It hurts to feel someone else’s pain. The reality is that people are going to feel the pain of this world whether we come alongside them or not. So I prefer to feel their pain with them rather than have them bear it alone. But I have a choice and they often don’t. Nevertheless, when I end a tiring day of ministry I sense that a loving Father watches me trudge into my house carrying the hurts of so many people. And I hear Him gently say, “Where are you putting that?”
This question is like the mild reminder a parent gives their child when they are putting something in the wrong place. In these instances, I am misplacing the burden of the brokenness of this world. It doesn’t belong on my shoulders. In my personal life I have learned to take my cares to the Lord. Now I am learning to sincerely trust Him with the cares of those I love.
At the end of the day the question remains: Is the One who is strong enough to bear my sin also able to bear the sins of the world (1 John 2:2)?
The answer to this question will determine how I share in people’s pain. I will either place it on my shoulders or in His pierced hands.
Serving in communities with great needs can produce an endless stream of requests for help. It is impossible to meet every request and sometimes what we offer is more hurtful than it is helpful. Below are some lessons I have learned along the way:
1. Come alongside–Don’t go ahead: It’s not helpful to want something for a person more than they want it for themselves. (I’ve wasted a lot of energy this way). Encourage and allow people to take steps in the right direction, then come alongside to help with each step. Don’t take the step for them.
2. Needs or Wants: Sometimes people can major in the minors. So a minor want can be communicated as a major need. It’s important to listen to the request and discern its necessity. Otherwise we can reinforce an unhealthy value system.
3. There is Love in NO: Love isn’t only found in ‘yes’. Sometimes ‘no’ is the most helpful and loving gift we can offer. Remember, God is love and leading people toward Him is to love them. Sometimes that requires saying no to something that would lead people away from God.
4. Urgent isn’t always Important: Just because a need requires an immediate response doesn’t mean it deserves the highest priority. Often the urgent request forces people to respond without thinking. If something is important, then it is important before it becomes urgent. Intentionally respond to requests according to it’s importance…not only its urgency.
5. Teach Someone to Fish: Maybe you’ve heard it before: “give a man to fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” Be mindful to use the chance to meet a need as an equal opportunity to invest in a person. The greatest help we can offer is to equip someone to become self-sufficient, which is the invaluable gift of dignity.
6. Comfort and Character: Give space for character development. Every discomfort in life isn’t detrimental. There is priceless character growth in delayed gratification, earning something on your own, and persevering to attain a long pursued goal.
Sunday mornings have been great. Over the last six months we’ve had more people attend, we’ve had some great music, and some okay coffee. Yet I am constantly asking myself: Does the church exist to just have a really good Sunday morning? If this is the reason the church exists then there isn’t much more work for us to do. All we have to do is get some better coffee and we will have a tremendous morning.
I’m being a bit silly but there is a true tension here. If we don’t get the right question then we will have highly functioning solutions that aren’t addressing the present problems. There is nothing wrong with our Sunday mornings. I love them! But we can execute highly efficient Sunday mornings without making disciples. So there has to be a better question for us to ask then how many people are attending.
There are three scriptures that remind me of the significant work of the church.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples…” -Jesus
“His intent is that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” -Ephesians 3:10
“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” -1 John 3:8
These scriptures remind me of the right questions. Are we making disciples? Are people coming to know that Jesus died for them? Is the devil’s work being destroyed in people’s lives? These questions remind me of the power of our gathering in Jesus’ name and going in Jesus’ name. It reminds me that Jesus isn’t just the answer to our Sundays mornings. He is the eternal remedy for our world.