"Draw near to God - Put your trust in Him - Declare His works" (Psalm 73:28)
Ministering God to Others
June 25, 2019
His name was not Dan, but for the sake of confidentiality it will be for this article.
Dan was barely 55 years old and he had been sick for the previous 5 years. Just before I met him he had come to the realization that he would die soon, the consequence for living a hard drinking, heavy smoking, “everything to excess” life.
Dan held the dubious distinction of having had the most drunken single vehicle car wrecks on a local stretch of highway…without dying. First responders would approach the smoking remains of his wrecks and, recognizing it was him, would greet him with an enthusiastic “Hey Dan! You made it again!” But, when I met him, the hard living had caught up with him and he wouldn’t live to see 56.
My friend Dan had been born again as a child and had attended services in a church building on and off all through his life – usually when he was facing a court date or some other crisis. Like many, he saw God as some sort of invisible life preserver that he could cry out to when he sensed he was in dire straits.
He had received Jesus as a child but he never truly came to know Him. In reality, he never knew much about Jesus either. Jesus was just sort of there…a desperation move, for when Dan could no longer deny that all was not well in his life.
One day I was called to Dan’s side. He had been sure he would die by a specific day and, like many men might do, had decided to live as if that were true but over the weekend of that date he had NOT died. He was visibly anxious, angry and agitated. So, someone called me to minister to him.
In some ways, Dan is representative of most people. My own dad, who chose to die lost and hell-bound, would say that “there are no atheists in foxholes”. He died never realizing, until he was face-to-face with Jesus that his ENTIRE life was spent at war, dug into various sorts of foxholes. In my experience, almost everyone lives like that…as if Jesus was not pertinent for daily living.
I believe this to be true because that was what I believed prior to being born again.
Many of my fellow Christians can identify with having had that belief and now have a God-given heart for others to know that not only is God pertinent, but He is indispensable for a healthy, secure and purposeful life.
Everyone in the world senses that something is definitely missing. Why else would they try to fill that void with drugs, alcohol, stuff, other people, “gods” created in their own fallen image…? The list is literally never-ending.
People need to know that God loves them, is available to them, CRAVES to rescue them, and wants to give them life. Many Christians can see this need and desire to connect people with God. Unfortunately, the almost complete absence of true discipleship in the Church has left us all but completely unequipped to reach out to others and share Jesus with them. I hope this short article will help equip in this manner.
Each of these people is an individual; therefore, it would be foolhardy to give some sort of formula to do this. There is no magic bullet. However, there IS something we can see in the Book of Acts that early Christians did repeatedly that we might consider:
“‘Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.’ And WHEN THEY HAD PRAYED, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:29-31)
I found myself on my way to Dan’s house, not quite sure of his problem that day, except that I knew he was angry. When I arrived I asked him why he was so ticked off and he told me that he had been sure he would have been dead by now. However, he was still alive and did not know how to live beyond his projected death date. At first I thought he was upset because he was still alive. Then I rethought it and realized the problem was something else.
Dan wasn’t angry that he had not yet died; he was angry that the “god” (himself) he had depended upon for his end of life period had dared to fail him. Coincidentally and tragically, this was the very same false “god” who had brought him to his death bed at the age of 55.
I never have used a handbook on how to “do ministry”. I certainly was never trained on how to handle an issue like the one with which Dan was wrestling. What could I do in a situation like this and be able to help Dan?
I used the technique found in Acts 4:29-31: I prayed. Then I proceeded to do what I thought I felt the Lord was leading me to do.
I asked Dan, “Has there ever been a time in your life when you were sure something had happened but then, later, learned that what you thought had happened had not happened at all?” He replied, “Well, yea. That happened all the time!” I said, “So, you never really knew what had happened.”
I went on: “Dan, was there ever a time when you were positive something was happening but later learned that it really wasn’t happening after all?” He nodded. “Yes. That happened a lot my whole life.” I summarized by saying, “So you never really knew what WAS happening.” He nodded.
Then I asked, “Was there ever a time when you were sure something would happen but, when it was all said and done, it didn’t turn out to happen?” He smiled at me from his deathbed, victorious. “No! That never happened to me!”
I cocked my head and said, “I thought you were mad because you were SURE you would be dead by now but are still alive….” Dan snapped his fingers and exclaimed, “DANG! You’re right! I WAS wrong about that and, come to think of it, that happened to me a lot too!” I smiled and gently said, “So, you didn’t really know what WOULD happen.”“Yea”, he admitted.
I summarized, “What you’re telling me is that in your whole life you didn’t know what had happened or what was happening or what was going to happen.”
We sat there a few minutes, neither of us speaking. He wrinkled his forehead, made eye contact with me and said, “This are NOT making me feel better, you know.” I had to laugh and he had to laugh too.
Dan’s problem was that all his life he had relied on an unreliable “god”, himself, and this god had failed him at the end of his life, a particularly vulnerable time for any person. Meanwhile, the real, one true God stood patiently on the sidelines where Dan had left Him.
I couldn’t help Dan feel better emotionally without first making him feel uncomfortable. There is a reason for that.
Until any of us learns to distrust whatever it is we rely upon other than God, we won’t trust God. Until that happens we CAN’T harvest the peace and joy there is to be found in Him.
So, I let him stew for a little bit. Then it was time to offer something that DID have the potential to make Dan feel better and enjoy the rest of his time with his friends and family.
“Dan, when you were a little kid you asked Jesus to be your Lord. I don’t know how much He got to BE God in your life or even how much you know about Him. So, I want to tell you something about God that you may not know: He knows EVERYTHING. You and I…we DON’T know everything. Heck, we barely know anything; but, He knows EVERYTHING – including the exact second you will die.” I paused. “Dan, do you believe what I’m saying?”
He nodded at me and said, “Yea. You’ve never lied to me.”
I smiled and continued, “Thanks, Dan. I’m thinking, why don’t you enjoy the time you have left with your wife and kids and grandkids and your friends? Why don’t you just let God worry about when you will die, live every single day you have left and try to enjoy them? And, I’ll make you a promise: if I am here the day you are going to die and I think God wants me to tell you that, I’ll say, ‘Dan? I think today is the day.’ What do you think about that deal?”
Dan smiled and said, “Yea! I like that!”
I finished up, “Dan, I think you have a lot of time on your hands. Why don’t you spend some of that talking to Jesus and listening to Him? Why don’t you pray for your wife and kids and grandkids that are gonna miss you when you’re gone?” He just smiled and nodded.
The thing about all this is that whenever we minister to someone else we don’t have to have a title or any degrees or special training (although, sometimes those things might give us some earthly confidence). Also, the people to whom we minister do not have to have extensive Bible knowledge or lots of pew time (although, sometimes those things help make what we minister easier to receive).
All we really need is what the very first Christians had, long before Bibles were even written: faith in God and a heart to ask His input, listen to it and obey Him. All we have to do is what He says to do.
For the next six months or so I would drop in on Dan and visit about once a week or so. He had been having a ball with his friends and loved ones, having apparently forgotten how angry he was to still be alive past his own projected last day.
Toward the end of that time he started to decline visibly and one cold Tuesday afternoon I found myself sitting with him. He hadn’t spoken or had anything to eat or drink in a few days. Having been a hospice chaplain I knew some of the signs and prayed to ask the Lord’s opinion. I was sure it was the day he would meet Jesus face to face so, I fulfilled my promise to Dan.
I knelt down next to him and said, “Dan?” He opened one eye slightly. “Dan”, I said conspiratorially, “I think today is the day!!!”
He smiled that familiar smile. He was at peace. A couple of hours later Dan died peacefully and got to meet Jesus face to face.
I’m sharing this true story because we need to know God has given all Christians the right, when He says to do so, to minister on His behalf.
“…we have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant…” (2 Corinthians 3:4b-6a)
I pray that this true story will give you the confidence to consider ministering to others, without worrying about how much or how little training you might have or how much or how little Biblical knowledge those to whom you minister might have.
And remember: this is all to the glory of God!
“For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)