Most nights I travel home through the railway station in Coventry. One of the more common routes there from work takes me through a subway where there are often homeless people hoping for money, food or a cigarette from passers-by.
If there is someone there I’ll stop and give them spare change or food if I have some and once or twice I’ve bought someone dinner from the Burger King around the corner. Also, I always reassure whoever’s there that I’ll keep them in my prayers. This is usually well received and its been surprising how many of the local homeless people do have some sort of faith in Christ. Even those who don’t generally appreciate the offer. On a few occasions, when the moment has felt right (which I think means when I’ve been bold enough to step out and offer) I’ve prayed with people there and then on the street.
I’ll be honest and say that some nights I really don’t feel like going through the subway. When I’m tired or my faith is low in particular, but I generally push myself to do it just in case there is a person there. In the grand scheme of things, their need is much greater than mine.
Recently there have been the same few guys sleeping rough in the subway. It changes the game a little when, rather that thinking you’ll stop and help if someone is there, you know that there will be someone there. And so over the last few weeks, I’ve been meeting the same group of homeless people. After a time, small gifts of change or food seem so very little and when I’ve had nothing material to give, I’ve always offered to pray. It’s the wrong attitude I know but, given these men’s immediate needs, saying that all you can do is pray for them can actually feel a little pathetic. Like the title of the blog says, I’m an ordinary bloke, not a saint.
However, last Wednesday night put that thinking well into perspective for me. I was almost at the station and had taken a route that takes me past the subway, rather than through it (sadly, with some relief). For some reason though, I felt strongly compelled to turn back and make a detour down there. I had a bit of loose change in my pocket and so I followed my feelings.
I knew there would be someone there and sure enough I met J, one of the regular guys. Over the last few weeks it’s been bitterly cold and J’s demeanour has been understandably pretty miserable. Tonight however, he seemed like a different man. Straight away, almost before I could say a word, he told me he had been praying with another local Christian. Not only that but a few days ago, she’d led him in prayer to commit his life to Christ! Even in that short time, J had experienced a huge change in his outlook and in his fortune. Rather than sleeping in the subway, a local church has started to let him pitch a tent on their grounds which is both warmer and safer. Someone else has given him and old mobile phone and several others comparatively large sums of money. But rather than any meagre material improvement, it was the big change in J’s outlook that was most striking. He was speaking excitedly, optimistically for the future and of his new found faith in Christ with tears in his eyes. His exact words were “I’ve found out that what I hoped was true is true!”
He kicked the conversation off by saying “You know how you have been praying for me….” and had linked my prayers over the weeks with his step of faith. Well as I’d told them I would, I had been praying for the homeless guys – actually for someone better than me to come by and help them up off the streets. I had in mind a wealthy benefactor or something, but often what we have in mind isn’t how God works things out.
Someone did come by to help him but someone of faith, not material means. The thing is, I really believe that faith rather than money will be a stronger bedrock from which to get himself up and off the street. I prayed with him there and then on the subway floor and yesterday gave him a spare bible and info about Alpha courses.
It all goes to show that it is the little things that matter. Bothering to take the time to stop and speak with a homeless person. Making them feel like a human and asking how their day is going. Lending a sympathetic ear when they’ve had a rough day. Offering to pray with them or for them. None of these things feels like much but the cumulative effect over time is incredible.
This applies particularly to the prayer. The more you pray for things to happen, the more they do and it takes effort, but once you start to see things working, it inspires you to want to try harder.
So put aside your doubts and don’t let that negative voice inside you dissuade you from following the way God is leading you. No doubt it’ll be out of your comfort zone, but that’s the point – that’s how you grow as a Christian and a human being. There have been many times when I’ve had to push myself to ride through that subway and push myself to pray, but looking back on even this one small result it is so worth it.