So often when we want to minister to someone, we think we need to start a program or do some thing. And often we do. James warns against wishing someone well without taking the steps to meet their physical needs. Programs can be a good way to organize ministry efforts efficiently.
But programs without heart, without a personal touch, can be just a going through the motions. God is the One who touches and changes hearts. He doesn’t “need” us, but He often chooses to minister to others through His people. Paul said, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Corinthians 12:15, ESV). He speaks of being “poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith (Philippians 2:17). He didn’t just run through a program. He gave of himself.
I visited my mother-in-law almost every weekday during her five-plus years in various care facilities. I often felt more “useful” if I could do something – straighten her room a bit, bring her some mail, change her hearing aid battery, etc. – rather than get caught in the same conversational loops repeatedly. What she needed most, and what was hardest to give, was just one-on-one time and attention.
Some years ago our ladies’ group wanted to do something for the elderly ladies in our congregation. We decided to make little gift bags and then divide them up among us to deliver to the older ladies’ homes. Though they enjoyed the gifts, what they loved most were the visits. Some dear folks in one church would make little gifts or cards for my mother-in-law when she lived in our home, but they would send them home with us or someone who lived near us because we lived a distance from the church. Though we appreciated that they thought of her, a ten-minute personal visit would have been so much more effective. Even if she didn’t know the person, even if she forgot within the next hour that anyone had been there, for those few minutes she would have known that someone was interested enough in her to come and see her.
I’ve read blog posts directed to pastors about what to do when visiting members of their church who are ill. Some of the instructions urge having an agenda of talking, sharing Scripture, and praying. Those are all fine. It does help to have some idea of what to share so your mind doesn’t go blank. But from the times I have been seriously ill, I can tell you that working through an order of service or script was not what most ministered to my heart. What did minister to me was the personal looking in the eyes, empathizing, listening.
Even in our families, we often have wonderful talks while driving, cooking, etc. But sometimes we need to put everything aside and just look each other in the eye and listen.
Jesus often ministered to crowds. But then He would take a moment for a personal encounter with one person. Once He was stopped by one lady while on his way to minister to a father’s dying girl. But He had time for all of them, even though it might not have seemed that way to the father, Jairus, at first. Once He stopped a whole crowd in response to a blind beggar.
The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. ~ A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with everything we need to do and with all the needs we need to meet. We can easily feel depleted. But we seek His filling, His strength and grace, not our own. And we minister to the person given to us in each moment, without worrying about everyone and everything else. We trust Him for His guidance and provision as we share Him with others. When we’re filled with Him, we bring a sense of Him to others.
Programs, gifts, etc., are all fine in their place. I’ve been ministered to via each of those means. But we mustn’t forget to give of ourselves.
He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
To added affliction He addeth His mercy;
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.
His love has no limit; His grace has no measure.
His pow’r has no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again!
(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Wise Woman, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth)
Wow, does this post ever bring back memories of visiting my own mum and feeling so “useless.” We are guilty of discounting the value of presence. Thanks for sharing your story and the wisdom you gained through it.
I struggled with a title for this. “The value of presence” would have been a good one – wish I had thought of it. 🙂
Amen to this, Barbara: “But sometimes we need to put everything aside and just look each other in the eye and listen.” I agree that programs are good and they definitely have their place, but nothing can top those moments of just being together and listening to each other.
God bless you for being a light in others’ lives!
This is so good!! A few years ago, I had an older friend who was caregiver to her husband, who had cancer and then a stroke. She asked if I’d come once a week so she and I could go to lunch. I’m an introvert and feared that that was a little too much togetherness. But, since then, the time has ministered to her and to me as well. It’s been a real blessing to realize how much I get out of those lunches, especially since I was reluctant to “give up” my time. I realized a few years into marriage that my husband has an autism spectrum disorder. Some of the consequences of that are that he doesn’t make eye contact and is incapable of empathy. Honestly, getting eye contact and empathy from a friend once a week is HUGE to me. It’s a blessing to me to know that she gets a lot out of our time together too. Makes me want to keep my eyes open for other opportunities the Lord might bring into my life like this.
Yes, so true! We must not only talk the talk, we must walk the walk. I love this verse from James calling us to action. I cared for my mother during her final illness and most of the time, I felt I could be useful to her. I am sure you were a blessing to your mother-in-law too, Barbara.
Our time and attention given as you have talked about here mean so much to those God has put in our path. “Doing” and giving “things” are nice gestures, but most of the time not needed nearly as much as just taking the time to be with someone.
It’s so important for pastors and chaplains to learn to come alongside those who are sick–and not just come in with an agenda!
These are such important truths. Like everyone else, I like to know what I’ll say and do when I get “there.” But sometimes just being there is so much better!
In this busy, digital world, we are loosing so much personal connection. Important post. laurensparks.net
This post has so many great nuggets of truth to take away and work toward doing them. Love the poem at the end as it really tied it all together!! It’s so true that God will pour into us the strength we need through the Holy Spirit. In His leading we truly can be His voice to encourage another heart!!
Thanks for this message, Barbara! If the idea of visiting residents of long-term facilities appeals to any of your readers, perhaps they’d find the thoughts presented here helpful: https://www.everlastingplace.com/old-folks.html
Thanks so much for this, Kitty. The years my m-i-l lived near or with us, the one thing that ministered to her most was just presence – just visiting her if even for just a few minutes. She was a thorough introvert who didn’t like to go to the big group activities in assisted living, but enjoyed one-on-one visits.
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