This month in the Sprachspielen editorial, we are continuing to look at our Six-fold Incarnational strategy (6fis). June’s focus is on the fifth element of our 6fis. As I’ve reminded you each month, if you’re new to this series of articles, please go back to the February instalment, which introduces the basic premise and structure behind the 6fis.
I’ve also mentioned that points 3, 4, and 5 of the 6fis are closely related, as they deal with issues of being sent and going out to people where they are. As another reminder, number 3 spoke about the “ministry or hanging out.” Number 4 spoke of “Interests.” The fifth element of the 6fis, which is this month’s focus, is “Needs.” Simply put, this fifth element of our 6fis asks, “how can we meet the needs of people and do so in a way that glorifies God and helps us to build healthy friendships and relationships which become a vehicle to lead them to Jesus?”
When speaking about both “the ministry of hanging out” and particularly “interests,” I mentioned that both are very straightforward in the sense that the words used rather exactly describe the activity. “Needs” follows this pattern of being quite straightforward, once again doing “what it says on the tin,” but it also has a more overtly spiritual and Biblical element. I’d like to offer two reasons why “needs” and the meeting of needs resonates so strongly with us in both a general way common to all of humanity and a specific way which is particularly relevant to followers of Jesus.
First, I would say that “needs” and the experience of them are common to all people, regardless of gender, race, language, nationality, social status, economic situation, et cetera. Each of us has experienced some kind of need in our lives at some point. The “need” at this point is something that I require, but I lack, and it can only be supplied or resolved by sources and/or people outside of myself. Simply put, a need is anything or any situation in my life that instinctively leads me to say: help! With that in mind, I can say with some confidence that all of us have experienced needs at some point in our lives. I could also confidently say that most of us have probably had a need met by someone else. It could be something big like not having the money to pay next month’s rent and someone coming in to help in that time of need. Or, more likely, it could be something more mundane such as someone opening a door for me, when my hands are full of heavy packages. Either way, we’ve all probably been helped along the way with some form of need, great or small. Some of us have actually been the means of helping others in their time of need. Whatever the context, “needs” are a unifying and equalising aspect of the lives of each of us. “Needs” are a common thread in our experience for two primary reasons, in my humble estimation: (1) we, as human beings, are physically and mentally frail in one way or the other, and (2) we’re “wired” for relationship and community, and nothing brings people together like needs.
Second, there are elements related to needs that are integral to the Christian understanding of God, ourselves, life and ministry. We could start with the Christian understanding that every human has needs resulting directly from both our sin (our nature) and our sins (our actions). We need forgiveness of sins, victory over sin, and reconciliation with our Creator and Father, God, which is only possible through the kindness and compassion of God in Christ, whose sacrifice and resurrection make all of that possible. In that sense, everyone is “needy,” before God. Following from that reality, we are inspired by the visible and active work of God in meeting our needs in such a way that we want to exhibit the same desire to meet the needs of those with whom we come into contact. In other words, pass along the grace to others that we’ve received from God. Finally, if those points were not enough, there is a Biblical mandate for Christians to be involved actively in meeting the needs of others. I would think that this would be obvious and not require my pointing it out with great detail. However, as a reminder (just in case), I’d like to draw your attention to the following points in Scripture.
Ministry and example of Jesus in the Gospels and Early Church in Acts
I’m actually not going to list each place in the Gospels, where Jesus and His disciples are acting compassionately to meet the needs of the people around them. Rather, I’m going to give you a little exercise to try. Go to an online version of the Bible and do a search of the word “compassion” and limit your search to the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. You will find that the word “compassion” is most often used in a repeated scenario where Jesus is confronted with a need, He is “filled with compassion,” and then meets the need usually in a miraculous way.
In case we feel that this kind of compassionate meeting of needs was peculiar to Jesus, in Acts 3:1-10, we see His disciples, Peter and John, following the pattern of our Master, Jesus. Clearly, Jesus’ first disciples understood that they were to model their lives on His life, which included the compassionate meeting of needs.
Meeting needs was part of early Church life
It is clear that sharing and sacrifice in order to ensure that people’s needs were met were encouraged and practiced as part of the life of the early Church. Here are just a few examples:
Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.Acts 2:44-45
Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.Acts 4:34-35
…distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.Romans 12:13
I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also.Romans 16:1-2
Compassion as the mark of our faith
There are two significant examples, where the correlation between the degree of our involvement in meeting the needs of others and the depth and authenticity of our personal faith in Christ is clearly stated. The first is with Jesus Himself speaking on the matter in Matthew 25:31-46. Note especially Matthew 25:40: “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’”and Matthew 25:45: “Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’”
What I’ve said about “needs” up to this point may make perfect sense to you, and you might even agree with me, though I wouldn’t want to be presumptuous. At this point, however, we need to take this concept to the next level, which is the missional dimension to meeting needs. In other words, how can we do what we’re supposed to do anyway as followers of Jesus, namely exercising compassion by meeting the needs of those around us, better, more frequently, more intentionally, and in a way that gives us the opportunity to point others to Jesus, as we interact with those people whom God has placed in our path and in some way have needs which He desires to meet through us?
In order to help us to be more aware and intentional about meeting the needs of the people that God brings to us in the context of our local mission teams here in Europe, especially for the sake of introducing people to Jesus and drawing them into His Kingdom, we have some simple principles and practices, which we try to exercise as often as possible.
Be out there
I realise that most adults have to work, and often that work is indoors and frequently in a fairly isolated setting and work environment. I get that. There’s not much choice in this regard sometimes. However, for those times when we do have some control of where we are physically, it’s important to be “out there” somewhere and not continuing to spend all of our time in our indoor spaces, whether it’s our own room, house, or Church building for that matter. Though God is infinitely creative and purposeful, i.e., He can do whatever He wants when and where He wants, it is probably less likely that someone with a need that we could meet will come to seek us out in our indoor spaces. It’s important to go outside and be out where people are. Even if work and other obligations do keep us tied up indoors, we can start to do things in different ways that get us out of our indoor contexts to where people are. For example, when you go to your favourite place to get a coffee or get something to eat, instead of just going through the drive-through, perhaps, you could take the time to drink/eat your order there, maybe even sitting outside to do it. Everyone has to go from point A to point B in the course of their lives. But every once in a while, perhaps instead of driving your own car, you could take the bus? The point is that it’s important to be intentional about finding ways to be out where people are, if we really want to find opportunities to meet the needs in people’s lives and to do so in Jesus’ name.
Be observant and informed
It is possible for us to be “out there,” but still not engaged with the things that are going on around us. I could be wrong, but it just seems to me that people are less observant and aware of what’s going on around them than we used to be (said at the risk of sounding like the grumpy old man). I don’t even think that this is a matter of generation, but something more general to Northern Hemisphere cultures. In other words, it might be possible to be physically “out there” but still miss a lot of what’s going on around us. We have to be present AND observant. In order to be able to interact and observe our surroundings, when we’re out with people, it usually means that we’re not doing any talking, but primarily listening. More personally, it means that I will probably have to take out my earphones, put my phone on silent and actually put it away, as I look, listen and observe what’s happening around me. Of course, the “look, listen, and observe” doesn’t just mean my immediate observations of the things that I’m seeing and hearing. It means that I have dedicated my mind and heart to God in prayer, as I observe, and I am trusting HIM to show me my context through His eyes and to speak to my spirit about what is happening around me. In this observant way, we will be more able to see and hear when people are in need and respond accordingly.
In addition to being observant when we’re out with people, it’s also important to be informed about issues which are affecting people. We often do fairly well at watching the news or reading the paper to learn what is happening in the world or even at the national or state level. Sometimes, needs do come out of that information, and the Lord may lead us to try to meet them in some way. But for missional purposes, the needs that we desire to meet are more local and close to home. So, how can we be better informed about what is going on in our City, town, village or even neighbourhood? Are there community bulletin boards in places of access to us? Is there a village or neighbourhood paper or Facebook page or other social media? How can we be better informed about what is happening right in our own neighbourhoods, as we seek to meet the needs of our neighbours and those in our community.
Don’t wait for the grand gesture
Often, when it comes to seeing another person’s need and being moved to try and meet that need, we perhaps even subconsciously want to wait for the right need or moment, when it will “really count.” In other words we want to wait until there is a major need in someone’s life in order for us to make a “grand gesture,” which in turn makes a lasting and powerful impact in his or her life. However, if we wait for the big need to come along, we may (1) miss all kinds of little opportunities to minister to someone’s needs on a regular basis and (2) that opportunity for the “grand gesture” may never come. In other words, we don’t necessarily have to meet big needs in people’s lives, in order to have a big impact on them for the sake of the Gospel. In fact, sometimes I think that it’s in meeting the small, everyday needs of people that we can have the most impact, for the very fact that they are small and perhaps at first glance insignificant. For example, my elderly mother, who is a widow and lives on her own, had some neighbours for many years, who also were members of her Church. Every week without being asked and without making a fuss about it, they took my mother’s rubbish bin (trash can) from her house to the street to be picked up on the designated day. This may seem like a very small thing, but my mother still talks about what a help that was to her. It made an impression.
Not the time for anonymity
With a lot of Christians, we seem to like to do kind things and meet needs but to do so anonymously. We might even think that is the way that we’re “supposed” to meet needs by showing kindness or generosity to others. We likely get this idea from something that Jesus said in Matthew 6:3: “But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” This is an understandable association. However, I think that this verse doesn’t apply to the kind of missional meeting of needs that we’re presenting in our 6fis, and for a couple of reasons. First, Jesus said this as a response to a very specific situation, namely when “religious” people make a public show of their generosity for their own selfish needs, rather than as an act of kindness to someone in need. Second, with the kind of missional meeting of needs that we are talking about in the 6fis, it is important that the people whose needs are being met can see the connection to God’s grace in the act of our giving. It reminds me of something from Michael Frost, though I cannot remember, if I read this in a book by him or I heard him share a story that illustrates this point. Though I cannot remember it verbatim (I am getting older after all), it goes something like this.
One person, who desires to do good toward others, sits on the top of a building and tosses cupcakes down on the unsuspecting crowd below, whilst staying out of sight. One of those unsuspecting passersby is hit by a cupcake and even caught it in his hands. He thought, “wow, a cupcake! I actually was a little hungry - this is great!” However, he looks around and sees no one. Rather than assume that this was the act of kindness of an individual, who desires to help people, this man with his new cupcake simply assumes that these are “cupcakes from space,” and goes about his day, albeit a bit happier due to the cupcake, but none the wiser as to the who and why of the gift.
In other words, he cannot make the connection between an intention and a kind act.
When it comes to the kind of acts of meeting needs in people’s lives for the sake of the Kingdom, it’s important that those who receive help know who and why someone is helping them. Consequently, rather than Matthew 6:3, this kind of expressing of kindness is more rooted in Matthew 5:16: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” In kindness and compassion, we desire to meet the real needs of people in a way that is clearly visible, not so they will then “brag on us,” but that it would give us the opportunity to “brag on Jesus.”
Kindness is costly—it’s not about you
Most likely, we have all probably heard someone say something like “kindness is its own reward,” which is in fact loosely based on Proverbs 11:17. There is a truth here. It does feel good to be kind to others, whether it is recognised or lauded or not. However, this does not mean that kindness and compassion in meeting the needs in the people who come across our paths are either without cost or always easy. The kind of compassion and kindness that we are referring to in this instance will cost us something. It will most certainly cost us time and probably our energy. It may cost us our comfort and convenience. It might even cost us money or possessions. It might not seem like much and might even seem “worth it,” but kindness and compassion always cost us something.
However, we find that the cost is worth it and we are willing to expend it, but not because of the good feeling that it might give us – that is a fringe benefit, even incidental. It is worth it for two reasons: (1) we glorify God when we model the kindness and generosity that we have received from Him in meeting our needs by passing along the blessing to others in need, and God is always worthy of all the glory; and (2) we learn what is one of the most profound and impactful lessons of the life of a disciple of Jesus, namely, “it’s not all about me” – I am part of a Kingdom and a community and Jesus’ army of grace to minister to the needs of others in His name, even before I minister to my own needs. In other words, it’s all about Him and them, not me.
Kindness is a team sport
For most of what I have written so far, it may seem like they are principles to be followed by individuals in their daily lives, wherever they happen to be or whatever they happen to be doing. This is absolutely true—this is what we encourage each member of our Teams to be doing in terms of leveraging the meeting of needs in people’s lives as a means of introducing them to Jesus and His Kingdom. However, showing kindness and being moved to compassion as Jesus was are not the sole domain of individual initiative and activity. It is very powerful for people in their time of need, if we come together as a community of Jesus followers in order to meet that need, a process which usually begins with one person sharing what he or she has observed as a need in someone’s life with others in the Christian community, even if that means just one other person (a “community” of two). It is a powerful testimony when we as individuals minister in Jesus’ name to the needs of the individuals in need, who come across our paths. How much more so, when we as the community of Jesus minister to the needs of an individual or family? How can we bring other Jesus-followers into ministering grace to the needs of people, who do not yet know Him?
Be intentional—cultivate the custom of compassion
A lot of what we’re talking about doing, when we speak of responding to “needs,” is a bit counterintuitive for us. We spend a great deal of our time in meeting our own needs and those of our immediate family—so much so that it is hard for us to imagine expending the time, energy, and even resources to be actively involved in meeting the needs of others, even for missional reasons. I think this is the case for so many of us as Christians in Northern Hemisphere contexts for two primary reasons. (1) We live in a world that is constantly telling us to “look out for number one.” We have it ingrained in us to make ourselves the focus of our lives, which in turn becomes the motivating factor for all of our activities, energies and use of time. (2) We have surrounded ourselves with so many things and activities, which all seem to add to rather than assist us in the busy-ness and velocity of life in the modern world. Accordingly, no one has the time or energy to be about the work of observing and meeting needs as a missional effort, even if they might have the inclination and desire to do so.
Because it is so counter-intuitive for so many of us in this fast-paced age, we have to be intentional about making the time, expending the energy and sacrificing some things in order to develop the habits of kindness and the custom of compassion. It takes time to be observant. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes energy to seek out people in order to minister to their needs. It is costly in terms of time, comfort, and convenience at the very least. It does require us to expend the will and energy, albeit enabled by the Holy Spirit, in order to be available as vessels of His grace to those in need around us. It doesn’t just happen. We have to be (1) completely yielded to the Lordship of Jesus and filled with the presence of the Spirit, and (2) intentional about developing new habits and spiritual disciplines, which make kindness and compassion as natural as breathing for us. Then, as it becomes more and more natural for us to respond to the people around us with grace and aid in their times of need, we will see more people introduced to Jesus and making their own decisions to follow Him as Lord and Saviour.
Having finished the 5th point in our Six-fold Incarnational Strategy, we are now looking forward to the sixth and final point in the 6fis. I look forward to see you next month and finishing this series of Sprachspielen about the Six-fold Incarnational Strategy. Until then, may the Lord bless you!