One of the difficulties in trying to be helpful to others lies in the complexity of our motives.
We genuinely desire to help people. Often, however, we want our help to produce changes for the better in the people being helped. On a national level this is seen in our policies towards developing nations. We are very generous in our giving to help the needy. We also want to control the way our aid is used to make sure “change” is taking place. This is especially true when the giving is done through government, but it is often woven into the warp and woof of all the humanitarian efforts of even the most dedicated followers of Jesus Christ.
“I am by nature a ‘nurturer,’ who always wants to fix things for people. However, in many situations, choosing to set aside the uneasiness of the moment to sit in silence with the person is the only option for a caring response.” ~Befriending Death by Michelle O’Rourke
“Care is something other than cure. Cure means ‘change.’ A doctor, a lawyer, a minister, a social worker –they all want to use their professional skills to bring about changes in people’s lives. They get paid for whatever kind of cure they can bring about. But cure, desirable as it may be, can easily become violent, manipulative, and even destructive if it does not grow out of care. Care is being with, crying out with, suffering with, and feeling with. Care is compassion. When care is our first concern, cure can be received as a gift. Often, we are not able to cure, but we are always able to care.” ~Bread for the Journey by Henri J.W. Nouwen
“Giving, caring, concern, and love – no matter to whom we direct them – have to spring from Christ’s presence within us; otherwise we care because of the neurotic need to be needed, or a desire to be important to someone, or the longing to win approval.” ~Two Faces of Caring, Kristen Johnson Ingram
Care is our work and cure is God’s. When we try to do God’s work we fail because we do not have God’s power and we leave undone the part we are to do. A clearer delineation between what God is to do and what we are to do releases us from the false guilt that is often present when we are unable to “fix” all the woes of the world. Michael Downey writes:
“Perhaps the greatest act of freedom is not one of doing something to better the lives of those we love. The greatest act of freedom is to consent to the Kenosis to which we are called when nothing we can do makes any difference. We must allow those we love to live and to die in ways that we would rather them not, and also be willing to bear the consequences. Only the enduring bond of love, which can never be severed, allows us to let them go their own way.” Care-Fully Letting Be by Michael Downey
If we accept that “cure” is in God’s hands, we are able to give ourselves fully to care for people to whom the Lord directs us, even when we have no solutions to their problems. When we know what we are to do, and what God is to do, we can offer care without being fearful of being drawn into a bottomless pit of human need.
When we care for people in a Biblical way the process is of greater concern than the result. Our society is dominated by “bottom line” thinking but God values a life that is lived in the small steps that cover a lifetime and leads to forever.
It is important to concentrate on the process for another reason. Most of the time the “cure” is slow in coming. If we are preoccupied with the “cure” we miss the blessing from the suffering. For in the process of suffering and healing we learn the most from the Lord – not at the time when the problem is solved.
And God uses our individual problems to knit the Body together in love for each other. An obsession with “cure” produces the opposite result. It makes people feel they are a problem to be solved rather than a person who is being loved with the compassion of Christ. To know the love of caring people brings strength to all of us.
Scripture that help us think about this subject
Read: Colossians 3:12,13
Care for others begins with my own experience of being cared for by God. I am a chosen person and by God’s grace I am holy and I am dearly loved by God. When I know this down deep then I can take on God’s character and am able to be compassionate, kind, gentle and patient with the people He brings into my life. I can even put up with their negative responses and forgive them for treating me badly.
Read: Hebrews 3:12,13
The primary purpose in encouraging each other is so that none of us gets trapped in sin and walks away from the Lord. I need this daily and my friends need this daily because to stay in sin lets us get hard hearts and then we are unresponsive to the promptings of the Spirit or the love of our companions. I recall that the word “cherish” in cherish one another means “to soften”. So, my encouragement of others is to be done in a way that they feel cherished by me rather than judged or spoken to harshly.
Read: 2 Corinthians 7:6,7
There is an upward spiral to caring for others. In this case, Paul cared about the believers in Corinth so he sent Titus who comforted them (comfort is parakaleo and it means to speak while walking alongside of someone.) They responded and gave comfort to Titus. He returned to Paul and the good report was a comfort to Paul. And it all is from “God, who comforts the downcast.” From time to time when I am feeling low a sure way to get out of negative thinking is to go be with someone who needs my expression of love for them. It releases the flow of love and comfort into all the relationships.
Read: Isaiah 58:6,7
Even though God is the one who gives cure there are lots of things I can do of a practical nature that brings comfort and care along the way. I am to help people who are caught by injustice or who are oppressed. I am to give food, clothing and shelter to those who need it and I am to care for my family. One of the great things about being involved in Africa is that we get opportunities almost daily to do one of these things. Usually I respond as the Spirit directs. I want to be sensitive to His leading in this kind of care for others.
Read: Acts 20:31,32
Paul spent three years in Ephesus and one of the ways he cared for them was to warn them against the attacks of the enemy on a consistent basis. Now he was leaving to see them no more and his way of continuing care was to put them in God’s hands and to encourage them to rely on the Word. Henri Nouwen writes about “the blessing of absence.” Jesus told the Twelve that it would be better for him to go away because something better would happen – his indwelling presence through the Spirit. Sometimes the best care I can give someone is to give them to God and to let God bring others or even their own aloneness for something better to come into their lives.
Read: Romans 1:11,12
Paul had a strong desire to be encouraging all believers – he had not even been to Rome when he wrote them this letter. And he realized that encouragement that is from God is mutual. He knew that being with them to encourage them would bring great encouragement to him from them. This has certainly been true for me. I went to Africa to encourage our friends and to be encouraged by them. I always returned more in love with Jesus and more caring about his people in Africa than when I left.