A Gathering Voices Post by Don McKim
I last wrote about the ministry of listening. From that ministry, I believe another ministry comes. This is the ministry of helping.
What does it mean to be helpful? No one can fully say because it means so much. Wherever people live and work together there will be thousands of ways that helpfulness can be shown; from the big things down to the small details that take time to get things done. None of us is really “too good” for even the smallest kinds of service like this to others. And if we worry too much about losing our precious time because we have to look after those “little needs” of others—then we may well be taking ourselves and our own agendas far too seriously. We have to be willing to let our schedules be interrupted by God—by the knock on the door; the request to run an errand; the appeal to come to a church meeting. As Bonhoeffer says, "God will be constantly crossing our paths and cancelling our plans by sending people with claims and petitions. We may pass them by, preoccupied with our more important tasks, as the priest passed by the man who had fallen among thieves."(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (London: SCM, 1967), 76.) We can ignore the other; or we can help.
You may have heard the old legend of the soldier who traveled to a strange place where they told him there was a marvelous palace where guests were always happy. Nearby was a prison which was known as the most unhappy place in the kingdom. The soldier asked to see the prison first so he could contrast it with the happy palace. As he went into the prison, to his surprise there was a huge table running right down the center loaded down with every kind of luscious food. But all the people around the table were wild-eyed and hungry. "Can't they eat?" asked the soldier. "Oh yes," replied his guide. When each person arrives here they are given a pair of chopsticks five feet long. They have all tried to eat, but they cannot get food to their own lips with chopsticks that long, so they are still hungry. Then they went to the palace. Inside the soldier found a table just like the one in the prison, and this too was covered with the same good foods. But all the people in the palace looked happy and well-fed. "Do these people have chopsticks too?" asked the soldier. "Yes," said the guide, "five feet long just like the others. But these happy people used their chopsticks to feed their neighbors first. The joy they spread reached them in their turn and that's what makes this the happiest place on earth." In the original legend, the palace and the prison represented heaven and hell. Our lives can be "heaven" or "hell" depending on how well we're engaged in the ministry of helping. All the way from the little things to the big things: Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison. Heaven or hell—the ministry of helping.
As we encounter people and situations throughout our daily lives, surely a core impulse is this desire to help. May we gain sensitivities to the ways we can carry out this ministry of helping.