Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Caring Ministry

Sometimes God's people are not as sensitive and caring as they should be toward hurting persons.

Just ask Hannah, in I Samuel 1.

This Old Testament woman was sad and depressed because of the rivaling presence in her home of her husband's other wife, Peninah. Her real pain and disappointment, though, resulted from the fact that she was childless. In her grief and tears she went to the Tabernacle one day to pray. There Eli the priest observed her passionate pleas and drew the conclusion that she was drunk. He scolded her.

Later the man of God saw his error and changed his approach, but he almost missed a chance to be a help and blessing to a burdened individual.

Why was this spiritual leader initially so out of touch, and why did he choose a ministry plan that was cold and condemning instead of listening with grace and compassion and then reaching out with beneficial resources? We can only speculate.

Maybe he was so immersed in Tabernacle culture that he had lost the ability to understand the needs of everyday people. This Jewish center of religious life was his job and his world. It is just as possible for Christians today to be insulated from the struggles and heartaches of our surrounding communities. We have our Christian friends and beliefs and lingo and activities, and tend to forget what it's like for those outside the bubble. We get a fortress mentality.

Or maybe Eli's problem was that he was looking at this troubled woman through the lens of his personal issues. We learn that his own family was dysfunctional. His sons, themselves priests, were greedy and cynical and immoral and gluttonous and perhaps drunkards. He couldn't do anything with them. This lady's animated pleadings may have triggered feelings of guilt or anger or frustration that blinded him to her real need. Psychologists tell us that sometimes we unconsciously project onto others those parts of us that we do not like. It's difficult, then, to genuinely relate with interest and care to the actual concerns that are presented.

It could've been burnout. You can't give out and give out and serve, serve, serve without taking some time for yourself. Stress and overwork can destroy your ministry, whether you're a pastor or a layperson. You've got to have rest and diversion and inner refueling. It might be that Eli had lost his passion and just couldn't accept it in her.

Obviously he didn't discern what was happening in her heart since he just made a snap judgement based on her actions. We're good at that, too. Maybe the "worship wars" in our churches would end if we stopped looking at styles and started focusing on hearts. Maybe if we remembered that everybody is wrestling with something we'd be more patient with one another. Just about anyone you meet is struggling with some private grief or hurt or pain.

I'm so glad that Jesus didn't minister like Eli did. More and more we should learn to try to help people like our Lord must have.