We are blessed as church to have people who care. There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t hear about some random act of kindness from some random saint. From a widow’s yard being mowed to an unplanned visit to a shut-in, I have a mental treasure box in which I store these things. It makes a pastor proud when saints do “the work of ministry,” as prescribed by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:12. One of my great joys is when a compassionate saint approaches me to seek my advice on how to better care for someone in need. I am often asked about caring for people who are grieving, or suffering, or struggling through various trials. And while there is not a set answer for any of these situations, the best medicine for caring for people during difficult times is simply the ministry of presence and the ministry of listening. It has often been said that we have two ears to listen with and one mouth with which to speak – perhaps God is teaching us a lesson of proportions!
Truth be told, if you have ever been through any of these difficulties, you would know that some of the best ministry comes from the caring saint who has walked through those same trials ahead of you. The best ministry to a cancer patient comes from the cancer survivor. The best ministry to the jobless is from the recently re-employed. The best ministry to the grieving comes from those who have grieved. There is something about being able to identify with another person’s pain and hold their hand as they work through it.
That’s not to say that you can’t minister to someone unless you have been through the same struggle, but there is simply something about knowing that the shoulder you are crying on belongs to someone who has also had to cry on someone else’s shoulder. This is what Paul is referring to in 2 Corinthians 1:4, “He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” It really is all about identification.
In Mark 1, Jesus does something that may seem strange to us. He receives baptism from John. Now we know that John’s baptism was all about repentance, something that Jesus didn’t have to worry about. So why would Jesus receive a baptism when it seemed utterly unnecessary? Could it possibly be to identify with sinful man? Jesus received baptism of repentance, not because he needed it, but because we need to know that we have a Savior who perfectly identifies with us. Immediately after his baptism, Jesus went to the wilderness to be tested by the Devil. We know he was tempted with materialism, with power, with fame. Again, three temptations that are very real to all of us. Jesus reminds us that he identifies with humanity in that He is like us in every way, but is so unlike us in the most important way – where we failed our test, Jesus passed his.
So, what is your struggle today? Do you grieve? Don’t fret, Jesus knows grief. Do you struggle with illness? Do not be afraid, Isaiah says that he bore our illnesses. Do you struggle with unemployment? Jesus didn’t even have a place to lay his head at night. Do you struggle with a variety of sins? Don’t feel defeated, for Jesus was also tested with those same sins.
Perhaps you’ve even struggled with baptism. You’re not sure you can stand up in front of people or maybe you’re even afraid of the water. Our Savior reminds us that he identifies with us even in baptism. If you’ve never received believer’s baptism, will you follow Jesus and be baptized?
Come on in, the water’s fine!