After three years overseas, a journey back to the United States has been enlightening. From afar the appearance is that the people here are devouring one another with increasing frequency and our arrival two months ago confirmed it. The observations made by our family about the culture here have been vast and we would not have seen them without a temporary removal. With a limited time of ministry available, I want to consider briefly some outside perspective.
If you will permit me to share a bit of my own personal story here, I must admit that our time as foreign missionaries has been a lonely time (1). By the nature of being pioneers to our particular area, there are no other believers aside from our coworkers. Therefore, there is lack of opportunity to form deep relationships founded on core Christian belief, there are few others who can challenge us and keep us accountable, and almost never is anyone pouring into our lives from a spiritual aspect. I share this not to complain, but to share a unique perspective. Since we have been back, our conversations have been deep and meaningful, often times resulting in confession, tears, and the overflow of heartache. Through this, one thing has become clear: people are hurting, intensely. Certainly, a world influenced by sin will create hurt, but while we chose a life of loneliness, those we are ministering to now, exist in a world of professing believers, yet their loneliness in their neediest times is much the same as ours.
The sensitive culture in which we live is not really a sensitive culture. So focused on defending social policies and discrediting sensible people, society’s energy is focused on biting and devouring one another while overlooking those that are hurting. This is a sad state of proceedings not only outside of the church, but inside as well.
It seems that during one’s greatest time of need they are least likely to find the support for that need. As Christians, this should appall us and convict us. For pastors and elders, both the title and nature of their position dictate the activity of shepherding the flock. However, Paul’s exhortation to carry one another’s burdens extend the weight of this task to all believers as part of how we function together within the body of Christ. When people are hurting so intensely, these are opportunities to love one another by showing God’s love and bringing those people (and their hurt) to Christ.
Most of us will admit, more often than not, we are unsure of what it means to carry the burdens of those around us. Sometimes the situation is not something that one can relate to, other times the level of emotions is beyond an individual’s level of comfort, or the level of ministry may simply be beyond a person’s capacity. While understandable, these rationalizations are not permissions to avoid shepherding God’s people God’s way. Therefore, we should minister, and we do so with three attitudes pinned to how we do so:
- From Experience: The Lord has blessed each of us with unique experiences that are part of shaping us in order to reflect the glory of God. Those experiences provide us wisdom to draw upon in order to come alongside those who are hurting.
- From Duty: To some, it may sound unloving to say we minister out of duty. Neither though, should we discount that we have been called to minister to the needs of some by making their burdens our burdens. There is a sense of duty and service that must be noted.
- From Love: Duty, specifically in these cases, is meaningless if not accompanied by love. No other phrase captures this more than 1 John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.”
Such details seem overly simplistic, but there is no other way. People are broken and the only way to minister to their hurt is through a humility that does so from experience (when applicable), from love, and from duty.
There is a great need to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. We live in a broken world which necessitates intense and intentional ministry to those around us. Let us show the love the God by bringing people to him through Christ, who is sufficient for all needs.
(1) We work with another couple, so we are not alone on the field. I would not recommend going to the field without partnering with other missionaries. For us, these coworkers have wisdom, experience, and compassion that we are blessed by on a daily basis. They are incredible people and the Lord uses them to keep us grounded continually. I personally, think very highly of them. Therefore, in discussing the loneliness I do not want to confuse that with being alone on the field (because we aren’t) and I find it important to acknowledge how the Lord has used this couple (both in our lives personally and in ministry for His glory).
Photo by Jilbert Ebrahimi on Unsplash