Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” (John 21:16)
I've been rolling around in my head for days which topic to write about. I have warm and fuzzy topics, deep contemplative topics, sarcastic and mildly amusing topics. Today however, I am feeling pretty feisty so I am going to discuss a topic that has been firing me up lately: the modern Christian's concept of service.
When Christians hear of a tragedy or hardship, what is the #1 phrase most often spoken?
"I'll pray for you (or them)."
OK, let me make it abundantly clear: Prayer is awesome, prayer is important, we should all pray. What gripes me however is the tossing around of that cliched phrase with very little thought and absolutely no action. I'd even wager that a large number of people who promise prayers get too distracted to offer them up at all.
When Jesus prayed he took it really seriously. Heck, he even sweat blood at one point. (see Luke 22:44) I've offered up some big, anxiety ridden prayers, but I don't think I've ever come close to getting bloody for my efforts.
What bothers me is that prayer seems to be the stopping point for many Christians. Great, so you have prayed for the homeless, Great Aunt Edna's kidney stones and world peace. You're done, right? You can pat yourself on the back for being a pillar of the modern church and get on with what you were doing. Hold it just a second...
If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:17-18)
But what can I do?
Now let's be realistic. If you see your BFF from middle school asking for prayers for her 3rd cousin's gall bladder surgery on Facebook, am I suggesting you get in the car and drive two states over to deliver a casserole? No, and in that kind of situation a sincere prayer is an appropriate response.
But what about the lady next door whose husband died last year? Do you think she might be struggling to take care of things around her house? Should you just pray that her gutters get supernaturally cleaned out? Or how about the family who is dealing with a special needs infant that requires 24 hour care? Do you think they need real tangible help, or are a few prayers enough?
I think we get so afraid to get involved because we feel that we have nothing to contribute. Wouldn't you agree that we all have at least one gift or talent? Personally, you will never see me volunteer to bring anyone a home cooked meal. Trust me, my cooking is more of a curse than a blessing. Know what your gifts are and aren't and follow your prayers with practical actions.
Can't I just write a check?
Absolutely! There are TONS of great organizations that are financially stretched to the breaking point who would do cartwheels over your donations. (If suddenly you feel like contributing to a worthwhile cause I can clue you in on some wonderful choices.) But how about this? Write a check AND get involved. If you really want to grow your character and compassion get out there and spend some hands on time helping in your community. My advice is to pick a group that would never occur to you to spend time with and then watch how God will blow your mind.
What do you mean they still need help?
Another trend I've noticed is that we all are pretty good about showing up for an emergency. The reality however is that when a person is knocked down by sickness, grief, or economic hardship the need for help lingers. People need your support more after the initial crisis, because all too quickly the crowd of "helpers" vanishes. I'll be honest, though I was extremely touched at the large turnout we had at my son's funeral, I was so out of it I really can only remember maybe half of the people who were there. What I will never forget are the people who called or wrote in the months that followed, or the people who showed their support during that first Christmas eight months later.
Now before I get too comfy on my high horse let me admit that I have been extra guilty of this in the past and will probably be guilty of this in the future as well. It just occurs to me that if we are all trying to be more like Christ then as a whole we could do a little better. Didn't Jesus first pray and then follow with action? I'm thinking he is really hoping that we would do the same.