The Sacred Pathway of the Caregiver (Part 7)
Editor’s Note: This post is written by Sword4Sail and is Part 7 in the Sacred Pathways of Walking With God.
Sacred Pathways Part 7 – The Caregiver: Loving God by Loving Others
When I first realized what God’s love really meant to me, when I first felt God’s presence around me, I was motivated. Instead of grumpily having to think of ways to serve others, I was willingly jumping out of my comfort zone to find ways to show those around me I cared about them so that they would know God cared about them so much more. God used another Christian who had a passionate relationship with Him, pouring love into my life, to teach me what His love was really like. This is the sacred pathway of the Caregiver. Gary Thomas talks of nine sacred pathways that can make up a person’s God-given spiritual temperament in his book, Sacred Pathways.
Two prominent examples of caregivers in scripture are Mordecai and Jesus. At first you may be thinking, “Mordecai? Queen Esther’s uncle?” Same one. Thomas describes him as a man who, “Deeply and profoundly cares about others and freely pours out his energy to help them (147).” First, he takes in Esther when she was orphaned and continued to look after her well-being even when she was at the palace. He saved the king from a plot to harm him, and when an even bigger plot arose – to kill the Jews – he put on sackcloth and ashes, and firmly reminded Esther of God’s providence for “such a time as this.” We also see Mordecai honoring God before men. He refused to bow in the evil Haman’s presence, and after Israel was saved, he established a yearly festival to celebrate God’s protection and intervention… by sending presents to one another and giving gifts to the poor. Talk about attitude, passion, and humility all wrapped into a God-honoring package!
Most people today associate caring for the needy with religion. But that was not the norm in Jesus’ day. People were focused on the “do nots” rather than the “dos.” Right after Jesus found out John the Baptist, his cousin, had been killed, his ministry began climaxing to the cross. Surely he and his disciples needed to withdraw to pray and process. He tried to leave on a boat. But the crowds followed, and when Jesus saw them, “He had compassion on them and healed their sick (Matt.14:14).” When evening came, the disciples urged Jesus to send the crowd away so the crowd could eat, but Jesus saw through their selfish desires and put the people’s needs first. Pulling on the Father’s strength, as he was probably exhausted, Jesus made five loaves of bread and two fish feed over 5,000 people. Only afterward was Jesus able to privately retire.
Thomas points out that the message of the Bible is clear: “Nobody is so important or so wise that they can excuse themselves from practical help (152).” All Christians are called to love God by loving others. Just look at the example of the good Samaritan. James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” One of the main messages of Philippians chapter two is to consider others better than yourself and put their needs before your own. You love God by loving others because you honor Him and show His importance in your life by being passionate about what He is passionate about. Peter tells me he feels cared about when I ask how the Steelers or Penguins are doing or ask about what he’s reading about in his latest library book. When you care about the poor and needy you care about what God cares about and He is worshiped.
We often question God’s methods and thoughts. Recently, I heard a Christian talking about their belief in evolution and how there was nothing wrong with survival of the fittest as a societal ideal. I got mad. Internally. If my thoughts were to come out, I would have said, “How dare you! How dare you defame God! How dare you judge His methods of grace! How closed-minded you are to the ways of God.” I am not claiming I know the ways of God well, but I know Him barely enough to know, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him (1Cor 1:27-29).” No matter how badly sin can physically corrupt, all people are made in the image of God and should be seen with His eyes and His heart.
I want to tell the story of Manuel, as Thomas relates in the book. The Kellys took in a severely brain-damaged foster infant who was the result of an incestuous relationship and damaged in utero by a poorly-prescribed drug. He was suffering repeated seizures and rapidly loosing brain cells. Gail Kelly was up one night with him as seizure after seizure racked his body with spastic movements. His head would jerk uncontrollably, his eyes would bounce and vibrate, and his brain cells were disappearing fast. An exhausted, frightened, and depleted Gail cried out and pleaded with God, “I haven’t had enough time with him. Please, God, don’t take him from me now.”
God responded, “Whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me. God is with you. Emmanuel.”
“But how can we accomplish such a task… I don’t know what I’m doing!”
“I will give you enough grace to meet each day’s needs.”
Gail felt the Spirit of God slowing enveloping the entire room to the point where she was afraid to open her eyes. Fully expecting to see the child Jesus in her arms instead of Manuel, she began looking around the room, trying to find the presence of Jesus that was manifesting itself to her. As her eyes finished going around the room, they came back to the boy. “I gazed at Manuel, and I knew (155).” Some may claim this child has no right to live – he will never walk or talk. But he is a pathway to God’s presence in the lives of the Kellys.
There are many other means of exercising your love for others besides caring for the sick. You can help fix a home/car/computer, lend money, volunteer at shelters (soup kitchen, battered women’s shelter, pregnancy care center), tutor kids/adults, give wise, biblical counsel/be there for someone going through a crisis, watching other parent’s kids, research a cure for a disease, and just generally do things for others that they need without expecting anything in return. These means can also be mixed with evangelism, as it says in 1Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have.”
Loving others doesn’t come without it’s own set of temptations. You can always be tempted to judge those who worship God in other ways. All Christians are called to care for others, but you are not the judge of how and when they do so. Caregivers and activists are similar; activists work to solve an underlying problem, while caregivers comfort until the problem is solved. Both are needed in the kingdom of God, and you must allow for both. I had a friend who loved to love others, but worried that sometimes he did it to make himself feel validated, rather than as a pure, selfless act. This is the temptation of serving yourself. Finally, you can neglect those closest to you: your family. Young (and old) parents should remember caring for their children can be worship, and, “changing the world begins with changing diapers (Thomas, 161).”
Go – do something loving for someone else. Something tangible. Do it without expecting anything in return, as worship to God. Share your ideas in the comments. And don’t forget to come back next Friday to discover the sacred pathway of the Enthusiast.
Are You a Caregiver?
Score this series of statements on a scale of 1-5. 1 is not true at all and 5 is very true. Any score of 15 or higher indicates a tendency toward this temperament. Keep track of your scores to complete a spiritual profile later.
1. I feel closest to God when I see him in the needy, the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned.
2. I grow weary of Christians who spend their time singing songs while a sick neighbor goes without a meal or a family in need doesn’t get help fixing their car.
3. The words service and compassion are very appealing to me.
4. I sense God’s power and presence when I am counseling a friend who has lost a job, preparing meals for or fixing the car of a family in need, or spending a week at an orphanage in Mexico.
5. A book titled 99 Ways to Help Your Neighbor is very appealing to me.
6. I would rather nurse someone to health or help repair a house than teach a Sunday school class, go on a prayer and fasting retreat, or take a long walk in the woods.