In 1954, humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow developed a theory of personality that focuses on five basic instinctive needs that every human has. These basic needs are:
The need for oxygen, food, water, and a consistent body temperature are the most important, because without them the person cannot think or comprehend anything else.
People are not often aware of their need for security until they are in an unsafe situation either physically or emotionally.
Needs of Love, Affection and Belongingness
People tend to seek to overcome feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Needs of Esteem
This involves people loving themselves and recognizing and receiving the love of others.
Needs of Self-Actualization
Spiritually, this means that the person is open to experience living as God created him/her to be.
Last month, nine students and I served lunch to the homeless at the Haight Ashbury Food Pantry in downtown San Francisco. Over a two and a half hour period, we served food and drink to nearly 250 homeless men, women, and children. Maslow was right. They were hungry and thirsty first. Many appeared embarrassed and frightened, but not enough to stop them from obtaining something to eat and drink.
The image of one woman who ate there that day is etched in my memory. She carried her tray to the corner of the room and sat down by herself. Her long, twisted, matted auburn hair hit the table as she bent over the plate. She corralled her food near her face, warding off potential predators with the wall of hair that encircled her tray. She did not speak to the others near her, nor look up to see what they were doing. I asked her if she wanted a drink of water, and she did not respond. However, when I sat a full cup in front of her, she drank it eagerly. As I wiped off tables and helped the other guests, I kept my eye on her. When she finished eating, she took out a book and, just like her food, she protected it with her long hair, holding the words near her face as she read. Slowly, tears began to fall. Then, her frail body quietly shook. Without a word, she grabbed her book and left the building, weeping.
For a moment, some of her basic needs were met, and she longed to satisfy deeper longings, riskier desires. Maslow was right. She could pursue the deeper needs of love, self-respect, and self-actualization once she felt safe and her hunger and thirst were satisfied. If believers are to reach people with the life-changing love of Jesus, they need to first help meet their basic needs.
This month, plan several days during the summer to hand out cold drinks to the homeless, construction workers, park-goers, etc. The free gift of ice-cold refreshment will satisfy more than a dry mouth and empty stomach. It is liquid love that can help heal deep wounds and strengthen weak resolves.
Decide what days your group will meet, and purchase several cases of water bottles, sport drinks, or juice. (Warehouse clubs will have the best prices.) Chill the drinks overnight, pack them in coolers, and set off for your destination. You can either all go to the same area, such as a large park or beach, or break into smaller groups and work several smaller areas, such as a construction area or downtown block.
As you and your group members hand out cold drinks, be prepared for, and open to, impromptu conversations. Many people will have never experienced a free gift. Your offering and your willingness to listen will model the beautiful love of God and open doors of opportunity to share what God has done in your life.
Later, spend some time sharing stories about the experience, and commit to pray for the people you encountered.
Small group leaders, encourage your group members to:
- Leave a note of thanks, encouragement, or greeting on a neighborâ€™s front door.
- Overpay your amount due at the grocery store by $5, asking the cashier to apply it to the bill of the next person to come through their line.
- Make it a point to hug five people in the coming week.