Through the years, I’ve found myself eager to speak with one particular lady at church. We’ll call her Mrs. Care so as not to embarrass her. I do not talk to her every service, but I enjoy it when I have the opportunity. Our conversations are often refreshing and encouraging. I’ve always felt like I could talk to her about anything. Though I consider her to be a friend and mentor, it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I really discovered why I loved our conversations so much. It has since taught me so much about ministering to others in the local church. The reason I was willing to talk to and open up to her was because she genuinely…wait for it…Cared. About. ME.
There are very few people in my life that I have been willing to really open up to, and she’s one of them. I’ve gone to her and her husband for counsel during some of my life’s deepest valleys and most soul-wearying heartaches. Those heartaches are known fully by only a few people on earth, but Mrs. Care is one of them. That’s due to the fact that she’s consistently cared for me through the years.
Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care. —Teddy Roosevelt
As time has passed, I’ve learned to turn the tables. I now try to ask her about her life, her prayer requests, and her burdens. Turns out, she’s human and has a need to be cared for just like myself and the rest of the congregation. Perhaps to some, all of that might not seem like a big deal. She is a nice lady, so what? But her care didn’t just come naturally. Her care for others was intentional…as in she worked at it, disciplined herself to pursue it, and most importantly, was empowered by the Spirit to do it. God knew people would have a deep need to be cared for and have someone with whom they could share their burdens. That’s one of the reasons He gave us Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
Since my discovery of this whole “caring for other people like the Bible says actually works” thing, I’ve tried to imitate a similar ministry of caring to those with whom I converse. As I’ve set out to display this Christlike care, I’ve discovered it is a bit harder than Mrs. Care makes it look. Again, she was intentional. We could all learn to be a bit more intentional in our caring. Here are some of the principles I’ve seen implemented in her life that convey her care for others. If the tone seems sarcastic or blunt, it’s because I’m preachin’ to myself as much as the rest of you choir members.
That is not a feel good metaphor for quieting our souls. We need to literally close our mouths and let others speak. We love to share about our week and our problems (often not as significant nor as horrid as we make them out to be). Oh, and we are busy. We are SO busy…and that makes us important. Surely no one else could have as many important tasks demanding his time and energy as we do. Venting about this to others will remind them to feel sorry for us or to silently admire how important we are. We’re tired too (because of how busy we are, of course). Sometimes we feel like we need to share everything that’s on our mind with others or at least drop subtle hints.
The fact is, we shouldn’t really come to church with an attitude of self-focus. We shouldn’t unload all of our complaints on others or even drop subtle hints. We actually just need to obey Scripture and “be slow to speak.” And when we do speak, we really only need to use our words sparingly and meaningfully to edify others and point them to Christ (Proverbs 10:19). Studying what God says about our words in Proverbs alone is enough to convict any Christian who is even slightly sensitive to the Spirit.
I used to consider myself a very sociable and open conversationalist. In recent years I’ve come to realize that I was actually just stuck on myself and didn’t mind blabbering on about my life. Gross, I know (gag-worthy even). I’m extremely embarrassed to admit that now. This was perhaps why Mrs. Care’s genuine interest in my life appealed to me so much. I rarely, if ever, sensed her directing the conversation toward herself. When she did talk about herself, it was only to give an example to me of something the Lord used to help her in a similar situation. As I’ve slowly learned (and am still learning) to work intentionally at keeping my mouth shut, I’ve found that others actually have a lot to say.
Perhaps the hardest part about listening to a fellow church member in need is the subconscious realization that nothing they’re saying is about us or affects us. That’s called pride. God hates pride, by the way. It’s a disgusting stench in his nostrils (Prov. 6:16-17). He does not say, “be swift to hear if it’s convenient and there’s something in it for you.” God says, “be swift to hear” (James 1:19). When we think about it, the word swift doesn’t even lend itself towards giving ourselves time to decide whether or not it’s important enough for us to listen to.
Listening gives those who might otherwise be quiet in a conversation a chance to speak and be heard. You’d be surprised at what you might find out about them or the struggles they’re facing.
Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. —Stephen R. Covey*
When we’re genuinely listening to people share what’s on their heart, it will be much easier for us to empathize with them and show compassion. The Holy Spirit is perfectly able give us the right words to say at the right time (Matthew 10:19-20). It’s our job to make sure we’re fully listening before we offer a reply (Prov. 18:13).
Show Interest in Others
This may seem optional, but to show interest in others is to obey our Creator and have the mind of Christ.
Philippians 2:3-5 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…
God knew we needed this reminder to get our focus off of ourselves and onto others. If we deem others superior to us, that means we can no longer be number one. As difficult to digest as this is, placing others above ourselves is one of God’s divine callings for His children. This means we should be actively taking an interest in the lives of our Christian brothers and sisters. These interests ought to be more than a shallow following on social media. As much as time and their willingness to share will allow it, we should be checking in with others about their family, job, burdens, health, etc. When we do this, we are pleasing our Heavenly Father.
When Mrs. Care would ask about my life, she was not doing so just to be nosey. She took interest in my life. In my teen years, she would ask how things were going at home and in school. She’d ask about how I was handling previous struggles. Then, she would encourage me with a truth from God’s Word about how to handle those things. When I would ask her for prayer, she would often send text messages throughout the week to let me know she was praying for me.
We Can’t, But He Can
As amazing as Mrs. Care is, she has not arrived at perfection; She is not on an unreachable, godly pedestal. Thankfully, she does not have a monopoly on God’s empowerment to show compassion and care for others. Each believer has equal opportunity to be a listening ear and a selfless caring soul through the enablement of the Holy Spirit. It’s not enough to tell ourselves that we need to do a better job at these principles. Caring for another human being with a heart as sinful as our own is both unnatural and impossible. We need Jesus’ divine humility. No matter how hard we try, failure to care for others will be a daily occurrence without the reminder of Jesus selfless humility in caring for us enough to come to earth and die. When Christ and His cross is truly our focus, our care for others will be evident.
Philippians 2:5-8 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
*The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change