Words or Wagons?

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.
— Romans 16:2 ESV

Today, someone is going to need your help. It may be a big request or it may be rather small. The question is whether you (or I) will provide the assistance needed -- if it is within our power to give it. We see this in the life of George Washington.

Washington's Revolution is Robert Middlekauff's biography that examines the forces and events that shaped Washington's leadership, especially during the Revolutionary War.

In the summer of 1780, well into the war, Washington was badly in need of help. Middlekauff writes:

The prospect of showing off his troops to the well-turned-out fighting machine that was the French army troubled him. He told Congress, "We have no Shirts." His men lacked more than shirts and other items of clothing; they also lacked powder and lead . . . . it was still badly undermanned . . . .

A few weeks later Washington wrote Joseph Reed, the president of the Pennsylvania Council, asking for 250 wagons. He considered Reed an old friend and a reliable official who would recognize the army's need for transportation. Wagons remained in short supply, but Reed provided words, not wagons.

Reed provided "words, not wagons." Middlekauff's line hung in the air. How easy it is for me to share words, preach words, and talk big words when what people need is H-E-L-P.   Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes the importance of providing help in the Christian community in his book, The Cost of Discipleship:

The second service that one should perform for another in a Christian community is that of active helpfulness. This means, initially, simple assistance in trifling, external matters. There is a multitude of these things whenever people live together. Nobody is too good for the meanest service. One who worries about the loss of time that such petty, outward acts of helpfulness entail is usually taking the importance of his own career too solemnly. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Washington needed help. Phoebe needed help. People around us today will need help.

Let's give it. Active helpfulness is the service we perform for one another.


"We have no Shirts ..." from Washington's Revolution: The Making Of America's First Leader, by Robert Middlekauff. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 2015. Pages 223-224.