As we’ve explored the necessity of, and the biblical call to disciple, there has often come to my mind a largely unreached and under served part of our church body. Whether the oversight is due to our collective ignorance of the need, or fear of our ignorance in just how to come alongside our afflicted church, I’m not sure. But it is my hope that by taking a look at the scriptures together, we can gain a better understanding of, and heart for, the afflicted that our Lord spent much of His own ministry here serving.
I think a great place to start is looking at the familiar story of Jesus and the blind man in John 9. In a sermon titled, “Don’t Look Away from Disability”, by Dr. John Piper, he points out that we often overlook the very first part of John 9:1. Referring to Jesus, John tells us, “As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth.” But unlike how the Levite priest that saw the man that had been beaten up on the road to Damascus and continued on his way, Jesus sees the blind man and goes to him. John Piper goes on to challenge us to not look away from disability but to see the way Jesus saw; to move toward, not away. Saying, “It’s natural to avoid. We’re not natural! We’re Christians!…We are “counter natural”.”
So now that we “see” and “move toward”, what does it look like to disciple, or mentor, the afflicted and their loved ones all around us? For this, I want to look at Jesus and the paralyzed man in Mark 2. Have you ever considered those four precious men that carried their friend to Christ? They not only carried him, when they were unable to get close enough to Jesus because of the crowd, they carried him all the way onto the roof, then proceeded to remove the roof and figure out a way to lower their friend directly in front of the One they knew capable of healing him. In much the same way, discipling the afflicted around us will require us to go the extra mile. To truly come alongside those with disability and disease, we will need to carry some of the burden. It’s going to be work. It’s going to be inconvenient. It’s going to require us to invest our time, talent, and treasure. It’s going to be selfless. In short, it’s going to be beautifully Christ-like!
Families struggling with affliction often suffer from isolation, and in turn, a lack of community and fellowship necessary for spiritual health. Whether due to physical limitations, the demands of treatments and therapies, compromised immune systems or simply exhaustion from 24/7 care, they become cut off from the body. Their faith suffers and the rest of the church body suffers their absence. A good mentor will need to be flexible and persistent. This may mean offering to care for a dependent so a caregiver can attend church services and classes or perhaps joining them at their home to watch and discuss services together, working with their schedule. A Bible study in their home, bringing the church to them, might be a good option. As you can imagine, those called to affliction often struggle with grief, worry, despair and doubt. Like the men in Mark 2, coming alongside them will mean helping them bring those things to Christ. We need to be ready to pray together, tag along for difficult appointments, check in often, listen well, and remind them frequently of our Lord’s great love for them. Also like those devoted friends, we’ll likely need some bravery and creativity as well. Jump in, ask questions, think outside the box and don’t be afraid of making mistakes or saying/doing the wrong thing. The biggest mistake you can make is…. looking away.
Families struggling with affliction often suffer from isolation, and in turn, a lack of community and fellowship necessary for spiritual health.
Now, after all this bold loving and serving, let’s look at the reward. Join me in reading Mark 2:11-12
“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”
The single greatest gift in discipling the afflicted is the front row seat you will get in watching our Lord at work in the lives of those you come to love. Those men, being aware of the extent of their friend’s affliction and need, not only witnessed a miraculous healing, but were able to actively participate in the joy of healing in their dear friend. They had the great privilege of being used as part of God’s provision for that man. They had the opportunity to flex their spiritual muscles by walking through hardship with someone. And their faith was rewarded with the soul healing of the man they served! (Mark 2:5) Can you imagine?
The single greatest gift in discipling the afflicted is the front row seat you will get in watching our Lord at work in the lives of those you come to love.
So, beloved Christian woman, who are the afflicted around you? I will echo Dr. Piper and challenge you to not only see them, but to move towards them. You will often find yourself with a front row seat to witness the tremendous faith, strength and perseverance our Lord often gives to the afflicted and you’ll be richly blessed by it. Consider discipling someone you can’t relate to. Look straight at something that makes you uncomfortable. Walk with someone you’re afraid to offend or reveal your ignorance to! See like Jesus, move toward, and live in the freedom of knowing the Holy Spirit, Who lives in you, will guide you!