Not too long ago, I read a blog post by a friend called “Does Anyone Hear Her?” that has been on my mind ever since. The following quote hit me hard:
“I have reached out in MANY different ways over the last six years…but no one has reached back…it brings GREAT sadness to my heart.”My initial reaction was from memories of others feeling like no one in their church cares about them. Yet, the more I thought about it, I was convicted of times when I didn’t reach out to others because it was out of my comfort zone. So, I started looking up verses about the body of Christ and how we should treat others in it. Here is what I’ve learned from this reflection and study of both personal experience and God’s Word.
1. We are members of a body.
All believers are members of the body of Christ (Romans 12:5). Therefore, when someone is suffering, all suffer with him (1 Corinthians 12:26). Christians are to be recognized for their love for one another (John 13:35). If we ignore someone’s signs of suffering or hurting, what does that say about our spiritual health? The one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20). If someone leaves our local body of Christ, it should feel as if a limb has been removed. Do we show the one that leaves that we feel that way?
2. We are responsible to help each other.
As members of the local body of Christ (Romans 12:5), we are responsible to help each other through their trials. Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” We can’t push that responsibility off on the church leaders, people who are closer friends with the hurting, or those who go to the same Sunday School class or Bible study. If we notice that they are hurting, it is our responsibility to reach out to them. James 4:17 says “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.”
3. We should care for emotional and spiritual needs, not just physical ones.
1 John 3:17 says “But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” God’s love takes care of more than our physical needs, so couldn’t the verse also apply to other needs? Maybe we could rephrase it this way: “If someone has the capacity to help another and refuses, can God’s love really be in him?” By all means, help with someone’s physical needs, but if you notice deeper needs then try to care for them as well. The main reasons that emotional needs are not met is that we are not comfortable with asking someone about personal things, we don’t notice that they are hurting, and we don’t know how to help them.
4. Others’ needs are more important than your comfort zone.
In our society, people tend to be private and it can be seen as meddlesome to interfere when we weren’t asked. That is one of the reasons that caring for the hurting can take me out of my comfort zone. But am I putting my comfort above the other person’s pain? I have done this by excusing myself that I am not good enough at dealing with these things or that God wouldn’t expect me to do something so hard for me. These thoughts are selfish and show that I was putting myself above others (Philippians 2:3-4). I’m sure it was out of Jesus’ comfort zone to hang around sinners, but He did so because He loved them. That is the attitude we must emulate (Philippians 2:5-8).
5. Recognize others’ signs of hurting.
People don’t often ask for help when they are hurting. Sometimes they don’t want to gossip about the situation causing their pain. Sometimes they don’t think anyone really cares. Sometimes they just don’t know how to ask. Whatever the reason, we should be aware of other peoples’ more subtle cries for help: vague prayer requests, emotionally distant, less involvement in activities or ministries, decreased attendance, body language that shows signs of hurt or frustration. Once you are aware (or suspect) that someone is hurting, you are responsible to care for them.
6. Encourage others as God encouraged Elijah.
After the spiritual victory at Mt. Carmel, Elijah went through a very low time. He was being chased by Jezebel and very depressed. However, first an angel and then God Himself encouraged him (1 Kings 19). The article Practical Ways to Encourage People Who Are Hurting shows that God first met Elijah’s physical needs. Then, He showed Himself to be a gentle presence. Last, God reminded Elijah that He had a plan and that others would be there to help him. When we’re uncertain of how to help someone, try meeting some physical need (like taking them out to dinner), then just be a gentle presence, reminding them that God is there and so are you.
7. Attempting feebly is better than ignoring someone’s pain.
If you’re not sure if someone is hurting, reach out anyway. Recently, I thought someone was hurting and sent a note to encourage them. Turns out that everything was fine and I read the signals wrong (which can happen when you look at things through the lens of your own past experiences). I was thankful that everything was fine, but I was also a little embarrassed for having “meddled.” Yet, as I took time to think about it, I don’t regret my attempt to show love. I’m still learning how best to reach out, but it certainly can’t hurt to let someone know that they were missed or that you love them. It doesn’t hurt to ask if everything is OK or if there is something you can do for them. You don’t have to be nosy and ask what’s going on, just show that you care. The worst that can happen is that the other person sees that you notice them and love them.
8. Don’t stop trying.
Maybe, like me, you’ve neglected to reach out to others in the past. If you have, don’t give up. Maybe it’s not too late to reach out to that person. Even if it is too late to help that person, don’t be discouraged over your failures. Instead, learn from them and use them to motivate you to help the next person.
In John 21, Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him. When Peter affirms that he does (though he acknowledges that his human love is weak and feeble), Jesus tells him to tend and shepherd His sheep. Jesus was not telling Peter to become a pastor. He was simply telling him that to show love to Christ we must care for His disciples. We should care for other believers in the same way a shepherd cares for his sheep. Not as the hired hand who runs away at the first sign of trouble "because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep” (John 10:13). Instead, we should get down on our knees to tend to their physical needs (Psalm 23:5). We should notice their needs and care for them (Ezekiel 34:16). We should earn their trust (John 10:4). We should guide them with gentleness (Isaiah 40:11). Just like the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for us (John 10:14-15).