First: Introduction to Serving those with
Chronic Needs in The Church
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Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection:
the fact that you don’t merely suffer
but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer.
I not only live each endless day in grief,
but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.
~C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, p9~
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People often mention how Scripture shows us Jesus loved to be with the marginalized—He is humbly involved in the lives of those whom the mainstream Jewish people wouldn’t really touch (with their prayers, their time, their gifts, or their hands). Do you know what else I find interesting about these marginalized people? Many of them have needs that are chronic, rather than acute—people with paralyzed bodies, withered limbs, leprosy, epilepsy, blindness… we don’t often know how long the people Jesus healed had been suffering with their ailments, but certainly we can deduce that many of these needs would have been chronic and longterm. These people had surely been suffering for a long time.
Matthew 9:20 tells us of the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years before she touched the hem of Christ’s garment, and received healing.
Luke 13:11 tells us of a woman who had suffered severe infirmity for eighteen years before Jesus spoke to her and took her hands, giving her new strength and taking away her infirmity.
John 5:5-6 tells us of the man by Bethesda who had been infirm for thirty-eight years, and Scripture specifically says that Jesus knew the man had suffered in this way for a long time already.
John 9:1, 20 tells us of the man born blind, who was now an adult, and had spent his life unseeing until Jesus entered his life and opened his eyes.
Are we—Christ’s people—moved with compassion for those who are weary and scattered (Matthew 9:36)? Do we have the same humble love for the people in our own local church bodies who are marginalized due to chronic needs? Those who are crippled in body or in spirit? The men, women, and children all around us who suffer diseases or injuries or ailments? People who have visible suffering? What about invisible suffering?
Sometimes suffering is obvious (like someone in a wheelchair because of a disease or injury, or a longterm well-known illness like MS or ALS or cancer), and sometimes it is very hidden (mental illness—including depression—or physical illnesses that take invisible manifestations like fibromyalgia or CFS or autoimmune diseases).
Do we see these needs? And when we see them, how do we serve them? Who is responsible for taking care of which needs? How do we discern between needs and desires? How can we bless our brothers and sisters who suffer long and hard with chronic needs?
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When I am in the cellar of affliction,
I look for the Lord’s choicest wines.
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I have a heart for those who are suffering, and God has put it on my heart recently to pray and research and write for the sake of those with needs due to chronic illness, chronic pain, chronic suffering. I have been writing and conversing with a number of women lately who suffer various forms of chronic pain and chronic illness—seeking to uncover the ways in which they have been richly blessed, and also looking to see the ways in which they would be even more deeply blessed. I have also sought out some pastors on the subject, but unfortunately, they are so busy ministering to their own congregations (which I applaud them for!) that having the time to write out specific thoughts in this way may have been too much to ask—but I did hear briefly from a couple pastors that they acknowledge this area of need, and are thankful that we are going to have this conversation here, so that we can encourage one another on toward further love and good deeds, coming alongside our brethren and our neighbors to see their needs, cover them in our prayers, and seek wisdom on any practical ways our hands can bless.
I have been given my own forms of longterm suffering (both obvious and hidden), but I can only begin to scratch the surface of the depths of suffering that so many go through—so many people I even know personally—on a regular and ongoing basis.
Since this is a subject the Lord has put heavily on my heart lately, I want to honor Him and bless my friends in any way I can on the matter. I think this is an area where churches in general probably have room to grow. And I think both those who have the chronic suffering, and those who minister to them, could always use affirmation, encouragement, and a prodding to keep fighting the good fight.
So, over the course of (probably approximately) a week, we are going to delve specifically into the subject of serving those in the body of Christ around us who have chronic needs. We will be asking some questions to get conversations going & make every single one of us think… we will be asking more than we will answer, for sure… we will be sharing quotes and Scriptures and prayers… and we will hear personally from a handful of people I know who suffer chronically so that we can see their varied perspectives through their own eyes.
As we do this, my prayer is that we would each be encouraged and exhorted by the words of Christ to His disciples, that “Freely [we] have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). Please join in the conversation, please join me in praying for a humble & receptive heart, please share this series with others you know who would be mutually blessed, encouraged, & exhorted by reading along or participating.
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Suffering is God’s gift to make us aware of our contingent existence.
It creates an environment where we see the true nature of our existence—
dependent on the living God.
~Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life, p126~
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~part of our series, Serving Those in The Church with Chronic Needs~
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