by Canon Mark A. Pearson
The Best of Times and the Worst of Times
“Well, it was the best of times and the worst of times,” Pam said.
No, the occasion of her saying this wasn’t a recital of opening lines of books by Charles Dickens. [The quote, of course, is the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities (1859).]
Pam was answering a question I posed: “You’ve been serving as an apprentice on our Friday Evening Healing Service ministry team for a year now. How would you describe your experience?”
When she gave her answer I was intrigued. Why would she say that?
“Like you had taught us, we would sometimes see ourselves in the lives of people with whom we were praying,” she said. “What they told us would sometimes trigger things in us, and sometimes that would be negative. Things from the past did come up in me and working through it was ‘the worst of times.’ But in most cases the things were taken care of and I have a freedom I haven’t enjoyed in years. Because of this, I’m now in ‘the best of times.’”
“So it was worth it?” I queried.
“Oh, yeah!” she replied.
This is a Lesson for All of Us
While Pam was describing her experience of serving on a church-based ministry team, this principle of seeing ourselves in those we are attempting to help applies to any of us in the service of others. If we ignore this truth we may be robbing ourselves of a God-given opportunity to get rid of inner hurts which harm ourselves, and through us, others. Difficult as this process might be, remember, God’s desire in this is to help, not hurt us. Done with His grace, the help of others and our own diligence, we will be able to say, with Pam, that life has now become “the best of times.”
There are, I believe, at least three ways our encounters with others can trigger things in us.
First: Life’s Difficult Questions
When someone asks us a tough question about God and His world we may not know what to say. In some cases, we have heard this question before or raised it in ourselves and sense the answer would be painful. So we have conveniently been ignoring the matter. But now, someone, often with some emotion, has posed the question directly to us. How will we respond?
If we don’t know the answer, we’re tempted to mumble some shallow platitude. This does not satisfy the questioner either intellectually or emotionally. It often makes it appear that Christianity is intellectually shallow with nothing to say to the real hard questions of life.
Or, we could say, “I don’t know.” Honest, but not helpful.
The best reply, of course, is, “I don’t know, but I will find out and get back to you with the answer.”
How we get the answer is crucial. The questions we’re likely to be asked have been asked repeatedly through the centuries and wise Christian leaders have given answers that are biblically faithful and pastorally helpful. Do your homework. Consult this wisdom. Don’t just grab a few Bible verses as your answer.
The #1 question people ask is, “Why did God, Who is supposed to be powerful and loving, allow that tragedy to take place?” Often the question is not merely intellectual. The person posing it may have suffered the loss of a loved one. And may be angry at God. You may be troubled over this question yourself.
Second: Their Sin and Yours
A second way in which you may see yourself in a person coming for ministry is in the area of sin. Someone has come to you, feeling guilty for a bad habit, and wants your help in giving that sin over to God for His forgiveness and for help in breaking the habit.
The problem is, that very sin of which she’s repenting is one you not only commit but have no intention of ceasing. What do you say to her?
You could minimize or even deny that what she’s been doing is wrong. In so doing you are, of course, not giving God’s word to her; you are giving something against God’s word to yourself. That’s spiritual malpractice.
You may justify this by saying, “I don’t want to be hypocritical.” That’s an excuse! (Consider preaching. Is the task of the preacher to challenge the listeners merely to the level he’s attained, or is his job to challenge the listeners and himself to a higher level?)
Instead, you give the Biblical answer that, yes, that particular habit is against God’s will (sin), and that a sincere confession of it with an equally sincere desire to change, demonstrated by appropriate actions, yields divine forgiveness. If she asks you for specific guidance in how to break a bad habit, give godly wisdom and if you don’t have it, go get it.
And then make a mental note that you have to follow the truth you just gave her.
God often likes to send people across our path in the way just outlined to help us recognize and deal with our sin. (Read the story of Nathan and King David in 2 Samuel, chapter 12.) He does so not to rub our noses in our sin but that we may appropriately deal with it, for our sakes as well as His and that of others.
Third: Their Hurts and Yours
A third way in which you may see yourself in a person coming for ministry is in the area of emotional hurt.
Jim was just beginning his apprenticeship on our healing team. The first person coming up for prayer was Steve who told us his daughter had drowned in a swimming pool accident five years previously.
He told us, “I didn’t want to do the heavy emotional work of grieving so I bottled myself up under the guise of ‘wanting to be strong for my family.’ Repressing my feelings has been tearing me up and hurting my family. I have to start grieving. Please help me.” He started to sob.
Jim, our apprentice, started crying. He had lost a son in a car crash four years previously and had similarly bottled up his emotions. Steve’s comment and sobbing broke, as it were, Jim’s bottle.
We postponed the start of Jim’s apprenticeship so we could adequately help Jim with his need to go through the grieving process. Jim later told us had it not been for Steve coming up for prayer, he would have continued to avoid grieving, and “eventually it would have really taken a toll on me and my loved ones.”
“It was painful to be thrown suddenly into that situation,” Jim said several months later, “but I’m glad it happened. It was difficult but I’m better for it.”
Like that other apprentice Pam had said, “Well, it was the best of times and the worst of times.”
If you minister to others please be aware of the dynamics of seeing yourself in some of the people whom you seek to help and then be ready for what happens next.” +