I'm not a very patient man, I admit it. Last night I was watching Dual Survival with Dave Canterbury and Cody Lundin and I said to Steph that I wished I were more like Cody. He never gets in a hurry, never rushes through anything, seems so calm, speaks softly, and if he doesn't have anything to say that will contribute to the conversation, he just doesn't say anything. That is an awesome character trait.
In the earlier years of my ministry, I felt like anytime someone had a problem it was my bounden duty to have the right words to say, and I would keep trying until I was satisfied that I had said the right thing. Unfortunately, sometimes I never got to that place and just wound up sounding stupid and fumbling for words.
This morning, the Life Journal readings have at least 3 great stories in them. One is the stoning of Stephen, God bless his soul. That man wouldn't shut up even when they started throwing the stones. He kept on saying what he felt led to say and it got him killed. I think he is part of the reason I am the way I am. But I digress. The second story is of the choosing of the first deacons. This group was upset that their widows weren't being taken care of like that group's widows so they started complaining to the disciples and the disciples had them choose 7 men to take charge of that. But the one I'm going to land on this morning is the Old Testament text, the story of Job.
Now, I'm not going to hit on the whole "poor Job, lost everything he had but look how patient he was..." deal because Job wasn't at all patient. Job threw a freakin' fit and demanded a one on one, face to face with God. He appeared patient in the first few chapters, I think, because he was in shock. But that's not what hit me this morning. It was his friends.
Yeah, his friends. Do you remember what they did? They had heard about everything that had happened to him, got together, and went to him. It's beautiful. They wept when they saw the shape he was in and sat down with him. For seven days they sat there and never spoke a word. For seven days they were just there with him. We don't know what they did for those seven days, but we know what they didn't do... "No one said a word to him because they saw how great his suffering was." That is a ministry of presence.
It's an amazing thing to watch. When someone we know finds themselves at a place in their life when the walls have caved in, and they can't even think beyond their next breath, what they need is someone to just be with them. They don't need fancy words, and they don't need for someone to find the right thing to say. They need someone to hold them while the cry, to listen while they rant, to let them know just by their presence that God has not left them, and that God's heart is breaking right along with theirs.
If only we could do more of that and less of the talking. I never cease to be amazed at some of the stupid things I've heard people say to other people in a time of crisis. At the death of a child, I actually heard someone say to the mother, and this is a direct quote: "You just have to accept this as part of God's perfect plan..." Would someone please tell me how that helped her. I can't speak for her, but I do know from listening to her that she was already struggling with theodicy (justice of God) issues, and now she gets to add to that the thought that God planned for her baby to die. Please.
This is one area where we inside the church have a lot of work to do. We feel that there is an explanation for everything that happens and we have to keep trying until we have convinced the one in pain of that. The truth is, we live in a fallen world, and sometimes, things just happen. That doesn't mean that, at some point, we won't see how God can redeem any particular situation, but there is not always a reason why it happened.
God needs us to be a source of God's presence in a hurting world, not necessarily to have the right words all the time. Now, that doesn't mean that there is never a time to try to make some sense out of a situation, or that sometimes, what someone needs is to hear "I love you and so does God, and we are both here with you in your pain." Maybe, taking a few days to pray for the right words is not a bad idea. Job's friends had this one nailed. They knew there was nothing they could say that would make Job feel better about what had just happened to him, so they didn't say anything. They knew that any attempt at an explanation would be empty and shallow at best. And they held out for a week before they messed up and opened their mouths. Dang, so close.
God, help me keep my eyes open and let me know when to keep my mouth closed. Let me be your presence more and your voice less. And God, please, let me speak only when you have given me the words to say.