Responding When Someone is Hurting

A couple of weeks ago, I arrived at my job and had just clocked in and was walking down a hallway where our first floor offices are located. About halfway down the hall, I looked up and noticed that one of our tool room attendants, a young man in his mid 30’s, was bent over, face down, with his hands on his knees. At first I thought he was sick or had had some kind of dizzy spell. Two other men were already tending to him and thinking they had matters well in hand, I was about to walk on by and go to my work area. That’s when the young man stood upright and I noticed the tears streaming down his face. He wasn’t sick. But something was obviously wrong. I stopped at that point to see what was going on.

One of the two who were tending to him asked what was wrong, but he got no answer. He asked again, this time adding, “Whatever it is, give it to God. He can get you through it.”  It was at that point that I realized that Michael and Everett, the two men who had stopped to help, were both Christian brothers even though I had not met either of them prior to that moment. It was evident by the way they showed concern and by the way Everett spoke of God’s power to heal. He would not tell us what was wrong. He said he just wanted to go home. So Michael escorted the young man to his car and we could only assume that he did indeed go home. As of this writing, we still don’t know what happened. We don’t know if he received some sort of bad news that day. The thought occurred to us that he might have suffered some sort of mental breakdown. As Michael and the young man were walking away, I told Everett we needed to pray for him, and we did, right then and there in the hallway. The good news is, he’s back at work, even though he still has not opened up and talked about that incident and what it was that had him so distraught.

But I thought about that for the rest of the day. Something happened to that man that so overwhelmed him, he was to the point of tears. And almost immediately, God surrounded him with three Christian brothers. Only God can arrange something like that. Many times throughout His ministry, Jesus encountered people just like the young man in the hallway at my workplace, people who were distraught, overwhelmed, and had reached the lowest points of their lives. I bet there were a few tears on the face of the Samaritan woman at the well, being the social outcast that she was. Jesus saw her pain and cast aside all the tradition and etiquette and customs of the day to minister to her.

There was the tax collector named Zacchaeus who climbed a tree hoping to catch a glimpse of Jesus as He walked. Tax collectors were despised and viewed as traitors in that society. He knew full well that everyone who knew him hated him, and the pain of all that hatred had to be evident. Jesus didn’t just happen to notice Zacchaeus up in that tree by chance. He knew that man had a need.

There was the crippled man laying near the edge of the pool of  Bethesda waiting for the water to stir so he could crawl into the pool and be healed. Yet for thirty eight years, he had been unable to drag himself into the water. He had to have to looked like someone who was defeated and had lost all hope. Jesus didn’t just happen to stumble upon this person. He knew exactly how long he had been there. He knew how badly the man wanted to be made well. He knew what that man needed to be made well.

There were many others who were blind, lame, demon possessed. There were the lepers who knew they were slowly dying and cried out to Jesus in desperation. Just as desperate, if not more so, were the parents of sick and dying children, or children who were already dead. Even at the cross, there was the thief who cried out to Jesus and his condition was the worst of all, for he was mere hours from being separated from God for all eternity. Not once did Jesus walk on by when He saw someone hurting. He always stopped. He always met their needs, both spiritually and physically. And in many instances, Jesus took notice of people who were hurting even if they weren’t crying out to Him for help.

He not only reacted to the physical and spiritual pain that He saw in others, He also experienced some pain of His own. He endured forty days of fasting in the desert before being tempted by Satan. He mourned the death of His friend Lazarus. He was no doubt troubled by the lack of faith of the Jewish people, and of the people in His own hometown. The scripture says Jesus knew people’s thoughts. And knowing their thoughts, He must have felt the sting of hatred and contempt. When he announced to His disciples that one of them would betray Him, the Bible says He was deeply troubled in spirit. And of course, there was His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane  the night before His death, not to mention everything that took place afterwards. So we don’t have a God who simply knows about our pain. We have a God who experienced it firsthand.

He was never too busy to minister to people, even though there were times when He was quite busy. One time, Jesus was pressing forward through the crowds on His way to the home of a synagogue leader named Jairus whose daughter was dying. A woman in the crowd who had suffered from bleeding for twelve years reached out and touched the hem of His robe, and was healed. He knew someone had touched Him, but He did not chastise the woman or tell her that He was too busy at the moment.. He didn’t tell her He had somewhere else to be. Jesus ministered to her. In fact, his disciples sometimes did try to turn people away, and Jesus scolded them for doing so every time.

I mentioned the thief on the cross earlier. They had both been nailed to a cross and Jesus was in every bit as much pain as the thief who cried out to Him, and probably more so since had been tortured and scourged before being crucified. Yet Jesus responded to the cries of the thief and assured him that on that day, he would be with Jesus in paradise.

Jesus gave us a model to follow when we encounter someone who is hurting. We all have stuff to deal with every day. We get distracted. We get down. We have days when we’re in our own little valleys. We’re not always at our best at times and at other times it seems we’re too busy to notice. To tell the truth, I was not in the best mood that day I met the young man in the hallway with the tears streaming down his face. But that encounter has taught me that as Christians, we can be called to minister to someone in an instant. On that day at that moment, I was being called into service by God. I had things on my mind that I had to set aside for a few moments to answer God’s call. And all I did was offer a few words of hope. And really, that’s all I had to do. Most often, God isn’t looking for us to deliver an eloquent speech or some profound words of wisdom. He’s not asking us to recite a complete chapter from one of the gospels from memory. Usually, He just wants us to show that we care the way Jesus did, and to share a few words of hope, like those Jesus spoke to the thief on the cross. What words those were! With just a few short words, Jesus assured him of eternal life!! When He saw pain, Jesus shared the love of God and that’s really all He’s asking us to do!

The Scattered Sheep

From Mark 14 

 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But Peter said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.

Jesus knew beforehand that the disciples would scatter when He was arrested. The scripture is very clear on that.

After Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven, His closest disciples, who later became known as apostles, were the leaders of the church during its foundational age. But what if they hadn’t scattered? What if they had stood bravely by Jesus’ side that night as they all said they would? They would have certainly been put to death right alongside Jesus. And if that had happened, who would God have used to build His church? Who would have taken the gospel to all the known world? Who would the world changers have been if they had all been as brave as they claimed to be, and had died with Jesus? I’m certain God would have found someone else to do all of that. But He didn’t have to because……..He chose THOSE men. I believe that before the world was created, Jesus knew that those ten men would take off running for their lives on the night of His arrest, and that another would deny Him three times. Do you think God, in His infinite wisdom, knew it was absolutely necessary for them to scatter like sheep? I think the answer to that question is YES! Not only did Jesus know they were going to run, He knew it had to be that way. Those 11 men, along with Mathias and Paul who would come along later, would play vital roles in the growth of the early church, and their impact on the church is still being felt centuries later. I think God chose them not because of their strengths, but because of their weaknesses.

When Paul asked God three times to remove the thorn from his flesh, God answered,  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Yes, Jesus knew the disciples would be weak at the most crucial moment. He knew they would run. But it was all part of God’s plan because God used their weakness and fear that night to preserve and protect them for the greater things He had planned for them in the future. He used their weakness to accomplish His will. Yes, they ran that night and I can’t help but wonder if Satan was gloating as they scattered. But in the decades that followed, I imagine Satan was wishing they would have stood firm. He might have wished they had been as brave as they said they were. He probably wished they had gone to their deaths with our Lord, because the disciples worked fearlessly for the gospel of Jesus Christ for the remainder of their lives.

We all have our weaknesses. And it’s tempting to tell ourselves that God cannot use us because of our flaws and failures and weaknesses. But the Bible says we’re not to think that way. After God refused to remove the thorn, Paul concluded, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Your weaknesses cannot hinder the plan of God for God is stronger than our weakness. (That’s not saying that God will use you if you’re deliberately living in sin. That’s another matter entirely.) But if there is a weakness in any area of your life, acknowledge it and give it to God. You’d be surprised how God responds when we admit our flaws and weaknesses. And you might be surprised at how He can use those weaknesses to accomplish His purposes. So pray over it and ask God how He might use you, weaknesses and all. It might be that He’s simply been waiting for you to ask!

All In

From 1 Kings 19 – The call of Elisha

 

So Elijah went and found Elisha son of Shaphat plowing a field. There were twelve teams of oxen in the field, and Elisha was plowing with the twelfth team. Elijah went over to him and threw his cloak across his shoulders and then walked away.  Elisha left the oxen standing there, ran after Elijah, and said to him, “First let me go and kiss my father and mother good-bye, and then I will go with you!”Elijah replied, “Go on back, but think about what I have done to you.”

 

 So Elisha returned to his oxen and slaughtered them. He used the wood from the plow to build a fire to roast their flesh. He passed around the meat to the townspeople, and they all ate. Then he went with Elijah as his assistant.

 

Now that’s commitment! Elisha could have put the oxen in a pen or turned them out into a pasture, and he could have put the plow in storage somewhere, you know, JUST IN CASE this business of being a prophet for God didn’t work out. That way, he would have a back-up plan,  a “plan B” if you will. He could have left himself with a way out if at some point in the future he decided that being a prophet just wasn’t working for him. But that wasn’t what Elisha did. When he answered the call and decided to follow God, Elisha went all in. He destroyed the means by which he had made his living prior to his calling. He burned the plow and cooked the cow. There was no turning back.

 

When we became Christians, our desire to follow Christ should have been no less than Elisha’s desire to serve God for the job he was called to do. But a couple of years ago, God revealed another application for this passage of scripture. It has to do with the way we approach God in prayer.

 

My son started a new job with the phone company back in 2013. Shortly after being hired, he had to through mandatory training, much of which was pass or fail. Standards for new hires are very strict at this company. Failing meant going home and looking for a new job.

 

He called me one Wednesday afternoon during one crucial portion of his training and told me things hadn’t gone very well that day. There was no doubt he had ability to do the job. Like all of us when we first started in our professions, he just needed experience. But there were some things that weren’t going as well as he would have liked. As his dad, I want him to succeed. He has a family and he needed that job. I was as nervous and concerned as he was,  so after talking him off the ledge, so to speak, I brought his situation before the Lord in prayer. And as soon as I started to pray, that passage from 1 Kings came to mind. I heard someone talk about that passage earlier that week and I couldn’t get it out of my mind as I prayed. The more I prayed for my son, the more I began to get a clear picture of the need to be totally committed to this prayer need of his. Like Elisha, I knew I had to be all in.

 

Let me explain what that means: I could have prayed and said to God, “Lord, JUST IN CASE he doesn’t pass the final exam on Friday, please have another job ready for him. I could have said, “God, please give him a plan B to fall back on, you know, JUST IN CASE.” But I resisted the urge to pray that prayer because I felt that nothing less than a total commitment to his need was what was I needed to pray for. Asking God for a plan B, ‘JUST IN CASE,’ would have been like telling God, “Lord, I don’t really think You have the power to help my son pass this test so he can keep his job.” It would have been nothing less than doubting the power of Almighty God. James said in his epistle that a man who doubts is like a wave of the sea, being blown and tossed by the wind.

 

Just as Elisha didn’t leave himself a way out, a plan B, or a ‘JUST IN CASE’, God impressed it upon me not to ask this for my son. So I just asked God to guide him and walk with through the final exam so he could keep his job.

 

When we pray, we should always seek the will of God in the matter we’re bringing before Him. But this experience taught me that there are also times when we need to go to the Lord in prayer with an all-in, 100% commitment to our prayer need, a commitment just like Elisha’s that says to God, “There’s no turning back!” . It’s the sort of commitment that demonstrates our total trust and faith in God. Of course God might say ‘No’. I don’t mean to say that we should ever make demands of God. I’m simply saying that when we bring prayer needs to God, there are certain times when we need to pray specifically for that need…..and not waver in our faith by asking God for a backup plan, JUST IN CASE! There are times when we need to demonstrate to God that there is no doubt whatsoever in our hearts, and that whatever we ask for in prayer, we believe we have already received it! Like Elisha, I think that is the kind of faith that gets God’s attention!

 

By the way, my son passed his tests! He’s going on his third year with that company!

 

All in for Christ!

A Difficult Teaching, from John chapter 6

The day after the feeding of the 5000, Jesus and his disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee and went over to Capernaum. When the people whom Jesus had fed the day before realized He was gone, many of them went to Capernaum to look for Him. When they found Him, Jesus perceived that the only reason they came looking for Him was because of what He had done the previous day. They weren’t looking for the spiritual nourishment that Jesus offered. They were simply hoping for another easy meal to fill their stomachs. Jesus told them as much when He said to them, “You are seeking me, not because of the signs I performed, but because you ate your fill.” Then He went on to say, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.”

In turn, they asked Jesus, “What must we do to do the work that God requires?” Notice that they began that question with the words, “What must we do?” They were quite serious in this inquiry. They weren’t being contentious with Christ, not at this moment. They had been brought up in a legalistic system that taught them that salvation depended on good works, so it would have been a perfectly normal question for them to ask.

Jesus answered them, “The work of God is this: To believe in the One He sent.” That’s from John chapter 6 and verse 29. In the conversation that followed, those were the most important words that were spoken. We’ll soon see why.

Judging from their response, they were caught off guard by that answer… to believe in the One He sent. Believe? That’s all? No way. There must be more to it than that! Jesus, you want us to believe…..in you? Then give us a sign! What will you do? Again, they weren’t being contentious. Jesus was introducing an entirely new teaching. He wasn’t handing down more laws. He wasn’t telling them that they had to do anything, except believe. And so, they wanted to see His credentials. They wanted a sign. Even though Jesus had fed thousands the day before with just a couple of fish and a few pieces of bread, they wanted a sign.

Still, it was not an unreasonable request. Prophets in past times had performed signs and miracles, all by the power of God of course. But the prophets of old were merely messengers of God, not the Son of God, and these people were struggling to understand that Jesus wasn’t just another prophet. To make their case, they pointed out the miracle of the manna that came from Heaven when their ancestors wandered in the wilderness for 40 years during the times of Moses. It seems as though they were saying to Jesus, “Moses gave us a sign; the manna. What sign will you give?” So Jesus responded, Truly truly I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from Heaven, but my Father gives the true bread from Heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from Heaven and gives life to the world.

“Sir, give us this bread always!” they replied. They didn’t understand that Jesus was talking about Himself. This conversation took place not long after Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. When Jesus spoke to her about “living water”, she asked Him to give her this living water so she wouldn’t have to keep coming back to the well, lugging those heavy water jugs. Just as the woman at the well assumed Jesus was talking about water in liquid form, these people thought Jesus was talking about bread that’s eaten at the dinner table. So He tried to make it a little clearer for them. He said, I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me shall never hunger. Whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

It was at this point that the conversation did start to become contentious. Unlike the woman at the well who came to believe in Christ when she realized that the ‘living water’ was none other than Jesus Himself, this group of people began to grumble when Jesus called Himself the bread of life. That was when they started questioning the claims He made about Himself. “Is this not Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from Heaven?'” And as if telling them He was the bread of life wasn’t enough to make them grumble, what Jesus said next sent shock waves through the crowd.

After twice explaining to them that He’s the bread of life that came down from Heaven, Jesus said, “Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Right then and there, Jesus told the crowd that He was going to give his life for the world and He had already explained what it meant. In verse 29 we saw where He told them, “All you have to do is believe.” And here he goes just a little further. In so many words He said to them, “Believe in me, and in the sacrifice I’m going to make on your behalf.” The only problem was, it went right over their heads.

Yet Jesus continued to teach along that same line. He said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, there is no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day”. That sent them into a frenzy. They grumbled even more because now Jesus was talking about cannibalism. Eat his flesh? Drink His blood? They did not understand that Jesus was speaking figuratively when he said “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my bold has eternal life….”Because they were spiritually blind, they took Him literally like Nicodemus did (at first) when Jesus told Him that we have to be born again. Jesus told these people no less than four times in that discourse that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life, and he was using this teaching to show them that believing in Him also includes believing that the sacrifice of His body and blood secures eternal life for believers. Yet they failed to understand any of it. He was telling them to eat of His body and drink of His blood, not as one devours food and drink, but as one is nourished by them.

They had the same problem many people still have today. Many people believe Jesus was a real person who lived and taught the things of God. There are a lot of people who say Jesus was a good person and a good teacher. But they stop short when it comes to believing that the body and blood of Jesus Christ were given as payment for our sins. They just cannot make themselves believe Jesus gave His life for us. They cannot or will not believe that the life of Jesus Christ is sufficient payment for all the sins of the world, past, present, and future for anyone who believes in Him.

Jesus was very real to these people. He was standing right in front of them speaking to them. But many deserted Jesus that day because they said His was a hard teaching. It’s still hard for many people in our time. If they had humbled themselves and truly sought the heart of God, Jesus would have explained all of this to them in much simpler terms as He often did when He explained His parables to the disciples. Not long after this, Jesus began to teach his disciples that He must be arrested, that He must suffer, and then be put to death. Had those people stuck around, they would have heard all that and would have eventually understood, as did the disciples, what Jesus meant when He told them that He was the bread of life.

It’s not a hard teaching at all, really. It’s actually very simple. Believe in God’s Son and all that’s written about Him. When we accepted Jesus, we also accepted His sacrifice on the cross and all it stands for. It’s only hard for those whose hearts are hard because so there are so many who refuse to believe that salvation could possibly be so simple. Just believe. Yes. It is that simple.

Lord, so many hearts are hardened to your truth. Perhaps it’s because of sin in their lives, skepticism, cynicism, doubt, stubbornness, or some form of spiritual blindness that keeps them from seeing the truth. God, they are our neighbors, co-workers, family members, and even members of your churches throughout the world. Father it’s our prayer that you will use us and our faith to soften their hearts and open their eyes to the truth of the gospel. Let us be ready to respond when we’re called to share our faith and help us live our lives in such a way that it will cause them to seek you and give them the desire to know you. Help them see Christ in us. Amen.