And then there's me. Struggling to remember the addresses of even my favorite scriptures sometimes. Sitting across from a precious hurting lady who is 20 years older than me and seemingly 100 years wiser and wondering what in the world to say. Reading and re-reading excerpts from my studies 5 and 10 times and still needing to ask for help in understanding. The list could go on and on. The truth is that words are not my gift. At all. And yet, if I'm to be obedient to this calling on my life, somehow I have to learn to use them effectively. I suspect I'll be a tremendous work in progress in this area until the day I'm called home. (I wonder if anyone can relate to that sentiment.) If you can, here are some words and phrases that have been helpful to me along the way. Always still learning, but this is what I have for now.
1. I prayed for you.
Notice the verb tense there. That is deliberate. Certainly it is important to say to people, "I WILL pray for you." Say it often and mean it. Unfortunately, many won't believe us when we use those words. Often what they hear means little more than "Bless you" when they sneeze. This is not to suggest we're not sincere when we say it, but it is such a commonly used phrase that people tend to doubt it's authenticity. The translation they receive can range anywhere from, "I don't know what to say, so I'll just say this" to "I really will TRY to pray for you if this conversation enters my mind again some time in the next few days, but no promises."
On the other hand, consider "I prayed for you." Of course, this requires that we actually *did* pray, so my point here is two-fold. First, make it a habit to pray for people, and then tell them when it is appropriate to do so. "I prayed for you." Translation: I made you a priority. I care about you enough that I spent time interceding on your behalf. I love you, and I am supporting you through prayer. (Or something along those lines.) When we put action to our words, they always take on far greater meaning than words alone.
This is not to say that we should seek glory for our time in prayer. At times, prayer should be a private matter between us and God alone, even when we are interceding for others. At other times, making people aware of our time spent in prayer for them can be a great witness and encouragement to them. So in short: Pray often, check your motives regularly, and share with discernment.
Let's be honest. None of us are divine. We are limited. We are imperfect. We get tired. We run out of time and resources. This is reality. Unless we are involved in the only ministry in the universe with more workers and greater means than needs (try not to choke when you read that), simply stated, we cannot do it all. The word "no" might be one of the most necessary words in our vocabulary if we are to do anything with excellence as the Lord commands. Sometimes the word "no" is the only way to protect a previous "yes" and make sure it remains true.
However, we should approach each situation with fervent prayer, realizing that the God we serve reigns over each situation. Many times, human limitations can be overcome with God's help. The word "no" is absolutely appropriate and necessary at times. But when we know in our hearts through prayer and study that "yes" is the right answer, perhaps point #3 below is the correct response.
3. I need help.
Many of us feel pressure to appear as though we constantly have everything under control. We want to be perfectly organized, on time for everything, in control of our household, our children, our schedule, and certainly our ministry responsibilities. And of course, we are to wear a permanent sugary sweet smile through every bit of it. Ridiculous and unachievable.
Honestly, if we are to do ministry well, it seems to me we should always feel some sense of inadequacy in order to learn to cling to Christ rather than depend on our own efforts. This is absolutely critical for any ministry calling. But beyond that, we should employ the words "I need help" willingly and often. God rarely (actually, I suspect never) calls people to lone ranger ministry. Even those who might find themselves physically alone in isolated opportunities need prayer support and most likely help with funding and resources.
Rather than struggle under the weight of tasks that are far too overwhelming to accomplish alone (which, by the way, almost guarantees failure), we should learn to turn away from the root sin of pride which causes us to hesitate in our requests for help. Instead let's rally the troops and let them know we want (and NEED) them working alongside us!
4. I don't know.
Now that we have established we can't *do* everything, again, we are challenged to crush pride--this time by admitting we don't *know* everything. And the amazing thing about this? It brings such FREEDOM! Have you tried it? Oh, please do! I'm convinced that you'll learn no one really expected you to have all the answers anyway. For some reason, this is an expectation many of us put on ourselves for no other reason than to protect our pride. No one else expects it. We just really like the idea of being abundantly full of right answers and perfect advice. But let's recall the friends of Job. They had all sorts of "answers," almost none of which were in any way helpful. Sometimes (most times) people need us to CARE far more than they need us to know. Particularly when the question is, "Why?"
Most of the time, I don't know why. But I know WHO. So in response to the question, "Why?", I've learned to say, "I don't know, but I'm certain that this is no surprise to the God of the universe who loves you, and I am praying to Him with all of my heart on your behalf."
5. May I have your wise counsel?
Following a similar thought process as #4 but serving a somewhat different purpose, we should learn to seek out mentors within our own ministry communities as well as beyond. Sometimes it is tempting as the pastor's wife to assume that people expect us to be some kind of authority figure within our church. I have learned that this is rarely the case. More commonly, we are surrounded by people with strong gifts and areas of expertise within which they desire to be valued. As members of the body of Christ, we should learn to identify the gifts and talents others possess and seek their wise counsel in areas where we might be weak. Not only does this recognize them as valuable and important, it also grants them honor and respect.
I am so grateful that God has placed me within a body of believers among whom I am positioned within the "young" portion of our congregation. This makes it so easy for me to practice this behavior. I am surrounded with so many who are so much wiser than I likely ever will be, and I absolutely crave their input and wise counsel in challenging areas of my life. However, it is also important to note that age is not always the primary indicator of those we should seek for counsel. Rather, it is areas of strength. Many times, we will find younger brothers and sisters who are stronger in some areas than we are or have more life experience with some issues than we do. These relationships can just as easily serve to mentor us as those of our peers who are older and wiser simply due to learning with time what we haven't yet experienced ourselves.
6. I love you.
No need to expound much here. Say it often, and pray with all your heart that God will teach you to MEAN IT to the fullest extent that a human being is capable.
7. Jesus loves you.
This may seem trite to some, and certainly it can feel that way to those hearing it if we throw it around excessively, impatiently, or insincerely. But that doesn't make it untrue. This is the greatest hope we have as human beings, and we should not shy away from saying it just because we think it might not get the response we hope for. Many of us can breeze through John 3:16 without even thinking about what it says, but that doesn't mean the message of that verse has no power. Indeed, it is the ultimate power--the message of the Gospel, and we should wield is as such.
8. Your sin isn't now and never will be bigger than God's grace.
Grace. Oh, how desperately we all need to recognize our constant need for it and learn to receive it gratefully and offer it lavishly. So many people struggle so significantly with this message. They are convinced if only we knew what they had done, we would understand God could never forgive them. This is one of Satan's favorite lies that we must fight against fervently and diligently.
This can certainly be exhausting. Weariness may tempt us to give up on those who challenge this message over and over again, but we simply must continue to state it and then live as though it's true, realizing that it is not our responsibility (nor is it within our ability) to convince, only to proclaim.
To be clear, we should never minimize sin or its effects. We are doing no one any favors by trying to convince them they're not that bad. Rather, we should agree with them that they are terribly sinful (just like we are!), but we should emphasize so much more emphatically that this is exactly why Christ died. Without the brokenness of sin, there is no need for grace. We can only see grace as the brilliant scandal it truly is when we view it as the dazzlingly radiant contrast to the oppressive darkness of sin. May we ever trust the power of the Gospel to make this truth known to those who seem hopeless.