In Robin Hood: Price of Thieves, I have always found the scene of Maid Merian and the Sheriff of Nottingham leaving church services to be a fascinating picture of the way we are versus the way we should be. When services are over, a crowd of beggars waits outside, hoping for handouts from some of the wealthy people attending church. The Sheriff of Nottingham, of course, barges through the crowd of beggars, pushing and shoving his way through without ever considering their cries. As Merian makes her way through the crowd, she turns to her lady in waiting who has a bag of money already set aside for this purpose and begins handing out money until she has given it all away. I don't point to this scene as an indication that we should give to every beggar we see (although we might make a case for that), but to point out the difference in their reactions to the peoples' needs.
The scene, really, demonstrates the difference between people who refuse to acknowledge the need around them and the people who allow themselves to be affected by it. Another example of the latter is Nehemiah. Nehemiah was a royal official for King Artaxerxes whose family had chosen to stay behind when the exiles returned to Judah and Jerusalem. When Nehemiah's brother arrived with news of how bad the people were faring, Nehemiah recorded his reaction: "When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven" (Nehemiah 1:4, NIV). Then he approached the king in order to make a difference.
When was the last time you were affected at the sight or knowledge of someone else's need? By the need of someone outside your own little bubble of acquaintances? Nehemiah was a trusted official of the king who didn't have to worry or be affected by the problems of people hundreds of miles away. But Nehemiah allowed himself to be affected by them. In fact, he allowed himself to be affected to the point of mourning and fasting for days and then coming up with a plan to resolve the situation. But we, on the other hand, often get uncomfortable with another person's needs. We see a homeless person and we look away because we are uncomfortable. Watching television, we see a commercial for an organization trying to raise money for children living in poverty across the world and we change the channel before we get the urge to pick up the phone and do something about it. We notice at a restaurant a person sitting alone and looking miserable and we sit with our backs to them so we don't see them and feel guilty for doing nothing.
Proverbs 13:21 reads, "If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered" (NIV). This principle extends beyond simply helping the poor. When we ignore anyone in need, we earn the right to be ignored ourselves.
When you see someone in need, don't turn away to avoid being uncomfortable. Let the need affect you. You might even be able to do something about it.