This past weekend I took a break from the pulpit as Sandy and I traveled to Mount Vernon, Illinois, to visit our friends Jamie and Tammy Allen. Jamie was my college roommate and is the Senior Pastor of the Central Christian Church in Mount Vernon. We had a great visit and were able to attend church with them for the first time.
A little over a year ago Jamie was diagnosed with prostrate cancer. His subsequent surgery and follow-up could not have gone better. He found out recently, however, that he was going to need to begin several weeks of radiation therapy. His doctor assured him that he was going to continue to have a good outcome from all of this, but the news was difficult to take. So this holiday weekend seemed like the perfect time to just go and be together. And I’m so glad I did. We spent our time talking, laughing, and remembering and I was reminded of the truth that sometimes the most powerful ministry we can be involved in is just being present.
In Galatians 6:2 Paul writes, Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (NIV) That word “burdens” simply refers to the things that sometimes become too much for us to handle on our own.Sometimes the best way to help someone handle the burdens of life is just to let them know that they aren’t alone. Sometimes our presence gives the people we love the strength and resolve they need to face the future.
I remember several years ago when I was ministering in Oklahoma I was particularly burdened by a funeral I was going to lead. A young man who lived next door to his mother and father had taken his life. He had been that son who never seemed to find his way in life and faced one trial after another. This was devastating to his parents, especially his father, who at the time was dealing with his own terminal cancer. I spent a lot of time with them leading up to the funeral and at times the father would just cry uncontrollably and question God about all that had happened. The night before the funeral we had an elders’ meeting at the church, and I shared with those men how difficult this was and how burdened I felt. The next day when I got up to lead the funeral, I looked out at the audience and saw every one of them present. They didn’t know the family, but together they took time away from their work to simply come and be present to let me know I wasn’t alone. That’s something I will never forget.
There are ministry opportunities that take place center stage, in the spotlight for everyone to see. I’m very familiar with those moments.But the visibility of those moments doesn’t necessarily make them the most powerful or important. Sometimes the most significant ministry takes place in the back, in the crowd, and out of the spotlight. And those are moments that all of us can be a part of.