I grew up listening to stories my grandfather told of his childhood during the Great Depression and his time in the army during World War II. The experiences he had of childhood poverty, family brokenness and the horrifying images of war were forever etched in his mind and heart. They changed him in profound ways, leaving lasting scars, both inside and out.
Believers who walk with a limp
There are many people whom we sit next to in church on Sunday mornings who live with their own stories of brokenness. Their life has been darkened by trauma, violence, deep sins (theirs as well as others) and shattering shame. These experiences have had a rippling effect on their life, leaving lasting memories and wounds, the kind that ache and throb their entire lives.
Though they have embraced the gospel, their past still haunts them. Though they know their hope is found in Christ alone, their wounds still flare up from time to time. Though they believe, they often cry out with the father in Mark 9, “I believe, help me in my unbelief!”
These are believers who walk with a noticeable limp. They stumble often. The wounds from their past are like an arthritis that swells and throbs until it immobilizes them. They battle constant temptations to sin. They struggle with deep anxiety, fears and despair. To other believers around them, their faith seems weak. Other church members may look at them and wonder, “Why haven’t they gotten better? Why do they still struggle so much?”
Ministry to those who limp
If you’ve been in ministry long enough, you’ll find yourself helping someone whose problems never seem to abate. You repeatedly remind them of the gospel and of who they are in Christ. For a while, they seem to find some peace and then, like the returning winter cold that leaves arthritic joints swollen and aching, their struggles flare up again. They stumble and fall. Perhaps you’ve grown weary and frustrated of having to help them up time and time again.
As Barbara Duguid wrote in Extravagant Grace, “It is a devastatingly painful thing to be a weak Christian in the American evangelical church today. So much emphasis is put on reading, praying, growing, and victory that there isn’t much room left for those God is holding on to with a strong arm, but who may know little of the joy of full assurance of faith and the satisfaction of growth in grace and obedience—at least in this life. . . . They are told they must run toward God with all of their strength, yet often find themselves barely able to lie on the ground facing the right direction. They cling to God desperately, but without ever feeling an assurance of his presence or an ability to rest in the love that surrounds them.”
Here are a few truths to remember the next time you find yourself helping a fellow believer who walks with a chronic limp:
1. Remember where faith comes from. Our faith does not originate with us; it is a gift of God’s grace. And whether we have a weak faith or strong faith is not up to us either. God is the author of our faith. “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Rom. 12:3). In fact, it is not the strength of our faith which saves us, but the object of our faith, Jesus Christ.
2. God is the author of our stories. When it comes to the circumstances of our lives, God is the author of that as well. In God’s perfect wisdom and righteous plan, he has assigned some to live the life of the walking wounded. To others, he has granted stories free of severe sorrow and shame. Some of us are born into poverty and others into well- to-do families. Some of us have experienced and witnessed horrors that others have not.
Not only do our stories differ one from another but the journey we take in our sanctification will also look different from one person to the next. May we not look at others and compare, but look to God who governs and guides us all in our race of faith.
3. Don’t add to their pain. If you are tasked with ministering to those who walk with a limp, don’t add to their struggles. Don’t weigh them down with additional expectations and demands. Don’t compare them to others. Don’t treat them like second class Christians. If you realize that you have been impatient with someone who limps along in their faith, repent and pray for a heart that is patient and forbearing.
4. Instead, bear their burdens. Paul tells us to bear each other’s burdens (Gal. 6:2) and encourage and build each other up (1 Thess. 5:11). We are to be patient and forbearing with one another, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2).
5. Don’t give up on them. God has promised that he will complete what he started in us (Phil. 1:6). He will finish the work of sanctification in each of his beloved. Let us not give up on our brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us tell them over and over the good news of who they are in Christ. Let us remind them of the finished and completed work of Christ on their behalf. Let us continue to sing of his amazing grace, no matter how many times it takes. Let us pick them up every time they fall. And let us love them, just as Christ has loved us.
Helping those whose lives are marred with scars and who wobble forward with weak legs in their Christian journey is part of what it means to be in community in the Body of Christ. Bound together through the common blood of Christ, we are united as family. Each one of us is a sinner saved by grace. Though we have been saved from the power of sin, the presence of sin still remains. For some, that presence of sin seems more profound and paramount than for others. For some, the wounds they have sustained in this life will remain with them until their redemption is complete at Christ’s return. Let us never stop encouraging our limping friends and if necessary, may we pick them up and carry them as far as it takes.