Building Christian Community
By Shelly Esser
Not long ago several area churches ran this plea for help in their bulletins: “A woman who is unable to drive needs help with occasional transportation.” The announcement received exposure to thousands of people. Not one person responded.
When I heard about this, I couldn’t believe it! Immediately I started thinking, “What is wrong with people that they can’t take a few moments out of their schedules to drive a needy person around?” That’s when the Holy Spirit gently shouted, “What about you? What are you going to do about it?” I knew I couldn’t pick the speck out of my brother’s eye without taking the plank out of my own. So I picked up the phone and made arrangements to help the woman with rides.
For the past year, I have had the privilege of caring for the “less fortunate” that Jesus so often talked about. And do you know what? My family and I have actually been the recipients of the greatest blessings. To our surprise, the woman who needed a ride has become a family friend, joining us for holidays and even babysitting for our children!
This situation illustrates the reality that many of us have become so over-programmed and over-scheduled that we don’t have the time to take care of those around us. We often don’t have time to give the thirsty a cup of water or the hurting an embrace of compassion. Jesus, too, led a busy life, but He never lost sight of the individual. Amidst His ministry and the crowds, Jesus always saw individuals, and He had compassion on them (Matt. 20:34). He took the time to care, and His day was full of holy interruptions that changed the face of eternity.
Whether we realize it or not, there are people all around us who are suffering alone, who need just one person to care. I was sobered by an account in Cries of the Heart by Ravi Zacharias about a terrible incident that took place in New York City some years ago. “The indescribable events that had befallen a young woman’s life are too heartrending to repeat. Feeling the silent pain of a whole city, a state senator agonized, ‘How can so much go wrong in one life and nobody be aware of it?’ After days of pondering that obvious question, a city councilman gave the only plausible answer. He said, ‘Life is too busy and complicated for me to hear the cry of every person in my community. As a matter of fact, I struggle to find time to even hear the cries of my own family...’ If the cries of the heart in any community were to be cumulatively sounded, the noise would be deafening.”
In the middle of the noise of our lives, we often miss the cries of those around us, those right under our noses. Many slip by quietly alone in their pain, without the message of hope the gospel brings while we busily go about our business. By leading such busy lives, we lose the ability to care, hurt deeply for others, and give ourselves away. There’s no time to make a meal for a new mom, sit with a friend in a cold courtroom as she helplessly watches her husband divorce her, hear the cries of a troubled teenager, or give a ride to a woman who can’t drive.
Sooner or later, each of us is going to be “on the stretcher” and in need of help from someone who cares. Perhaps caring is difficult because it is often uncomfortable, inconvenient, draining, demanding, ill-timed, costly, and unrecognized! So how do we become women who care? God has shown me five ways.
1. Give your life some slack.
Over-programmed and highly scheduled lives leave little time for the unexpected. If every minute of the day and week is packed full, you won’t have time for a needy friend or the untimely crises that often arise.
2. Recognize that God has assigned you people to care for.
These could be people you know - family and friends - or complete strangers. I’m not suggesting that we must meet every need, Jesus didn’t. But God has exclusively assigned to us people whom we are to care for. Ask Him to help you keep your eyes open for them. The problem for many of us is we’re too busy to look, and to look away is to grieve the Holy Spirit.
3. Be honest with God about not wanting to take the time to actively care for others.
I have seen many friends in desperate situations told, “I will pray for you.” While prayer is powerful and should always be a part of genuine caring, for many of us prayer is not enough. We cannot excuse ourselves from caring by thinking all we have to do is pray when it is in our ability to do more. 1 John 3:18 says, “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” Our faith needs to take action when it comes to caring. An anonymous author sums this up well: “I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me. You seem so holy; so close to God; But I’m still very hungry, and lonely, and cold...” Christian caring is love in action, and demands that we roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty. Jesus, after all, emptied Himself of all comfort, allowing His body to be dirtied - soiled with blood and our sin - when He was crucified because He cared about us.
4. Recognize the selfishness of your own heart, and ask God to change you.
In many ways our busyness, if we look long enough, reveals our own selfishness. We can easily develop a “selective caring” mentality: “As long as it doesn’t cost much or intrude on my ‘ministry time,’ I will care.” The longer we serve Christ, the easier it is to develop spiritual and ministry-related selfishness manifested in only doing those things that qualify as our “passion.” As Christians, all mankind should be our “passion” just as it was Christ’s. Christ said the greatest demonstration of love is to give up one’s life. I know I need to do a lot more dying to self if I’m going to genuinely love my “neighbors,” revolutionize this world for Christ, and be marked with the kind of love that isn’t too busy to care for the people Christ died for.
5. View caring as a lifestyle, not an activity.
I had the privilege of growing up in a family and circle of friends that consistently modeled a caring lifestyle. There was always room for one more at the dinner table, on family vacations and holidays, or “on the way” to whatever we were doing. Although my parents were incredibly busy, they were never too busy to care for others. Our home was characterized by inclusiveness - all were welcome at any time, strangers and friends alike. I observed early on that caring is not another activity we do, it’s a lifestyle.
God calls us to genuinely care for those people He has personally assigned to us. Someday when we get to Heaven and see Him face to face, He’ll say, “You were such a help to me.”
“I was, Lord, when?” we’ll reply.
And He’ll answer, “When you took care of that single mom, when you gave that stranger a ride, when you sat by your sister in the hospital, and when you stopped ‘on your way’ to that speaking engagement to visit a dying woman.”
“You saw that?”
“Yes, I sure did because everything you did was in full view of Heaven. And when you genuinely cared for the people I assigned to you, you were caring for Me.”