Helping Hurting People

By Paul V. Harrison

We live in an age burdened by emptiness. Modern day man tires himself out with the trivial, all the while wondering why he is so weary with life. Even Christians sometimes suffer from purposelessness and boredom.

Jesus addressed this problem with a divine paradox: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. . . .” The way to rest, Christ said, is to work. The way to fill a life with purpose is to pour it out for others. But just how are we to launch out on these missions of mercy?

Recognize Their Pain

The first step in helping others is to recognize their pain. Our non- Christian friends may present themselves as trouble-free, but we must remember that “the way of the transgressor is hard.”

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Many a pumped-up exterior only conceals a shriveled spirit.

In fact, those with the highest of attainments often plunge to the lowest of despair. Boris Becker, in spite of world-wide fame as a tennis star, nearly took his life. He confessed:

“I had won Wimbledon twice before, once as the youngest player. I was rich. I had all the material possessions I needed: money, cars, women, everything. . . . I know this is a cliché. It’s the old song of the movie and pop stars who commit suicide. They have everything, and yet they are so unhappy. . . . I had no inner peace. I was a puppet on a string.”

We must recognize the pain that inevitably makes its way into the heart of every unbeliever.

Hurting, of course, is not limited to those outside the church’s walls. Sin with its resultant suffering creeps into every life. Every Sunday our pulpits and pews are occupied by bruised if not crushed spirits. Death or disease has struck the family of one. Divorce threatens another. A rebellious child breaks the heart of yet another. Simply put, life is hard.  Satan has left no one’s soul free of his claw marks, and the first step toward helping is to realize the presence of this pain.

Relieve Their Suffering

To recognize suffering, however, is not to relieve it. A physician must do more than identify illness; he must cure it. And this is precisely where Christianity flexes its muscles for all to see, for Jesus is the Great Physician.

We can point the grieving spouse to One who conquered death. We can direct the disintegrating husband- wife team to the One who created and can re-create the family. Far from powerless, the Christian is able to introduce the one who hurts to the One who heals.

We must be careful, however, not to merely say, “Be warmed and filled.” The bridge that connects the hurting with the Healer is made up of human flesh-ours. This, of course, means we must be committed, for bridges are walked upon, they get dirty, they strain under the load they carry.

I think of the Reformed ministers of London in the 1660’s. They had been ousted from their pulpits by law and replaced with hirelings. But when the Great Plague entered the city in 1665, the preachers-for-hire made a hasty exit, leaving their diseased and dying people without pastors to provide spiritual counsel.

So what would the Reformed preachers do? Since they no longer had any formal responsibility, would they too leave town to avoid the plague? The St. Giles Cripplegate burial register for just September of that year provides their answer:

September 6      John Askew, minister, plague

September 15   Samuel Skelton, minister, plague

September 16   Abraham Jennaway minister, plague

September 28   Henry Marley, minister, plague

September 30   John Wall, minister, plague.

For these noble men as for their Lord, helping was spelled D-E-A-T-H. It cost their all. Let me ask you, would your commitment to serve God and help others lead you to stand in harm’s way?

While the selfless example of these ministers inspires us, it’s amazing how much God can do with just our little offerings. Little is much when God is in it.

For example, I’ll never forget the help my family received when serious illness visited our home. When I was fresh from graduation and just one month into pastoring, my wife was stricken with systemic lupus, a serious and debilitating disease. Six times during that first year of ministry she was hospitalized. Our family stretched to the breaking point. But it’s amazing how God used His people to strengthen us.

In the midst of one of Diane’s hospital stays our song leader simply hugged me and said: “This too will pass.” I don’t know how to explain it, but that hug injected my soul with much needed strength.

Another day, a little curly-headed five-year-old boy showed his concern by saying: “I’m sorry your mama’s sick.” The little fellow couldn’t spell compassion but he surely could show it, and God used it. And in a hundred other ways, God took the expressions of love by His people and transformed them into a mighty healing instrument.

So are you struggling to find fulfillment in life? Try enlisting in the Lord’s work of helping hurting people. They are all around you, and God would love nothing more than to make you a bridge of mercy by which the hurting might cross over to the healer.

Article adapted from Contactmagazine, November 1994.