One of my newer ministry roles—in addition to pastoral ministry, teaching, and being a writer and author—is as a hospital chaplain.
Chaplaincy ministry brings me into contact with ailing patients every day who wonder whether God has forsaken them. Many of them have long seen the sun set on their hopes of experiencing a palatable peace and meaningful existence. I encountered one such person (an elderly woman) who was cold, lonely, and who wanted someone to bathe her. (The latter being something I didn’t offer to do, by the way!) While I was praying with this fragile sweetie she shook and sobbed in my arms while laying her head on my shoulder. She began to weep so loudly and cathartically, in fact, I thought the nurses would surely run into the room to see what I was doing to her!
Suffice it to say, the elderly woman was overcome by the thought that God still loved her and had not forsaken her during her waning years. As I ended my prayer all she could say was, “Thank you! Oh thank you!”
Evangelism can be a scary and dangerously thorny (even deadly) venture for Christians. Jesus, after all, did say that He was sending His disciples out to minister as “sheep among wolves” (Matthew 10:16). However, this reality should never negate the call and expectation God has for us, that we be like His Son to people we meet—especially those who are in clear need and want of His touch and truth.
We don’t have to be Bible scholars, pastors, career missionaries or even a James McDonald to evangelize effectively. I am re-learning that witnessing for Jesus involves as much doing what He did (befriend and serve the lowly, the hurting, the outcast, and the oppressed), as it does, sharing with the spiritually lost how they can get back on God’s intended path of salvation through faith in His Son. James 2:17 teaches that “faith without deeds” renders that faith “dead” (unproductive). Like the old saying goes, “Show me a sermon, don’t just preach one.”
Don’t get me wrong; we need words too. In the New Testament, a witness (marturai in the original Greek text of the Bible) must say something. However, a witness for Christ must always be something more than merely words to those they’re ministering to. Speaking for Jesus is directly related to being like Jesus. Just a simple touch, embrace, a holding of the hand and allowing the trials and cares of people to rest themselves on our shoulders can go a long way towards telling people what the Bible says about our great Saviour.
Yes, in certain circumstances, sharing tears with people, or for people, is not enough; there’s more we could and should do. That said, sometimes a situation beckons an act of kindness and compassion where no further spiritual filler (words, gospel presentation) is needed at the time. Hospital chaplaincy is re-teaching me that although hurting people may be closed to our Biblespeak and “religion,” it appears as though they’ll never be closed to our caring. And if they know we are a follower of Christ, maybe that is enough, and we need to allow God to do His convicting work from there. Only let us remember that being Jesus to our fellow sinnerfolk involves loving them not only with “words or tongue” but also “with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
Ron Mahler is an ordained minister and has been involved in some aspect of pastoral/church ministry for over the past nineteen years, where he has served in the roles of senior, assistant, and youth pastor. Aside from doing some periodic teaching at the Bible College level, Ron is also a writer and author of three books. His third and latest book, Radical Apprentices (a Word Alive Press free publishing contest winner) was released in December 2015. Ron and his wife of nineteen years, Elaine, have two children in their teenage years. Ron is currently a freelance speaker in the Haliburton Highlands of Ontario, as well as a semi-regular preacher at the Lake of Bays Mission Church in Dwight, ON. Ron and his family currently reside in Minden, ON.