Way back in the day, Chuck Bolte and the Jeremiah People did a hilarious skit called “The Service” about five people sitting on a church pew waiting for the service to start. There was an older couple, a younger couple who had it all together and knew it, and a young wife who in tears admits that her husband has left her and moved into a hotel.
Out come the clichés. In one place, Chuck who played the younger man, said something like, “You see, Julie, as Christians we’re on God’s winning team. We make our baskets, we sink our putts, we cross the goal line!” Then he asks that penetrating question: “Julie, have you made Christ the center of your marriage.”
“Look,” she says. “I don’t know how to make Christ the center of our marriage. I come here for help and all I get are words… words I’ve said to myself a thousand times.”
Ouch. But hey, at least she got some words. Sometimes church people don’t even do that.
In 35 years of some sort of ministry, I’ve been blessed to receive a lot of gritty grace. Sure, some people got it wrong. But I’ve seen enough people get it right to dismiss my own “inner Pharisee” and pay it forward. They taught me how to run to the spiritually wounded, not away from them. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way.
1. Open your schedule and your pocket.
I know you’re busy and broke. But there’s only one place where schedules aren’t made to be broken, and that’s prison. I have seen busy pastors of busy churches completely suspend their own agenda to come spend hours with me. I have seen one man I’m not even sure was a Christian go to his safe deposit box and take out his stash of cash and hand it over.
I know, I know. I’m already hearing all those objections fly, starting with “There’s only so much…” I get it. But what if a whole church or a “church within the church” grabbed hold of this idea? What if you didn’t have any money, but you knew who to call who did? What if somebody else was maxed out on time, but you could step up and give a little?
2. Remind them of the truth of the gospel.
Years ago I was a broken pastor in a world of hurt of my own making. And there my own pastor said something to me that changed my life: Andy, God knew all this would happen before He saved you. But he saved you anyway. God knew all this would happen before He called you to preach. But He called you anyway.
I had no mental file to put that in. In my theology, the gospel was for sinners, not saints. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that grace works, even for pastors! Remember, friends, “gospel” means “good news.” And no one needs good news more than a wounded believer.
3. Hold everyone involved to the same standards.
There have been times when I have done stupid things and hurt other people, especially my family. During our darkest days, when my wife was really struggling with bitterness, a mutual friend said to her, “It’s time to put up or shut up. Either Jesus died for his sin, too, or He didn’t. Are you willing to climb over the cross of Jesus not to forgive him?”
Let’s be clear. Taking wounded soldiers to places of spiritual healing requires repentance. A lot of it. But healing their wounds may expose other spiritually wounded people, and they probably have their own repenting to do. This is kingdom life, friends. Nobody gets a free pass.
4. Acknowledge your own anger or disappointment.
Guess who I trusted the most to help me when I was at my worst? The ones who were the most honest about their pain or anger. Some even used a little crude language to express it. But like Julie in the skit, they couldn’t say anything to me that I hadn’t said a hundred times to myself.
So clear off a spot and have a spell. Don’t shame or trash them. But pick one time, one place and get it all out there. How could you be so stupid? I’m really angry with you right now. I’m embarrassed. I’m hurt. Whatever. But once you’ve said it, leave it there and move on.
5. Love them without being impressed by them.
There’s a flip-side to that old “shoot their wounded” saying – The Christian army is the only army in the world that tries to pretend it isn’t wounded when it is. When a Christian is wounded, the last thing to bleed to death is his pride. Fortunately for me (I think), the ones who know me best can see it. And the ones who love me most will call it when they do.
Failure wounds pride, but pride fights back. When you’re trying to help somebody get to a healing place, you may have to gently (or not) point out that their pride was what got them in trouble to start with. It isn’t your job to humble them. But it is your job to call them on their pride or self-will when you see it.
6. Chose their healing over your convenience.
You want convenience? Sign up for grocery delivery or online banking. You want to follow Jesus? Prepare to be inconvenienced.
Remember, though, you shouldn’t have to carry all this by yourself. The church was intended to be that healing place, not a lone ranger on martyr duty. Rally the troops. I figure if it took four men to dig through that roof and lower their lame friend to Jesus, that’s probably a good number for you, too. Who are your fellow cot carriers?
7. Say “no” to your fears and theirs.
The word for that is encouragement. It takes courage to risk being misunderstood or criticized to help somebody else. So give yourself some. And ask God for more.
Then, without fail, to be a healing instrument in others’ lives, you will have to help them confront their own fears as well. That’s what encouragers do. They give courage to others to take action.
There have been times when I felt paralyzed to move forward – when all I could say was, “I can’t do this.” But I knew who to call to remind me of the truth. Be that kind of person. Encourage, encourage, encourage.
8. Give yourself permission to forgive.
I once had that hard talk with my father-in-law. I asked for his forgiveness for ways I had offended him and his family.
“Do you believe God has forgiven you?” he asked.
“Then who am I not to?” he said.
Truth is, there are plenty of reasons not to forgive, starting with the most obvious. If you forgive them once, you may have to do it again. And again. And again. That would probably be a good time to remember how greatly forgiven you are. This ain’t baseball, friends, with three strikes and you’re out. It’s an adventure in forgiveness, with Jesus as your guide.
Lest any of us get the wrong idea, you’re not the healer. You’re the cot carrier. But you know who the healer is, and you call on His mighty name to bring restoration and healing. Pray with them. Pray for them. Pray protection over them and you. Make sure you’re dressed for spiritual battle yourself. Then pick up the weapons of your warfare and tell the enemy to beat it. Pray, pray, pray!
This. Takes. Time. Don’t get in a hurry to get everything nicely fixed. In the words of a very wise man, “you didn’t get here overnight, and you aren’t going to get out of here overnight.” At the same time, don’t let your wounded soldier try to gear up too soon either. I made that mistake once and it was costly.
Many things in the Christian life are instant, starting with God’s forgiveness. But most everything else takes time. Give God time to do his work. And it really is His work.
Back to the skit. After realizing their mistakes, the two couples dropped their guard and admitted they’d had struggles, too. And they offered to be there for Julie and her husband. Then in the background, you hear music start.
“I guess it’s time for church to start,” said James, the old man.