We've recently visited different church planters and I was taken aback to hear about all the problems of the people they minister to. How do you minister to troubled people day after day and not just get overwhelmed by it all?
We all want to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this world, but how do you balance helping people without letting their problems affect you and your family? Unfortunately, I don't know the answer to that problem, but I see it as one that needs to be thought about and addressed.
My first thought is that we are tempted to not care or get involved with people and their problems. I remember my mom saying when we would leave to drive 1000 miles to the town where we ministered, "I think people who don't care are better off - then it wouldn't hurt so bad when you leave." She didn't really believe that, but that sentiment can be a temptation for us. People have messy lives and it can just be easier to deal with people on a superficial basis and never get close enough to hear about or get involved with their problems.
Since that's not really an answer, how can we care and yet keep our sanity? We do a lot of flying and I think I've practically memorized the flight attendant's speech. ("In the event of a loss of cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will drop from above. If you are traveling with a child or someone else needing assistance, place your mask on first, before helping others.") I think this is a good first principle. Our first priority has to be caring for ourselves. This may sound selfish, but we really can't help others if we are not healthy ourselves. Each person has to decide what that looks like, but it is easy to get so absorbed in people's problems that we neglect ourselves and our families. We have to fill ourselves with the right things or there will be nothing to give to others when it is needed.
Connected to caring for oneself is setting limits. There will always be more people to help; more problems to solve; more needs that could be met. Even though Jesus knew He only had 3 years to accomplish His mission, He never seemed rushed or stressed. He knew when to retreat and pray; when to pull away and rest. Are you on the phone for 30 minutes with a needy person while your family is left waiting at the dinner table? What time have you set aside for rest and pleasure? It's difficult because people's problems can't always be scheduled, but giving with no limits is not wise.
When people come to you with huge problems, what can you do? Recognize that God is the ultimate answer to their needs. Yes, sometimes they do need a listening ear or a bag of groceries or guidance, but we can only do so much. We must point them to the ONE who can help them. That means praying with them and asking God for His wisdom. Helping them find guidance in His Word.
When I find myself overwhelmed with the desperate needs of others (lying awake at 3 am), I hand it over to God. I tell Him that I'm willing to do what I can, but I cannot fix every problem. Even if I did know what to do, sometimes people are not ready or willing to do what they must do to change things.
This is a complicated issue - probably too long for this blog. But I'm concerned that many of you carry heavy burdens and they may be weighing you down. What do YOU do when people come to you with their burdens?