Last week, we began discussing how we as humans have a hierarchy of needs, however, unlike a popular hierarchy that has five levels, we are instead looking at the hierarchy as it relates to us as holistic creatures using three levels (physical, mental, and spiritual).
We are also using the passage James 2:15-16, which says:
Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?
While we utilized this passage to begin our discussion about the hierarchy of holistic needs, it really is much better suited to this second phase, which we can call the “others” phase.
Last week we looked closely at how each area of our humanity can be placed in a hierarchy beginning with physical needs at the lowest level. (When we are hungry—in physical need—we are not at peak mental or spiritual alertness.) Next up was mental needs, such as the feeling of security and minimal or no negative stress, because if we are worried about something that may happen in our lives, we won’t be able to hear God speak to our hearts. Finally, when we are physically satisfied, mentally calm, and not spiritually distracted (things like confusion over who God is or having a distorted view of God will hurt our spiritual health and this can distract us), we can move on to phase two—the “others” phase.
We will call phase one the “personal needs and balance” phase, phase two is the “sharing what we know with others in whatever phase they are in” phase. Like we said last week, and like the passage we are focusing on during this discussion says, we need to focus on others and helping them with their needs—whether the needs are physical, mental, or spiritual in nature, and whether they are in phase one, two, or three. Unfortunately, we are very limited in helping others who are in higher stages than we are—not because we don’t have the ability, but we lack the understanding of the phase they are in.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “I was blessed more from serving others than I thought I would be”? This is something that only happens in phases two and three. The challenge with the classic hierarchy is that it focuses exclusively on self—on what I must attain—and therefore it can only reach so high, when in reality, there is growth that happens only from serving others.
In other words, serving others (whether it is through a typical job or through volunteering) is able to help you learn more about yourself than any amount of thinking or analyzing will. We can look to a personality test as a guide (it can point us in the right direction), but the actual act of helping others is the real test of whether what you are doing is a fit to your talents and abilities.
So how does phase two look? When we help someone with their physical needs, we are looking for ways to satisfy the need in their life. An example of this at work is what Jesus says in Matthew 25:35–36
35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
The physical needs included in this list are satisfying hunger with food, thirst with a drink, nakedness with clothes (or helping someone with new clothes or clean clothes), and assisting someone who is sick.
There are mental needs that we can see in this list as well. Inviting a stranger into your home can be meeting a mental need of theirs, and visiting someone in prison is definitely able to meet a mental need they may have.
In this short passage there is also a call to helping others with their spiritual needs too. Helping someone who is hungry for purpose, thirsty for meaning, lost in matters of faith, naked because of shame, sick because of bad habits, and in prison because of sin (locked up heart) is an act of spiritual service that can only happen when the person is satisfied both physically and mentally.
I believe that Jesus’ words here speak to helping others where they are at, and this could land them needing the obvious physical or mental needs, but it can also refer to helping with their spiritual needs too.
I must interject a note here. Helping people with money needs only works well when they are in spiritual need, which is not often the case. The best way to help others who have physical needs (like hunger) or mental needs (like worry/drama/stress) is to give them something tangible to meet their need. Someone who is hurting physically and addicted to drugs, won’t be able to mentally see clearly enough to use the gift of money to help the need of hunger that is also present. Money, while it is not bad, is usually too open-ended of a gift to be effective in helping physical (and occasionally mental) needs. What usually helps more is a practical gift accompanied by practical training (to help the hurting individual not rebound back into the same mess they were just in).
Where the other hierarchy fails is in showing how we must be helping others in order to continue growth. Religion is one thing. Helping those in need with their actual needs reaches them on a completely new level. The other hierarchy fails too when it was originally created by someone who had a secular worldview. Sure it looks correct, but that is because 90+ percent of people today are living in the two lower phases of self-service, and other-service. Only rarely do we ever see people make it to phase three.
What is phase three?
Next week we’ll discuss phase three and what keeps us motivated to be ‘other-focused’ in a world that focuses only on self-service, or “self-actualization”. In the meantime, if you are physically, mentally, and spiritually whole, why not look out into the world and help someone in need. As we observed last week in James, we need to meet people where they are and help them with their needs, but what is surprising to many people, is how helping others while not expecting a reward ends up being just as big of a blessing to the giver as it is to the receiver.
P.S. As always, if I missed something, or if you would like to respond on this topic, join the conversation below!