Ministering to the Hurting
By Kay Harms
As I glanced over the congregation, I was thrilled to see Michelle sitting in her regular pew. She had been through another tough week and I knew she was doing well just to be in church. I had counseled her over the phone on Tuesday, prayed for her throughout the week, and called her on Saturday to see how she was doing.
“Well, I’m still not doing well,” she had said in a rather quiet and pathetic voice. “I’m just not able to get on top of things.”
I didn’t know whether she meant she was still drinking, or experiencing withdrawal symptoms, or simply feeling depressed and lonely.
“Michelle, have you been drinking since Tuesday?”
“No,” she said firmly.
“Did you call your mentor like we talked about?”
“No,” she said again, less enthusiastically. Oh well, one out of two isn’t bad.
Our conversation ended with me praying for her and with Michelle promising to call the sobriety mentor right away. I could only hope she would follow through.
At the close of the worship service, I made my way to Michelle. I could tell she had been crying. We talked briefly, I squeezed her hand, and I told her I loved her. I walked away wishing I could do more for this fragile woman, but knowing I had done all I could for the moment.
Perhaps you know someone like my friend Michelle. Maybe you have even struggled as I have with wanting to fix her problems, but knowing you can’t.
As a ministry leader, I encounter women like Michelle all too often. Their stories and struggles affect me deeply. Their long string of problems perplexes me. Their weaknesses frustrate me. Often I feel like throwing up my hands in surrender and dismissing these fragile and complex women. I certainly am not a trained counselor and their pains seem far beyond the reach of my comfort. In truth, I probably have taken the escape route once or twice when confronted by these hurting, desperate souls. And yet, God continues to bring them across my path.
Those of us privileged to minister to women should not be surprised that some women require a little more attention, prayer, and persistence than others. In 2 Timothy 3:1-7, Paul explains the characteristics of both men and women that will be prevalent in these last days. Specifically, he describes “weak women” and some of their greatest challenges. From this passage we can gain several helpful principles for helping the weak women in our sphere of influence.
It’s Not Easy
The first principle is simply that those who most desperately need the healing power of God are often the hardest to reach. Paul tells Timothy in verse 1, “Realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come.” He is warning Timothy, and all those who follow him in ministry, that reaching people, confronting them with truth, and discipling them will get harder and harder. Why? Because the sinful nature of people will worsen.
One thing I have finally begun to grasp in working with weak women is the simple challenge of keeping my jaw from dropping as they tell me their stories. Can you relate?
In 2 Timothy 3:2-5 Paul presents a rather scary list of unwholesome characteristics that indeed describe a growing number of people in our world. But even carefully studying this collection of ills does not prepare you for the stories you will certainly hear when ministering to women who are down and out.
No need to give you examples; I’m sure you’ve heard enough sordid, baffling, complicated, and sad stories to keep you scratching your head in bewilderment. The bottom line is that ministering to people is messy. Prepare to get your hands dirty.
Paul describes the weak women in 2 Timothy 3:6 as “weighed down with sins.” We all sin, but those who have accepted Christ as Savior have experienced the rolling away of the burden of sin. It no longer weighs us down.
I have found in almost every circumstance that women who are spiritually weak are struggling under the weight of sin. In ministering to such women, my first goal is to find out 1) if they are living in sin, 2) if they have asked Christ into their lives to save them from the penalty and power of sin, 3) if they have unconfessed sin in their lives, or 4) if they are living with guilt over past sins. As ugly as the process may be, a weak woman will never gain strength and vitality without first dealing with the weight of sin.
Don’t be afraid to confront sin in the life of a woman to whom God has called you to minister. Certainly begin prayerfully and humbly. Definitely stay grounded in the truth of God’s Word, steering clear of personal opinion and preference. Absolutely appeal to the woman with love and grace. But don’t shy away from the root issue. Ignoring the burden of sin and trying to alleviate the symptoms instead is like buying bigger clothes because you’ve gained 30 pounds. It’s a completely unsatisfactory approach to a weighty problem.
It’s a Battle
While sometimes the stories and problems of these women amaze me; other times they leave me thinking, “So?” In other words, sometimes a woman will explain her dilemma to me and afterward I don’t see what the big deal is.
But I have to remind myself that Satan, a mastermind of spiritual attack, knows our individual weaknesses and discerns our personal limitations. He knows how to tempt us in the area of our greatest lacking.
When Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:6 that these women are “led on by various impulses,” he infers that the temptations these women face are as diverse as the colors of the rainbow. Regardless of the shade of the temptation, rest assured the allure is strong. Spiritual warfare is tough for the fainthearted. The best thing you can do for a sister caught in the vicious pull of temptation is help her suit up for the battle. Help her nail down her salvation and stand firm in it. Give her scriptures to quench the lies of the enemy. And pray, pray, pray.
If God calls you to minister to a weak woman it is tempting to run the other way. As we’ve already determined, the job is messy, weighty, and tough. Sometimes it requires more from you than you signed up for. Still, it’s important.
Second Timothy 3:7 says these women are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” When I first read this verse I was stumped. Why can’t they grasp the truth? When you back up to verse 6, you find the answer. Ungodly men, masquerading as messengers of truth, enter into these women’s lives, captivate them with worldly philosophy or quick fixes, and lead them astray.
Do you sense the urgency here? If we are not willing to make the necessary sacrifices in order to help establish these women in strong walks of faith, they will continue to be held captive by false teachings and vain philosophies. These women are looking for answers. Sometimes they look in the wrong places. By stepping up and making yourself available, you may help break that cycle.
Because these women have the tendency to be captivated by false teaching, it is all the more important for you to impart truth. Resist the urge to offer quick fixes or Oprah’s latest advice. Women need to be rooted in the Word of God. Help your weaker sister get established in a group Bible study. Teach her how to have a daily quiet time. Make sure she attends a Bible teaching church each week. And ask her what she is learning from God’s Word, keeping her accountable to act upon it.
It’s a Privilege
When God grants you the opportunity to minister to women whose lives resemble a sticky web of past mistakes, poor choices, weak faith, and co-dependencies, He does not expect you to fix them. Don’t try to be their savior; just point them to Him. Offer them His grace, exhibit His love, and point them, gently, to His truth. Count it as a privilege and press on.