'What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.'
- James chapter 2, verses 14–18
Volunteering Using Your Gifts
Volunteer work and charity is an ingrained part of Christianity. The early church, as described in the Book of Acts, was a collection of individuals who provided for each other as needed.
In many ways this is a good example of how we should provide for each other today—as needed and in the best way we are suited. As James chapter 2, verses 14–18 outlines, practically helping others is an important part of our faith. It is no use to wish someone well without first offering practical help.
Over the years, especially when I was younger, I did a lot of volunteer work—because at this time I had plenty of time, yet little money, to give.
An example of this was the year I graduated from Year 12. I looked for volunteer opportunities during leavers and came across the 'Green Team' which helped run a safe and entertaining area for school leavers to enjoy situated in a local leavers hotspot of Dunsborough.
Eventually, I volunteered to clean portable toilets for the whole week. I knew this would enable the leaders of the team to effectively manage the team, and I had a uniquely strong stomach needed for the task! I did this job for the next three leavers, eventually running a team cleaning well over two dozen portable toilets, serving over 6000 leavers a night.
However, as you can imagine, this is not an immediately rewarding task. It was often foul, and thankless. Over the years I had the opportunity to fetch three mobile phones with my hands from the bottom of the toilets, and unfortunately once or twice unsuccessfully! Yet, despite the unpleasantness, I was able to help lots of people very practically, and share with lots of people why I would volunteer to do something like this—because as a Christian I think it is important to care for others. This was very evident for the people I helped with the phones, this was very important to them and they wanted to know why I would do this.
Give to Something Worthwhile
However, there have been times when I have questioned the aims of particular volunteer groups. Sometimes groups offer things people don't want or need (Matthew chapter 7, verses 9–10).
Other times I have seen volunteer organisations pitch not just to 'do good' but to 'feel good and have fun!' This is a subtle difference, but one I think Christians need to be wary of.
Similarly, some organisations and think-tanks do not further the work of the Lord, but promote division and discrimination. Our efforts, time and money should be put to important matters—run in efficient ways.
What Matters is the Heart
The Bible clearly says the amount of gifts given is not as important as the intention of the heart. Jesus gives the example of the small gift offered by a poor widow, saying it is much more than the lavish giving of wealthy Pharisees (Mark chapter 12, verse 44).
Giving a little with good heart it is far better than giving lots with the wrong intentions. It doesn't have to be money either. I have never had much money to spare—so when I was young I volunteered my time.
As a western Christian from an affluent country it is very tempting volunteer to feel good about ourselves. We need to carefully think about how we can best help others—addressing what people really need and how we can help with the resources we have. Put yourself in their shoes and consider: what would I really want or need (Matthew chapter 7, verse 12)? We should do everything to bring glory to God, and not ourselves.
Being Wise with Giving
For some things, the time and money we would put in isn't worth the outcome (i.e. very expensive flights for a few days of volunteer work). Other ways of support may be better, for example for the cost of flights could probably support aid workers or missionaries for several weeks, if not months—or vaccinate lots of children. Or, if you have little money, you could also volunteer locally at no cost to yourself or others.
Regardless of what we have, the important part is utilising the provision and blessings God has given us. With whatever we have in abundance we should give abundantly: but wisely.
Your gift may be as simple as being able to stomach cleaning disgusting portable toilets, or it could be assisting with paperwork at a local charity. It doesn't have to glamorous or exciting. Whatever you do and wherever you do it, always use your provision wisely to further not our own feelings or desires, but to further the kingdom of God.
Nathanael Yates is a Neuroscience Researcher from Perth, Western Australia. He is constantly inspired by his astonishingly wise and beautiful wife and his adorable daughter.
Nathanael Yates' previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/nathanael-yates.html