Are You a Big Z or an Ordinary N?

Imagine getting a Scrabble tray with the following letters:

JQZXKVW

Wow! All the highest-scoring letters! You’ll surely win this time!

Except there are a couple of problems.

First, there are no vowels. You’d only be able to play off vowels in your opponent’s words.

And most words are not made up of just the high-point letters. Usually you have to combine them with an ordinary D or T or N.

Too, I’ve often found that the words that use all the tiles and earn bonus points are most often made up of the more common letters.

Life is like that with people, too. The ones out front or with heavy responsibilities don’t operate alone. Stars have their publicists, make-up crew and stylists, agents, drivers. Executives have administrative assistants, mailroom workers, technicians. Presidents have cabinets, advisors, security details. Mills, factories, and manufacturers are mostly made up of everyday workers. Every company has those who keep the premises hygienic and pleasant by keeping it clean.

Have you noticed this principle in the Bible as well? Moses had Aaron and Hur. David had his mighty men. Elijah thought he was alone standing against the prophets of Baal, but God had 7,000 who had not bowed the knee to a false god. The obscure names among Jesus’ twelve closest followers were just as much disciples as Peter, James, and John.

Besides the Bible heroes we all know and love, lesser-known servants of God played key roles. A little servant girl told Naaman about the prophet in Israel who could heal him of leprosy. Unnamed prophets appear in only one scene, but deliver vital messages. “A certain man drew his bow at random” and killed King Ahab, one of Israel’s wickedest rulers. A woman only known as a Shunammite provided a respite for the prophet Elisha in his travels. A little boy gave his lunch of loaves and fishes to Jesus, who multiplied them to feed a multitude. “Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for” Jesus and the disciples “out of their means” alongside Mary Magdalene. Paul’s nephew brought news of an ambush planned against Paul, prompting his guards to beef up security.

Everyone has an important part to play in God’s kingdom, whether it’s a large or small part. If we envy another’s role, we forget they have their own set of problems and temptations. If we’re discontent with our role, we forget God sees and values it.

Have you ever had one tiny cog mess up a machine’s functions? A few wrong keystrokes in computer code can throw a whole program off. A little virus can wreak havoc in computers and bodies and communities. One person not doing their job right in the process of bringing a product to market can cause the end product to fail or even be unsafe. One customer service representative can make the difference in solving or causing problems, in our relief or frustrations with a company. One kind greeting at church can make a visitor feel welcome. One word of encouragement can change someone’s outlook.

The Bible uses the metaphor of the body to describe the church in 1 Corinthians 12:14-31. The body has a number of parts, but all are important. This passage has us imagine how ridiculous it would be if the whole body were an eye–how would it eat or walk or speak? Equally ridiculous is the thought of doing without one member or another. One part can’t say it doesn’t need another. Each part working together with the others helps the body function rightly, which aids all the parts. Ephesians 4:1-16 uses the same imagery, closing with, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” I’ve spoken of not thinking less of ourselves if we don’t have a big role to play, but Romans 12, also speaking of the church as a body, warns “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (verse 3). There is no room for pride or discouragement with God’s giftings. But “having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” for His honor and glory and for the good of the rest of the body (Romans 12:6). We can be content in the place He has us.

My grandfather used to say, “God must love common folk, He made so many of us.” Sometimes God pushes us out of our comfort zones, like Moses, Jonah, Gideon, Esther, and others. But most of us won’t be the mega-best-selling author, the speaker followed by the masses, the hero about whom epics are written. Yet we can glorify God in our homes, churches, cars, businesses, neighborhoods. In fact, back to our Scrabble analogy, if we’re an N or T or an I, we can be used more often and in more places than a Q.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

What We’re to Be Before We Teach

When Titus 2 is taught in any women’s gathering, we almost always hone in on what older women are instructed to teach the younger: “to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (verses 4-5).

But we either lightly touch or skip over what Titus 2 says older women are to be in the verses preceding these.

But before we get there, let’s zoom out a bit to see the context. Paul is writing to one of his coworkers, Titus, whom he had left in charge of the church in Crete. Paul had directed Titus to ordain elders in the churches from among those with certain godly characteristics in Titus 1. Paul sums up that instruction with verse 9: “He [an elder] must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

Then Paul describes those who contradict sound doctrine: “insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers . . . upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach . . . their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (1:10-15).

Remember there are no chapter divisions in the original text. When we study chapters individually, we sometimes forget to connect them to what came before. The very next paragraph in Titus begins, “But as for you”—in contrast to the kind of people he was just talking about—“teach what accords with sound doctrine” (2:1). Then Paul gives specific instruction to older men, older women, younger men and women, servants.

So these instructions aren’t just nice thoughts or ways to have a happy church or for everyone to get along. These behaviors that Paul wants taught are “in accord with sound doctrine.” Our beliefs and our behavior should work hand in glove. Our actions shouldn’t contradict our doctrine.

So what are older women to be like?

Reverent in behavior.” Most of the non-paraphrased translations use the word “reverent.” The KJV says, “in behaviour as becometh holiness.” The commentary at the bottom of this page says, “The Greek word rendered ‘in behaviour,’ or ‘in demeanour,’ includes dress, appearance, conversation, manner; includes an outward deportment dependent on something more internal. The elder Christian woman in her whole bearing should exhibit a certain dignity of sacred demeanour; there should be something in her general appearance, in her dress, in her speech, in her every-day behaviour, which the younger and more thoughtless sister could respect and reverence–an ideal she might hope one day, if the Master spared her so long, herself to reach.”

Being reverent or dignified or holy doesn’t mean one never has fun, laughs, or tells jokes. Joy is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Proverbs 17:22 tells us “A joyful [merry, KJV] heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Richard Baxter said, “Keep company with the more cheerful sort of the godly; there is no mirth like the mirth of believers” (The Practical Works of Richard Baxter, p. 24). Henry Ward Beecher said, “A man without mirth is like a wagon without springs, in which everyone is caused disagreeably to jolt by every pebble over which it runs.”

There’s a joy and humor in keeping with reverence and holiness.

But a godly older woman knows the things of the Lord are serious. She takes care to honor God in her life and teaching, whether formal instruction or just sharing passing encouragement.

Not slanderers.” Some translations say “false accusers” or “gossips.” Obviously we shouldn’t spread anything that is untrue. Lying and slander are definitely not in keeping with a God of truth.

Gossip is a little harder to define. It’s not always wrong to talk about someone else’s wrongdoing. Paul mentions people by name in his epistles who have erred in various ways. Sometimes talking with another Christian is a way to process whether someone’s actions are right or wrong. As we’ve encountered problems in various churches we’ve attended (and there is no church without problems), we’ve discussed the issues with our family. But discretion is needed as to what is discussed with whom and how. There’s a difference between needful processing and just gossiping. Gossip seems to have malicious intent.

As an example, years ago a couple who had been members of our church went out as missionaries to another country. They seemed exemplary in every way, having a real fervor for the Lord. After some years of seemingly successful ministry, the husband was found in an adulterous relationship with another woman. Their mission board called them home. When the church leadership met with the man, he refused to repent, saying he loved his sin too much to give it up.

Of course, this situation sent shock waves through the community he left, his mission board, our church, and probably everyone at every level that he had ever dealt with. It wasn’t something that could be kept quiet. There was much discussion. How should we respond to him? How can we minister to his heartbroken wife? And most of all, how could this have happened?

We all needed to work through that kind of processing. But to talk about the situation just to talk would have been wrong.

I think we have to show restraint sometimes even in sharing good news that might not be ours to share. Once at a church committee meeting I attended, one newly-pregnant lady lamented that she didn’t even have a chance to tell her closest friends that she was expecting because word spread so quickly. That convicted me. There’s something delicious about being the one with news to share.

So if our motive for talking about situations is to feel important because we have news, or to feel superior because someone has done wrong, we’d better put the brakes on. We need much wisdom and Holy Spirit leading that our conversation would be edifying and not destructive.

Not slaves to much wine.” I think, in context, this phrase is not just saying older women shouldn’t be drunkards. This verse uses the word “likewise,” pointing back to what had been told to older men, that they should be “sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness” (v. 1). Self-control is also mentioned to the younger women (verse 5) and younger men (verse 6) with another “likewise.” So I think the larger picture is that she shouldn’t be enslaved to anything, that she should live a life of self-control (another part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23).

To teach what is good.” To teach what is good, one has to know what is good. We can’t teach subjects we don’t know, can we? We need to spend much time in the Word of God not only so that we know what He wants to teach us, but also so that, as we have opportunities to share with others, we can direct them the right way.

To “train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (verses 4-5), we have to have enough experience walking with God to be able to share His truth in these areas.

That makes the whole thing scary. None of us has lived in this way in perfection. But God knows that. He doesn’t ask us to teach from our perfection, but from His. Sharing our own failures and stumbles helps other women to know that God gives grace. Pointing, not to ourselves, but to Him helps others to look to the only One who can enable them.

Older women have a reputation for being cranky, crochety, and critical of anything that’s not done like it was “back in my day.” Thank God, most of the older women I have known have not been like that. God has put some sweet, godly women of stellar character in my path over the years.

May we all seek His grace, whatever our ages, to please Him and to be a godly influence on those around us.

Some of my past posts related to these subjects:

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Strengthening Others

If someone had said to me personally, or before our church congregation, “I want to strengthen you today,” I would have thought, “Well, thanks, but only God can do that.”

But during my last trek through Acts, I noticed several times the Bible said someone strengthened others. That gave me pause. How did they strengthen others? Why did the Bible phrase it that way instead of saying God strengthened them? I made a note to come back and look at those occurrences some time, and did that last week.

According to BibleStudyTools.com, the Greek word for “strengthen” in these passages means “to establish besides, strengthen more; to render more firm, confirm.” The KJV and a few other translations use “confirmed,” but most use “strengthened.” There are synonyms to this word all through the Bible, but this particular Greek word seems to be only in Acts. So for now I confined my study there.

In the first passage, Acts 14:19-23, men came from Antioch and Iconium and stoned Paul and left him for dead. But Paul got up, traveled to another city, and preached there. Then he returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch—the very places that men had come from to stone him—and began “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (v. 22).

You can imagine how the disciples might have been shaken. If this could happen to Paul, it could happen to them. These guys had who stoned Paul had traveled to another city to do so—what would they do to Christians in their own towns? But Paul encouraged them: Yes, we’ll face persecution. It’s part of the Christian life. But this is the true faith.

Matthew Henry says in his Commentary on the Whole Bible, Volume VI.—Acts to Revelation:

But is this the way to confirm the souls of the disciples and to engage them to continue in the faith? One would think it would rather shock them, and make them weary. No, as the matter is fairly stated and taken entire, it will help to confirm them, and fix them for Christ (p. 185).

Henry then goes on for several paragraphs bringing up other verses that talk about persecution being part of the Christian life and something even Christ experienced. 

The rest of the passage says they appointed elders in the churches, prayed, fasted, and “committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (v 23). No doubt these were an outworking of Paul’s encouragement.

In the second passage in Acts 15, some men were teaching newly-believing Gentiles that they had to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses (verses 1, 5). The apostles and elders met together to discuss the issue. “After there had been much debate,” Peter shared his experience of being taught by the Lord that God “made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.” To put them under the OT law would be “placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear. But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” Paul and Barnabus followed with their experiences reaching Gentiles. The council confirmed that the Gentiles did not have to keep the OT ceremonial law and just asked them to observe a few things. They sent a letter with Paul, Barnabus, Judas, and Silas to the brethren in Antioch. “And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words” (verses 31-32).

Here the disciples were strengthened with truth and the rest that comes from grace. Instead of coming under a religion of works that they could never live up to, they could rejoice in the grace of God. One commentary here noted “Their work was the very reverse of those who had previously come from Judea ‘subverting the souls of the disciples (Acts 15:24).'”

The rest of the verses, Acts 15:40-41; 16:4-5; and 18:22-23, just mention that Paul, along with various companions, traveled place to place strengthening the disciples.

So from these passages, we can draw out these principles of how the apostles strengthened others:

Their presence. The elders in Jerusalem sent a letter, but they sent it with people to deliver personally, who then went on to strengthen them. Paul went back to several churches he started, watering the seed that was planted, encouraging them in person.

They shared truth and grace. God gives us strength through His Word. “Strengthen me according to your word” (Psalm 119:28b). The passage where Paul was persecuted presages Peter’s later epistle encouraging disciples not to be surprised at persecution, but to “entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” The truth encouraged them. Then the Acts 15 passage brought them back to the foundation of grace rather than the added-on works of tradition.

They showed loving concern. Paul was so concerned for the disciples that he went back to the city of those who stoned him to encourage them. Though he was the one who had suffered, he wanted to strengthen them. Matthew Henry says of Acts 16:4-5, “that spirit of tenderness and condescension which appeared in these letters plainly showed that the apostles and elders were herein under the guidance of him who is love itself” (p. 203). What a contrast to the Pharisees, who protested at people being healed on the Sabbath in violation, not of God’s law, but their own, and who were so full of hate that they sought to have Jesus killed.

They were empathic. I love Peter’s empathy when he asks why they would put a heavy yoke on the new disciples that they had not been able to bear themselves.

Paul didn’t lessen the truth that persecution would come, but he encouraged them to bear it for Christ.

There is a sympathy that weakens and a sympathy that strengthens. One thing that stood out to me in Walter and Trudy Fremont’s book from many years ago, Formula for Family Unity, was this thought:

Parents should not take the grit out of their children’s lives by protecting them from every hardship, blow, or disappointment. Remember, adversity strengthens character. . . .

Children are resilient; they can take a lot if Mother doesn’t make them feel abused and neglected by an overly sympathetic attitude. Such a statement as, “Oh, honey, it’s so cold out there; I’m afraid you’ll freeze on your paper route,” produces a negative attitude in the mind of the child. Mother ought to say, “When you finish your paper route, I’ll have a cup of hot chocolate waiting and a good breakfast” (pp. 103-104)(2).

The mother’s second statement acknowledges the child’s difficulty and her sympathy, but in a way that braces him for what he has to face rather than leaving him wallowing in self-pity.

We can do the same as we interact with others. Sometimes we slap truth on like a band-aid without taking time to enter into another’s situation. No wonder what we say hits them the wrong way instead of ministering to them. Instead, Jesus was “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Hebrews 4:15, KJV). Since He “has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15b-16).

Why does Acts say the apostles strengthened others instead of saying God did or the Word of God did? Strength actually came from God and His Word, but He sent it through His messengers. God often works through people. How we need to be faithful messengers, loving, caring, personally interested, sharing truth and grace.

Matthew Henry sums it up perfectly:

[Paul] preached that to them which strengthened them, which confirmed their faith in Christ, their resolutions for Christ, their pious affections to him. Disciples need to be strengthened, for they are compassed about with infirmity; ministers must do what they can to strengthen them, to strengthen them all, by directing them to Christ, and bringing them to live upon him, whose strength is perfected in their weakness, and who is himself their strength and song (p. 240).

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Finding Ways to Minister

How to find ways to ministerWe’ve attended large, active churches with multiple ministries happening at any given time. And we’ve attended very small churches with few official church ministries. Neither is right or wrong. Each church has its own personality.

On the plus side, participation in some aspect of church ministry is usually where I got to know people and began to feel part of the church. It’s hard to get to know others in just a few minutes before or after a service. Working side by side provides opportunities for further fellowship.

Church ministry also helps with organization, so the new mom doesn’t receive five casseroles on one day.

Church ministry is a good outlet for service. When I first started attending church, I didn’t really know what my niche was. After trying several things over the years, now I know where I feel my particular skill set fits best.

However, what God calls us to do doesn’t always fit with our skills. When Moses told God he was slow of speech, God didn’t contradict him. He just promised, “I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Exodus 4:10-12). God called Gideon to lead His army when Gideon was hiding away—not a promising beginning, humanly speaking. I’m not gifted in caregiving, but I was called to it for five years. Sometimes God calls us to do what we don’t feel naturally gifted to do to show “that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Church ministry has some drawbacks. People tend to compartmentalize their service. When they participate in whatever church ministries they’re involved in, they think their ministry is done for the week.

Witnessing? Yes, I attended church visitation. Check.

At one church we visited, the only time anyone spoke to us or even looked at us was during the visitor greeting time of the service. It was like they crammed all their interaction with visitors into those few minutes instead of being alert to visitors and welcoming before and after the service.

Ministry isn’t something we turn off and on. We’re always on, in a sense. Yes, we need time to rest. But if a need comes up, we don’t say, “Sorry, I already put in my time this week” or “We only do that at the scheduled time.” Opportunities to minister don’t always come in convenient, pre-planned situations.

Then, too, we can be so busy in church ministry that we don’t have time to just slow down and interact with people. I can remember hoping someone else would greet the nearby visitor because I had to catch five different people before they left church for the day.

Some new church members’ first meeting with a pastor is almost like a job interview, as he considers where he can “plug you in.”

My son and daughter-in-law’s church has no organized ministries except for a few small Bible studies. That’s partly because they don’t have their own building yet. But it’s mostly church philosophy. They want people to be free to exercise hospitality and to minister to one another’s needs as they arise.

Our own church currently doesn’t have any organized ministries, either, partly because we don’t have our own building, partly because we’re very small. And I have found it so restful. Sometimes I look back at how busy I used to be, and I can’t believe I used to do all that. I was younger then: I’m sure that makes a big difference.

But people in both these churches do minister in other ways.

God has something for everyone to do. He has distributed to everyone spiritual gifts. But the ministry He wants you to partake in may or may not be through an organized church ministry.

Here’s what you can do if you’re searching for a way to minister:

Pray for God’s guidance and leading.

Minister from an overflow of your relationship with the Lord. There are times we do what we have to do, no matter how we feel. But God often works on our being inwardly before our doing outwardly. I love what Sue Donaldson says here:

Ministry is spillage. We have something worth spilling out to another—whether it’s our little ones, our mother-in-law, or a work colleague—when we are filled up to all the fullness of God. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:19 . . .  and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” I want to start and end my day with God and His Word, otherwise I don’t get filled up. And if I’m not filled up with Him, I can’t spill out for Him.

What’s on your heart? Some years ago, a lady in our church came to me occasionally to urge the ladies’ group to form some kind of ministry to the elderly ladies of our church. We did a couple of things, but I was too swamped to start any kind of regular ministry. I did wonder, though, if perhaps this lady needed a little nudge or encouragement to start something. If this was on her heart, probably God wanted her to do something about it.

Be willing to step out of your comfort zone. One ladies’ group leader used to say, “You can’t say no until you pray about it.” We all know we can’t say yes to every opportunity: we’d be quickly weighed down. But neither should we say no automatically. The times I’ve grown the most have been times I didn’t feel up to the job, but I didn’t feel the liberty to say no, either.

Consider timing. Our families are our first ministry. Though God has something for all of us to do at any time, that big idea on our heart may have to be put on a back burner if we have little ones or a full-time job or an elderly member in need of caregiving.

What’s in front of you? We may be thinking about ministry as something big and grand. Too often we overlook the small opportunities right in front of us to say a kind word of encouragement or to help someone in some small way. I can tell you, after visiting several new churches due to moves with our family, the warm, heartfelt, spontaneous greeting from church members means more than the loud welcome of the official church greeter.

I’ve mentioned this lady before, but I was encouraged and instructed by the example of an older woman I knew in one of our former churches. She had taught school for decades, but had to retire early. She could have been bitter and disgruntled due to the situation. Instead, she just quietly looked for other ways to serve. She greeted visitors who were sitting alone and invited them to sit with her. She invited a couple of ladies at a time over for lunch—not for any agenda, but just to fellowship. She began a couple of ladies’ Bible studies.  Another older lady I knew would stay with new moms for a couple of days if their own moms couldn’t be with them. Another sweet lady used to apologize for not being able to participate in our ladies’ group very much. But she took care of her adult special needs son, helped her widowed mother, was the on-call babysitter for her extended family. Her whole life was a ministry, even though she couldn’t participate in “official” church ministries as much as she would have liked.

One of our former pastors preached a message from 1 Timothy 5 about the kinds of things women were to be honored for. The context is determining how the church should minister to widows who had no one else to help them. After telling Pastor Timothy to “Honor widows who are truly widows” (verse 3), Paul lists everyday, ordinary characteristics: This woman has taken care of her family, is not self-indulgent, prayed, “shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work” (verses 5, 10). No mention there of a worldwide TV ministry or writing a best-selling book or leading a conference of thousands of women. There’s nothing wrong with those things, if God has called someone to them. But most of our ministry will be in small efforts.

I’ve benefited from official church ministry and from someone’s behind-the-scenes thoughtfulness.

God has something for everyone to do. If you can find a ministry outlet within your church, that’s great. If not, seek Him about ways you can minister, and then be alert for ways you can help people. Maybe you can assist someone in their ministry. Maybe God will use you to start a ministry. Maybe not. Maybe, like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, all those small acts that you don’t think much about will make big differences in others’ lives.

Minister with the ability God givesSee also:

Myths and Maxims of Ministry

The Ministry of the Mundane

Faithful in Obscurity

Rethinking Spiritual Gifts

Manufactured Spirituality

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Hearth and Home,
Senior Salon, Purposeful Faith, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragement,
Recharge Wednesday, Share a Link Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee,
Grace and Truth, Blogger Voices Network)

 

Giving of ourselves in ministry to others

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!

Annie Johnson Flint

(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)

The Ministry of the Mundane

One morning I chafed over having to go to the grocery store – again. I had just gone the day before, but that store didn’t have everything I needed, plus we were getting ready for company and needed a few extras. I groused inwardly about spending way too much of my life in stores and how I had other things I’d much rather be doing.

All of a sudden the thought came to mind, “She bringeth her food from afar.”

You might recognize that as part of the Proverbs 31 woman‘s description. In fact, a lot of what she did was everyday, seemingly mundane stuff: planting, cooking, sewing, weaving, buying, selling. In those days, with no Amazon, super Wal-Marts, or even grocery or clothing stores, most of what she made for herself, her family, and her home was done by hand, from scratch.

Thankfully I don’t have to weave my own cloth. I don’t even have to go too much “afar” to gather my food. We have four grocery stores within a ten-minute drive, and all but one of them lets customers order online and pick up their groceries curbside. So I really don’t have anything to complain about.

It helps me to realize, or remember, that gathering and preparing food is part of what I am supposed to do. Somebody has to do it. My husband doesn’t mind going to the store for me sometimes, but I don’t like to ask him since he already works more than 40 hours a week and then has yard work and house maintenance on top of that.

But realizing it’s part of my job helps me not to chafe: this is just as important as anything else that seems more valuable. It’s part of my ministry to my family.

I’ve wondered why so much of life is made of the mundane. A friend who was a missionary said that when she first went to the field, she had no idea she would be spending so much time in the kitchen. I remember Elisabeth Elliot writing about dealing with a recalcitrant stove or heater and wondering at how much time, especially in a third world country, is made up of such activities. I remember hearing a missionary lady once say that in her country, they still had milkmen pick up their empty milk bottles, and part of her testimony and reputation involved having clean milk bottles out on her porch at the appointed time.

As I have been pondering these things the last few days, I came up with a few possible reasons so many mundane tasks.

The rubber meets the road in those everyday duties. It’s easy to think about loving and serving our fellow man or woman while at home in a quiet, pleasant room with our Bibles. It’s another thing when our fleshly nature bumps up against each other in the real world.

A good work ethic is a testimony to others. Luther was purported to have said, “The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes.” This article disputes that. I understand the article’s view that it’s not something Luther would have said, but I don’t totally agree with their logic. Perhaps you’ve known someone who thought they served God better by witnessing to people than by doing their job. But we’re admonished to do our work “heartily, as unto the Lord.” We’ve all experienced the pangs of faulty workmanship, employees or even ministry partners who do a slipshod job, creating problems and frustration for fellow-workers, bosses, customers. Sure, we have Mary and Martha‘s example, and we know it’s possible to have wrong priorities, and we need to set aside the earthly for the heavenly sometimes. But when it’s time to work, it’s time to do it well and efficiently.

These tasks teach patience, endurance, perseverance, fortitude, service, thoughtfulness of others.

I can’t do even these things in the right way and spirit without God’s help and grace. I just stumbled across this quote in my files from Oswald Chambers (source unknown): “The things Jesus did were the most menial of tasks, and this is an indication that it takes all of God’s power in me to accomplish even the most common tasks in His way. Can I use a towel as He did?” God filled the workmen of the tabernacle with “the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship.” He goes on to say, “I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you” (Exodus 31:1-6, ESV).

Ministry to others can be shown through the mundane. Someone said of Francis and Edith Shaeffer, “As many people were brought to the Lord through Mrs. Schaeffer’s cinnamon buns as through Dr. Schaeffer’s sermons!” Practical help is just as needful as spiritual help.

When Amy Carmichael’s ministry began to change from evangelism to caring for children, she questioned whether God had really called her to be a “nursemaid” when there were so many other needs and ways she could be used. “It was then that she read the words from John 13, how the Lord of glory ‘took a towel and girded Himself.’…never again did she question whether her gifts were being wasted. She knew that the Master never wastes the servant’s time.” (Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur by Frank Houghton)

Mr. Houghton also writes that, “Occasionally someone suggested that character-training of boys and girls…or, still more, the erection of buildings to house them, was not evangelistic work, and therefore not worthy of support.” Amy wrote, “Well, one cannot save and then pitchfork souls into heaven…and as for buildings, souls (in India, at least) are more or less securely fastened into bodies. Bodies cannot be left to lie about in the open, and as you cannot get the souls out and deal with them separately, you have to take them both together.”

We don’t always necessarily have to be doing anything “spiritual” to show forth the fruit of the Holy Spirit. One of my favorite blogger friends writes about what’s going on in her home and family, but even in her homemaking tasks she reflects the spirit of a woman who walks closely with God. She’s not trying to show that: it just shines through her. In everything she shows “a sense of Him.”

Perhaps, too, the weight of physical, everyday tasks is a reminder that we live in a physical world with limitations and constant needs. That reminder increases our anticipation and longing for the day we’ll be released from these bodies and this world.

At any rate, my perspective changed that day. I had no thought of Labor Day when I first started compiling these thoughts, but perhaps it’s appropriate on this particular day to remind ourselves that “In all labor there is profit, But mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14:23, NASB).

I still need to remind myself frequently that my physical tasks are as needful and important as any type of ministry task. I can do them as unto the Lord. Sure, there are ways I can improve: e.g, planning better can help reduce the number of trips to the store. And I still have plenty of time for things like reading and writing – much more time than the Proverbs 31 woman had. But I can serve, as she did, with strength, dignity, industriousness, kindness, and reverence. Even at the grocery store.

(Sharing with Inspire Me MondayLiterary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

Caregiver Resentment

Even though my mother-in-law is sweet and easy to get along with, I sometimes battle resentment over the circumstances of caregiving: feeling tied down, having strangers coming in my home at irregular times, etc. I’m guest posting today at The Perennial Gen about ways God is helping me deal with caregiver resentment.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday)

No Pat Answers

If you’ve ever read one of those “Things not to say when someone’s loved one has died” articles, one of the phrases we’re advised not to use is, “They’re in a better place.” Though in the long run that is a comfort, at first it just rubs salt in the wound of their not being here. Another that bothers me is, “They’ll always be with you.” There is a sense in which that is true, and I know what the person is trying to communicate, but inwardly I want to scream, “No, they’re not with me – that’s why I miss them so much!

When someone expresses loneliness, especially a single person, he or she is likely to be admonished that our relationship with God is sufficient, that we should treasure Him to the point where we are content in Him alone and don’t really need anyone else. But we forget that God Himself said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” and designed us for interaction with others. Yes, sometimes He brings us to a place of loneliness to teach us something or develop something in us, and sometimes the purpose is to draw us closer to Himself. But just as we would acknowledge Joni Eareckson Tada’s 50 years in a wheelchair as a hard thing, even though God has brought immense good out of it, so we should acknowledge the hard places God sometimes brings our loved ones to without being flippant about it.

And, of course, social media abounds with pat answers and knee-jerk reactions, often reflecting a lack of understanding of the bigger scope of the issue.

When someone says they are having a particular problem, our minds tend to race through the applicable spiritual principles or Bible verses we know so we can whip one out and slap it on like a spiritual band-aid. There. Fixed! All better now.

Besides making the person feel worse instead of better, we make them feel like they haven’t been truly heard and like it’s not safe to share what’s really on their hearts.

But aren’t we supposed to help our friends spiritually and turn their focus back to the Lord? Sure. But first we’re to listen. “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). And we’re to empathize. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). I’ve heard it said that Job’s three friends did more for him when they sat with him in silence for a week than when they misadvised and misapplied spiritual truth to him for the next several chapters.

Sometimes it’s best in the moment just to say, “That’s hard. I don’t understand it. But I am praying for you.” Or just squeeze the person’s hand or give them a hug. Then, relying on the Holy Spirit’s leading and discerning whether the person would be open to it, we can try to minister to them in other ways. And, true, sometimes we do need to share truth even when the other person isn’t quite ready to hear it, in the hopes that God will use that truth to speak to them. But we need to give careful, prayerful, thoughtful responses and not pat answers.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2.

A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it! Proverbs 15:23.

Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. Ephesians 4:29.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Glimpses, Soul Survival, Tell His Story)

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It’s not for nothing

Joni Eareckson Tada recently passed the 50 year mark in her wheelchair as a result of a diving accident in her teens. I so appreciate her sharing God’s grace in her life. I read a number of articles about this milestone, especially her testimony here, but this one had me thinking for a long while afterward, not just about Joni, but about her helpers.

The article mentions a wake-up crew who helps Joni get out of bed and ready for the day every morning. I can empathize with how hard that would be, even with joyful and willing helpers. We so easily take for granted the ability to use the bathroom on our own or brush our own teeth and hair.

But I thought of these helpers from this angle: many of us aren’t comfortable or don’t feel qualified to be the out-front people. We prefer to be behind the scenes, enabling someone else in their ministry. We can’t have the unique ministry Joni does, but we’d be overjoyed to have a minuscule part in helping her.

But what about those who need that kind of care and don’t have any kind of public ministry? Who don’t speak and seem less and less present every day? Like the thousands of contracted, shriveled, seemingly vacant forms in nursing homes. Like my own mother-in-law.

I’ve written before that I am not a “natural” caregiver like many people I know. I don’t think I could ever have been a nurse. But every angle we have looked at it over the years comes back to the conviction that this is the best place for her at this time. And, like Moses, Gideon, Jeremiah, and others who didn’t feel qualified to do what God was calling them to do, we trust Him for His grace to do it. And He provides, not in one fell swoop of “feeling” qualified, but in the day-by-day ministrations from Him through us.

Sometimes it seems like it’s all for nothing, this trying to encourage food into someone, cleaning up the results of eating, changing position, showering, keeping comfortable, watching out for skin breakage, etc., when there is less and less response or even recognition from the person who sleeps maybe 20-22 hours day for years now, only to do it all again the next day and the next. My aunt called it “the long good-bye.” My husband describes it as watching someone die one brain cell at a time. Sometimes we can’t help but wonder why God still has her here and when He’ll release her from this crumpled, silent body to her new glorious one in heaven.

I’ve shared before what one friend who cared for a mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s said, that sometimes God leaves them here not so much for what He is doing in their lives, but what He is doing through them in ours, showing us our innate selfishness, teaching us to love unconditionally. And I have found that to be true in my own life as well.

As I remind myself of the truths I know, I thought I’d share them with others who are caregivers now or will be someday, who labor behind the scenes, doing the same thing day after day during a long decline. The care you provide is not for nothing, because:

God has made everyone in His image and that imbues them with value.

Jesus said when we minister to others, we minister to Him.

We should treat others as we want to be treated.

God wants us to honor our parents and care for them. They cared for us and deserve our care in return.

“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” James 1:27

“God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. Hebrews 6:10

Godly love is about giving and isn’t dependent on what the other can do for us.

“To do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” Hebrews. 13:16

“With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men.” Ephesians 6:7

When our children were little, my husband and I often lamented that they wouldn’t remember the youngest stage of their lives and the fun things we did with them, but those years were the foundation of and a major part of the overall relationship. A baby can’t articulate what he needs or thank you for responding to him (at least until he can smile). But how you care for him matters. He can tell a difference between loving touch and care or harsh treatment. I believe the same is true of the elderly. They may not be able to understand, acknowledge, or define it, but loving care contributes to their overall well-being.

There may be little to no response from the person in our care: some of my friends have even experienced a negative response. There may not be any obvious results from your ministry. But it’s not for nothing. Your loved one or patient would probably tell you how much he or she appreciates your care if they could think right about it and express it. And God knows right where He has you for now and sees your loving care.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Glimpses, Mondays @ Soul Survival, Wise Woman, Tell His Story, Faith on Fire)

 

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Thoughts about women’s ministries

img_0065Every now and then I come across a blog post or article saying something like, “I’m tired of fluffy pink crafty ladies’ meetings. I want to be authentic and go deep.”

I often think, “OK…what exactly does that look like in a ladies’ meeting setting?” Many times the writers say that want Bible studies or opportunities to share that really speak to the core of their Christian walk, where they can share what they’re really struggling with and receive advice and help without being judged. They say they can get craft instruction anywhere; they don’t need it at church. They don’t need scrapbooking or cupcake-making get-togethers. They remind us that every woman is not married or a mother, not every woman is called to be a wife and mother, and we need to minister to the whole spectrum of women represented in our churches, not just wives and mother. They want to discuss and participate in activities to change the world.

And those are all good points.

I’d like to make a few observations.

1. Most women ministry leaders would love to hear suggestions about what ladies would like to do (or they should be. We need to be open to new ideas and not just do the same things we always have). I was a ladies’ ministry coordinator for 9 or so years, and sometimes we’d send out questionnaires to the ladies of the church (to be answered anonymously) asking what they liked, didn’t like, would like us to do. We got very little response from those. A handful of ladies came faithfully; a great many didn’t, and I didn’t know if it was because they didn’t have time, didn’t like what we did, didn’t like us, or what. Plus, sometimes I scrambled for ideas that were new and fresh and that might appeal to a number of ladies. So that kind of feedback would be highly valuable.

2. Make suggestions graciously. Some of these posts have been quite harsh, feeling like a slap across the face or as if the writer is saying, “You’re shallow and I hate everything you do.”

3. Remember different people like different things. If you have two or more people at a church or a meeting, you’re going to have differences of opinion on what and how things should be done. Some women like the fellowship and the crafty things. That doesn’t mean they don’t like Bible study or are shallow. Sure, you can take classes at Michael’s or watch a YouTube video or peruse Pinterest. But often we don’t get to see our friends at church except at church or at these other functions, and it’s fun to get together in that way.

4. Sometimes the crafty things can be a ministry. At one church, we had different ladies share things within their expertise, so it was a way for them to minister when they might not be comfortable leading a Bible study or teaching a lesson. Plus the gathering was not only a basis for forming or growing friendships, it was also a non-threatening venue to invite lost or unchurched friends to. And often at meetings like that, or inbetween meetings like that, we had a woman in the church share her testimony. I remember one in particular in which a woman shared much about her early walk with God and navigating through her young adult years, dating relationships, etc., and was so sad that more of our single young women weren’t there to hear that.

5. It doesn’t have to be either/or. A church or ladies’ group can have informal, fun meetings as well as more serious Bible studies and service projects.

6. Proverbs 31 and Titus 2 do cover more areas than Bible study, though that’s the most important activity. In an era when women might not receive instruction and examples in homemaking as they did years ago, a ladies’ group can help support and instruct along these lines. Most women have a home, whether they have husbands or children, so some of these skills and principles can be helpful to all and can be used to minister to others and glorify God (see Edith Schaeffer’s The Hidden Art of Homemaking.)

7. On the other hand, there is much in those passages applicable to women in any setting regarding character and reaching out to the poor, and much in Proverbs 31 that could be brought out regarding single and working women (business savvy, interacting with merchants, making good quality products, industriousness, dealing with employees, etc.). We do need to make sure every meeting isn’t centered on marriage and motherhood, and, Moms, don’t just call ladies without children only when you need a babysitter.

8. At a time when marriage and motherhood are devalued and under attack, wives and moms need the support, affirmation, and encouragement of the church, and especially other ladies. But we need to remember that single and childless women are under attack in different ways and support, affirm,and encourage them, too. We tend to gravitate towards those in like circumstances and seasons of life, but we can learn from and support each other even when our lives are vastly different. (see When the Message Isn’t For Me.)

9. Deepness can’t be manufactured. Some people, introverts in particular, do like to “go deep,” but would be uncomfortable with a “turn to your neighbor and bare your heart on command” approach. You can have a good Bible study and make every effort for people to feel free to share, but you can’t force it. For some, that inclination will take time to grow; for others, that will only happen with maybe one or two close friends, not in a group setting.

10. Maybe you should go to your church’s ladies’ meetings anyway, even if they’re not exactly what you’d prefer. One of the purposes for almost any ladies’ function is fellowship among the attendees. Maybe a conversation started there will blossom into a warm friendship or an informal mentoring relationship. There’s nothing wrong with formal mentoring, but in my own life, it’s happened informally alongside hospitality and ministry situations. One conversation with an older lady that shaped my thinking about my kids’ teen years took place while we put up a bulletin board in a church hallway. Just being with older women gives you an opportunity to observe, soak up some of their wisdom, and sometimes ask questions.

Something that should have been said first is to pray about it. God knows what kinds of ministries are needed in a given place and the best way to go about them. And consider that if something is on your heat, maybe He is directing you to minister in that way. If you see a need reaching out to the poor, the elderly, single women, etc., perhaps God has brought that to your attention for a reason, either as a function of the ladies’ group or a separate ministry. Though I prefer ladies’ functions when the ladies of the church are all together, there are occasions for a smaller group with a specific focus.

I am at a stage in life when I can’t attend as many of the ladies’ functions as I’d like. With my husband’s mother in our home, I already leave him to take care of her alone most Sunday nights, and I just don’t feel right doing that much more than I already do, plus his work often keeps him from coming home in time for me to go anywhere. I do interact with her caregiver, the hospice nurse, etc., and try to remember to be an encouragement even there. And I admit, it’s cozy staying home on a cold dark night rather than driving a ways and spending an evening elsewhere. But I do strongly believe in women’s ministries and hope to participate in them more in the future. I encourage women to look past their differences and find ways to learn from each other and love each other and encourage each other in the Lord.

See also:

Mentoring Women
Church Ladies’ Groups
Why Older Women Don’t Serve
How Older Women Can Serve
I’m An Older Woman…So Now What?
How Not to Become an Old Biddy
The Quiet Person in the Small Group

(Sharing with Inspire Me Mondays, Testimony Tuesday, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Wise Woman, Thought-provoking Thursday)

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