I would not abandon my faith in Jesus as Messiah, I would enter into her world in a heartbeat. As awkward as it might be for me (I don’t know Hebrew and the liturgical service would present quite a learning curve), I know now that I would strive to be a good and productive member of her community for her sake. But she’s told me that she would never, ever enter mine and, for the life of her, she can’t imagine why I would want to enter hers.

So would it be a kindness to try to introduce her to my world? She wouldn’t experience it that way and in fact, quite the opposite. She would feel like I was trying to drag her kicking and screaming into a place she never wanted to go. And whenever I’ve tried to enter her world, she’s always seen me as an intruder.

Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein and many other Jewish people like him were not dragged kicking and screaming into faith in Yeshua as Messiah. They each followed the paths Hashem placed before them and by faith, they walked those paths, though it was always difficult and hazardous.

Rabbi-Isaac-LichtensteinNone of those Rabbis became Christians and none of them believed in “Jesus Christ.” They simply examined the Hebrew scriptures and what the church calls “the New Testament” and discovered the clues to the truth of Moshiach in their pages. If some missionary had tried to “convert” them, maybe some would have become “Christians” but Judaism would have lost great leaders and Messiah would have lost devoted Jewish disciples.

I don’t know that it is a kindness to cause a Jewish person to convert to Christianity. No, let me change that. I know it’s not a kindness. It’s not a kindness to destroy someone’s identity and purpose, especially if that identity and purpose was given to them directly by God. It is a kindness to help them on the next step on their journey, but they have to want to go. If they don’t want to start that part of the journey, you can’t force them to, even if you think it’s the best thing in the world for them. All you can do is open the door.

If they don’t go in, that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. If they don’t go in, that doesn’t mean you stop loving them. Kindness, compassion, and love, like all other things, are expressed by you and by me, but they are always from God.

God sets the course, He provides the path, He charts the journey. He does all this in love and compassion and kindness.

We can ask the elderly woman if she wants to cross the street and if she says, “no,” then we must let the answer be “no.” If the answer is “yes,” then it is a kindness to help her. If she wants to cross the street and asks for our help, we have a responsibility to be available, receptive, and then to escort her.

Kindness consists of loving people more than they deserve

-Jacqueline Schiff

God creates the street, but it is up to each person to ask for help crossing it. Then we can start walking and continue our journey.

Good Shabbos.

82 days.

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How Can We Love The World?

How can we heal the world?

When a Jew, wherever she or he goes, carries every other Jew in his or her heart, then all of us are one.

And when we are one, all the peoples of the world can live in harmony as one.

And then the world is healed. For we are the heart of the world.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“We Can Heal the World”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35 (ESV)

It’s interesting that Rabbi Freeman suggests that Jews can heal the world by loving other Jews. Shouldn’t you heal the world by loving everybody indiscriminately? Isn’t that what Christians are supposed to do, to love everybody?

But what is Jesus saying in his new commandment? Is he telling his disciples (who at that point were all Jewish disciples) to love everybody? No. He’s telling them to love each other. In fact, he says that by every Jewish disciple of the Master loving each other, everyone else will know they are Christ’s disciples. It is a defining characteristic of being a disciple of the Jewish Messiah King both then, and in the present day world.

How odd.

Doesn’t that fly in the face of this parable?

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” –Luke 10:25-37 (ESV)

Jesus not only defined the two greatest commandments, which are the container for all of the mitzvot, but he “operationalized” them by giving us an illustration. It’s fairly well-known that Jews and Samaritans didn’t get along very well. They still don’t (yes, Samaritans still exist). Nevertheless, this Samaritan went out of his way to help the injured Jew proving, if we take Christ’s parable seriously, that he not only loved God with all of his resources, but that he did love his neighbor as himself.

So how are we to reconcile these two situations as Christians? Do we only love other Christians as Jesus himself defined our role, or are we also, as an expression of our love and devotion to God, to love other people, even people who aren’t like us, even people who don’t like us?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. –Matthew 5:43-48 (ESV)

In this case, loving your enemy doesn’t mean giving the soldier of the opposing army a kiss on the cheek during battle. Your “enemy,” in this example, is also your neighbor, your fellow citizen, a member of your community. They’re just someone you don’t like and who doesn’t like you. Well, it’s a little more than that. Your “enemy” can be someone you may have regular contact with but, on some fundamental level, they aren’t part of your “group.” Kind of like Jews and Samaritans or Atheists and Christians. But there’s more.

The New Testament is replete with examples of this type of love and the secular, atheist world (and politically liberal religious people who have adopted those liberal social imperatives) is watching us very closely to see if we are showing that kind of love. More to the point, they are watching us to see when we don’t show that kind of love, so they can call us hypocrites and many other names.

So we are responsible to God for how or if we love, we are responsible to the fellowship of believers who we are commanded to love, and we are responsible to humanity, who we are also to love as we love ourselves.

But what is love?

Generally, it’s not the warm and fuzzy feeling you get in relation to small children, cute kittens, or the really attractive person you’ve just started dating (if you’re single and dating). Love is what you do. The Torah is also replete with examples of how to love people you may not necessarily like. Here’s a brief example.

“You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep going astray and ignore them. You shall take them back to your brother. And if he does not live near you and you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall stay with you until your brother seeks it. Then you shall restore it to him. And you shall do the same with his donkey or with his garment, or with any lost thing of your brother’s, which he loses and you find; you may not ignore it. You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and ignore them. You shall help him to lift them up again. –Deuteronomy 22:1-4 (ESV)

The ancient Jewish mitzvot for how to love your Jewish neighbor became the cornerstone of the teachings of Jesus and not only affirmed these Torah commandments to his Jewish disciples, but established them as a way of life for all the non-Jewish disciples who came after them, hundreds and even thousands of years later.

But do we really love by doing? Do we go out of our way to help others?

Probably not as often as we should. The opportunities to fulfill the commandment to love are just endless. You probably come across such opportunities, great and small, everyday. Even holding the door open for someone fulfills this commandment. So does changing a person’s flat tire. So does smiling at someone who looks rather blue.

But while God may judge our love for others in this manner, most of the world doesn’t. Usually, Christian love is judged by how closely we approximate agreement with the various political and social priorities of the prevalent western, progressive society. Most recently, the most important social litmus test for whether or not a Christian truly loves is whether or not we wholeheartedly and unconditionally support “marriage equality” and all of the goals and priorities of the LGBT community.

I hate to bring politics into this, but this sort of thing has permeated the mainstream news media stories and it’s all over the numerous social networking venues. Reduced to its simplest form, for a progressive, a religious person is good if they completely agree with “marriage equality” and evil if they don’t.

Period.

But is that really love? Does being loving absolutely require total agreement with all popular social imperatives of the majority culture?

Do you always agree with those you love? Do you always agree with your spouse, your children, your parents, your closest friends? Do you always totally share every single social or political attitude and opinion with them as if they were your very own?

Probably not. I know I don’t. It doesn’t mean I don’t love them, it just means we have a difference of opinion or perspective on some matter. I love my three-year old grandson with all my heart, but I don’t always agree with him about what he wants to eat, how much television he wants to watch, and whether or not he should cross the street without holding my hand.

That’s not a great example for what I’m trying to say, but you get the idea. You can love someone a lot and still say, “No” to them or disagree with them, even on very important issues.

But what about the rest of the world? Do I love the stranger I walk past on the sidewalk in the way I love my wife? No, I don’t. So do I love the stranger at all? Yes, if they need my love. Unless I fail in the commandment, if they have a need that I can fulfill, I should fulfill it. Can I fulfill the needs of all strangers everywhere? No. I don’t have those kind of resources. So does that make me a failure at love as defined by God? I don’t think so. We should love as we have the ability to do so, not to the point of bankrupting ourselves or behaving irresponsibly.

If I say I love people including gay people, but I don’t wholeheartedly and absolutely support “marriage equality,” am I a failure at love?

I don’t think so, but opinions vary wildly on this point. Does loving someone mean agreeing with them on everything they say, want, feel, and do? If I don’t agree that gay marriage is the will of God because I cannot find it presupposed anywhere in the Bible, does that mean I don’t love a gay person or wouldn’t help him out with a meal, change his tire, open a door for him, smile at him, and otherwise express love toward him as God defines it?

I don’t think so.

But as you discovered at the beginning of this meditation, what love is and how it is expressed can be complicated. God is the source of our love. Before loving other people, we must love God, not just casually and not just abstractly, but with all of our mind, our emotions, our soul, and our resources. Only then are we equipped to love other people, starting with our own faith community but spreading out to the rest of humanity.

Children of GodThe “Good Samaritan” didn’t save all Jews who had been robbed and injured everywhere, he only saved the one he encountered. He may not have agreed with how the Jew defined religion, the various political and social causes he supported, or even the Jew’s attitudes about Samaritans (though those attitudes may have changed after this incident). All the Samaritan did, was take care of the injured man and made sure he was in a safe and secure place with his needs provided for. They didn’t have to be best friends and they didn’t have to share common social or personal opinions.

How can we love the world? We can start by carrying another person in our heart. We don’t have to always agree with each other. Loving other people doesn’t mean becoming a homogenous social mass without distinction. Ultimately, it will mean we all must love God, but obviously, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. However, for those of us who do love God, we can make a greater effort to love each other and to love others who are not like us. It doesn’t mean we have to surrender our moral imperatives as we understand them. It does mean that we must always be ready to change a tire, bind a wound, and take care of anyone who may need it and who we encounter.

Even if they don’t like us. Because in loving those people who say they’re our enemy, someday, we may heal them, and us, and everyone.

When Christians Do Good

We are seriously getting love aimed at us by a little church nearby. Out of the blue, the pastor had contacted me wanting to know if some of their members could do anything for us and he wouldn’t take no for an answer unless it really was no.

Today some amazingly nice folks showed up and hauled off to the dump our junk too big for our own vehicle, in one of the guy’s large truck.

Meanwhile, the ladies scoot in to do some cleaning while visiting with Heidi.

And meanwhile another great guy is walking me around our deck, explaining to me how he is going to prep the bannister and then paint it for us.

And they’re coming back tomorrow!

-Joe Hendricks

I embarrass Joe and Heidi on my blog a lot so I’ll try not to do it again today, but I want to show you how the church isn’t evil.

Joe is a cancer survivor and Heidi has multiple organs that are cancer involved including her brain. I know compressing their struggle into a single sentence seems rather cold, but I’ve written other blog posts about them, and I want to show you another picture today.

In spite of their amazing and horrendous struggles, their faith remains absolutely steadfast in God. They aren’t (as far as I know) involved in a church on a regular basis but rather, take God with them wherever they go, which is often into the mountains and onto the hiking trails near their home in Washington’s Puget Sound area.

I was surprised, very pleasantly so, when Joe posted the above-quoted statement on his Facebook page. It came out of a clear blue sky, as the saying goes. I guess that’s how miracles happen.

Maybe I’m overstating the point. After all, aren’t Christians supposed to do good things for other people without it being miraculous or even unusual? Not according to some atheists and people from other religious and philosophical traditions. All of the evil in the world is typically blamed on religion in general and Christianity in particular. Everything from the Lindbergh kidnapping to global warming has been blamed on Christianity (well, maybe not exactly). Even though some other spiritual people who disagree with the validity of Christianity claim to “respect our path,” there is little respect in describing us at our worst as pagan worshiping, war-mongering, racists.

I have to admit that I don’t often trust the church myself. I find the church rather intimidating. Beneath the facade of friendliness and good fellowship, what judgmentalism and harsh opinions do they harbor about me, a Christian who doesn’t go to church, who is married to a Jewish wife, has Jewish children, and who (if given a choice) prefers a siddur to a hymnal? On my blog, religious though it is, I am “flamed” more often by Christians than by atheists or people adhering to less traditional spiritual philosophies (though that could just be a result of me being beneath the notice of these other philosophies).

But this is exactly why Joe’s recent statement on Facebook is so important. The church can be a force for good in the world. The church can express itself as warmth, compassion, caring, and love. The church, often accused as merely a house of prayer and bigotry, can actually do something to help other people, such as hauling away junk, cleaning a house, doing some painting, and continuing to be a presence in the lives of two wonderful people who need the presence of God’s servants in their lives and in their home.

I know Christianity’s detractors will say that this is only one instance (and a rare one at that) of Christians doing something good. Then, these detractors will cite numerous examples from the mainstream news of Christians doing harsh, bigoted, rotten, and evil things.

But what makes the six o’clock news, Christians going a kindness (I don’t think Joe saw any cameras from CNN at his place the other day) or the Westboro Baptist Church (who I don’t consider Christian at all) desecrating the name of Jesus by picketing the funeral of another fallen American warrior? So who do atheists and various spiritual people look to when they want to get an example of who a Christian is?

OK, it’s not a simple as that, but sometimes it seems to be. Sometimes it seems like people just don’t want to see the good that Christianity does. They only want to point to its flaws, both in the present and historically. People seem to want to define themselves and whatever philosophy they follow in terms of who they oppose and the church makes a convenient target to oppose.

But they are also, at their best, a reflection of what they were taught by Jesus Christ. Visit the sick. Feed the hungry. Comfort the grieving. Make peace between one person and another. And although it doesn’t say so in the Bible, clean someone’s house when they’re too sick to do it themselves. Haul away the garbage that is too big for someone else to haul away. Look around someone’s home, notice that their deck needs painting, and then paint it.

In other words, do whatever good that needs to be done if for no other reason than because God is good and it’s the right thing to do.

If you have something against Christianity, you can react two ways. You can complain about Christians, or you can do what the best of them do. You can help people who need help instead of elevating yourselves by pointing at what the worst of those who claim to be Christian (but by their actions, show themselves to be anything else but) are doing.

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. –Matthew 5:48 (ESV)

I don’t care who you are. If you want to be good, do good.

Uncomfortably Serving God

No person can know his own inner motives.

He may be kind because kindness brings him pleasure.

He may be wise because wisdom is music to his soul.

He may become a martyr burned in fire because his nature is to defy, his nature is to be fire.

When can you know that your motives are sincere? Only when it is not within your nature to do this thing.

And how do you know that it is not within your nature? Only when you travel two opposite paths at once.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Real Motives”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

This is exactly how I can tell God is working in my life; by how uncomfortable He makes me. I’ve always found it very interesting that some Christians “confirm” the wishes of the Holy Spirit in their decision making process by how much “peace” they feel after praying about a decision. Their peaceful emotional state somehow tells them that they’ve made a decision (regardless of the situation) that is in accordance to the will of God. And yet we see from Rabbi Freeman’s statement above, that people can feel “at peace” with various decisions or actions, not because their motives are pure and perhaps not even because what they are doing lines up with God’s wishes, but just because those decisions and actions are “natural” for that person.

You could argue, probably successfully, that God created us with natures that allow us to serve Him within the activities associated with our natures, but that seems somehow limiting, especially when the needs of the world are so great and so varied.

Here’s an example.

I hate going to hospitals. They kind of creep me out (I think I’ve mentioned this somewhere before). So it’s not easy for me to go to a hospital and visit a sick person. And yet, it’s a commandment of Jesus that we visit the sick. It’s far easier for me to obey the commandment to feed the hungry, because I have no emotional resistance to donating a bunch of canned goods to my local food bank. But would I volunteer to work the kitchen at my local homeless shelter once a week? Gee, I dunno.

And that’s my point. Not that we have to make ourselves serve God only in ways that trigger our discomfort, but we also need to keep in mind that those uncomfortable opportunities God plops directly in our paths to help people, are the very ones we need to do if we want to be called disciples of Jesus (as opposed to “believers” whose only fruit is to “believe”). That makes serving God a lot less approachable for many of us. I’ve heard Christians praying to Jesus to help them be more like him and wondered what would happen if God really gave them the opportunity to do so. I’m sure some people would rise to the occasion, but how many others, when it actually happened to them, would say something like, “Hey wait! This isn’t what I had in mind!”

Sure. We all want to serve God. We just want to serve Him our way and to be really cool and comfortable while doing so.

Uh-huh. Let me know how that works out for you.

Here’s another perspective:

Teshuvas B’tzeil Hachochmah suggests that our Gemara is a proof to Gaon Chida’s position. The Mishnah teaches that one who made an erech vow while wealthy and before fulfilling his vow lost his wealth remains obligated to fulfill his vow as someone who is wealthy and he is not appraised by the kohen as one who vowed when poor whose obligation is discounted in accordance with his means. Tosafos Yom Tov asserts that they will take from the person what he has towards his vow and the remaining amount will remain a debt that he will fulfill when he acquires the necessary funds. The question is how they could collect from him only part of his obligation if it may turn out that he will never have the necessary funds to pay off this debt. If that were to happen he will have never fulfilled his pledge and there was no reason to have taken funds from him in the first place. It must be that even partial fulfillment is considered fulfillment of the mitzvah and that is why they will collect from him what they can even though they may never collect the remainder.

Daf Yomi Digest
Halacha Highlight
“Fulfilling only part of a mitzvah”
Arachin 17

OK, all that might be difficult to understand, so let me boil it down a bit. If you decided to serve God out of your strengths, such as having a lot of money, and something should happen unexpectedly to make that service a lot more difficult, are you still obligated to fulfill your commitment to God? After all, you said you’d do it and presumably, you made a commitment. Are you absolved of your commitment because you misunderstood how God wanted you to satisfy the requirements of the task or because you realized that you didn’t have enough money in your bank account to cover costs?

The Rabbinic sages debate the matter and conclude that you only have to do the best you can. If you promised to donate $1,000 to the food bank but you only have $500, then you pay the $500 and it’s as if you paid the full amount. If you promised to pray for the sick each morning without fail for the next week, but you woke up late for work two days out of seven and had to rush off without praying, then praying for the sick for only five days fulfills your promise.

Gee, you can see why Jesus said this.

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. –Matthew 5:33-37 (ESV)

Of course, that doesn’t cover those unanticipated “requests” from God to serve Him that you never saw coming across the horizon. What about those areas when you want to serve God as a “prayer warrior” for an hour each day just after lunch, but instead, on your commute into work, He wants you to help a mother trying to get her sick baby to the doctor’s office by changing her flat tire? The answer is you do the best you can, and if you can’t change a flat tire, you use your cell to call your brother-in-law who works for a tow truck company to drive over and help out.

You do the best you can, which doesn’t have to be perfect. You do the best you can, even though you are really uncomfortable doing it. You do the best you can, even though sometimes God asks you to do things that make you want to crawl out of your skin.

At least you know that when you’ve served God under those conditions, it wasn’t because you were serving yourself.