Spending Ourselves on Behalf of Others
This reflection on the paradigm-shifting book, When Helping Hurts (WHH), comes to us from SOS staff member, Emily Gluntz.
“If you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” Is. 58:10
When helping hurts. That’s such an anomaly. How could helping someone hurt them? With all our good intentions at the forefront, we should be able to press forward in ministry with flying colors, right? Well there’s actually just a little more to it.
Reaching out and serving others is messy. It’s not just messy because of the material needs that confront us or the dissatisfaction with our broken world, it’s messy because our sinful, selfish nature gets in the way. On one hand, we are sometimes like the Israelites in Isaiah 58 and offer only to serve in ways that will affect or inconvenience us the least. But most of the time, out of a desire to truly help, we step forward blindly and assume we know what an individual needs. This is where we can easily do more harm than good because what first meets our eye in poverty is rarely the heart of the issue.
When I think about what it looks like to take part in any kind of ministry to those in poverty (spiritual, relational or material) while being conscious of the deeper elements behind a surface need, I’m reminded of a few things.
1) I myself am broken. I’m poor. I’m destitute at the foot of the cross. This humbling thought levels the playing field as I recognize I could easily trade places with any person I meet. 2) I must become more educated about cultures, socio-economic dynamics and individuals backgrounds instead of jumping in with a fix-it/savior mentality. 3) There is no clean cut way to go about ministry. True ministry is a web of relationships where you seek to learn and grow alongside those different than you. Building these relationships and maintaining them is time consuming, often messy and undefined.
I remember first reading WHH (When Helping Hurts, a book which has significantly shaped our thinking about life and ministry among the materially poor) and feeling a little paralyzed despite the wealth of experience and wisdom offered in its pages. Knowing I had been approaching so many relationships with the wrong mentality was hard to swallow and I wasn’t sure how to take what I had learned with a grain of salt and still move forward to a healthier approach towards those in poverty. So I began to take a closer look at the life of Jesus and his commandments to us.
From large crowds to individual people, Jesus gives us many great examples of ministry done well during his time here on earth. The way he led & interacted with his 12 apostles, the grace he showed the woman at the well, the healing he lavished on the sick, the demon-possessed & the broken sinners... His clearest examples were the ways he laid down his life, moment by moment, for those he came into contact with. He wasn’t caught up in worrying about what they thought of him or whether or not he was doing things the “right” way- he simply obeyed what his Father had commanded. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 Jn 3:16-17)
Over and over, I’ve gone back to Isaiah’s charge to the Israelites, “If you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”
These simple truths call us to pour ourselves out for others and help meet their immediate needs (stopping the bleeding) while committing to walk with them in deeper development (where true healing takes place). In the same chapter, he elaborates that the fasting the Lord truly wants to see in our lives is a fast of our own desires. Fasting from only using our resources for our own benefit. Laying aside our personal gain so that we can spend our energy seeking justice for others. Proactively and intentionally doing this. We can read books and learn all of the technical ways to do ministry “the right way” but if we overlook the Lord’s essential commandment to lay down our lives for others out of responsive love for Him and His initiating grace, we’ll completely miss what our focus should be.
I’m so encouraged that in the uncertainties, challenges and unknowns of learning to love and serve others well, we have this confidence: if we SPEND OURSELVES on behalf of others, the Lord promises to guide, satisfy and strengthen us.