Friday, 16 September 2016

Walking with someone

(This post originally appeared in the September 2016 edition of our church magazine "The Grapevine")

Going for a walk together is a great way to get to know someone or re-kindle a friendship that has maybe fallen off the radar a little. You get to chat, listen, laugh and enjoy the views together. You have a shared goal of reaching the summit of the mountain or the café at the end of the road!

Recently a man named Glenn started attending our church. Many of you may have met him after the service. Glenn is an alcoholic. His life has been full of disappointment and heartache. He has no contact with his family, relationships have ended and he has no job and no money. Some of that has contributed to him drinking too much, and some of it has been a result of his drinking too much. He was also a young Christian.

Glenn has now gone to a Christian residential rehab center with the aim of being free from his addiction and, maybe, in the long run helping others in a similar position to him.

On the outside he looked very different from most other people in our church, but isn’t a church supposed to be a place for all different types of people? His life is a mess, but God is working. And this leads me to ask the question;

How do you walk alongside someone who’s life is very different to yours?
What do you say when their problems are something you have never faced or the bible is ‘grey’ on?
How do you help them apply the bible to their lives and what will it look like?

I am sure that Glenn will be the first of many people we will meet as a church who have very complicated and messy lives, and I am by no means an expert on dealing with the issues he faced but hopefully the following 3 things will be helpful for all of us as we, God willing, walk alongside more people like Glenn;

1.    The best things the church can provide for anyone, and especially people like Glenn, is the gospel. Hospitals provide the best medical care. Rehab centers give the best environment to help break an addiction. The council is the best person to sort out housing. The church is the best place to provide the gospel. We shouldn’t feel bad about referring people to someone more qualified or specifically trained. If hospitals started trying to re-house people and we started handing out medicine, the people coming to us would be in more of a mess than they started! The best thing we can give is Jesus, other practical things come after.

2.    It’s a family walk, not a solo hike. The amount of time, energy and spiritual input people in Glenn’s situation need is more than 1 or 2 people can give. Thankfully, God has given each of us the knowledge of the gospel of Christ and so we can all have a role to play. Listening to hurts, providing lifts to and from appointments, giving meals and reading the bible – all things that just one person needs but that we all, as a church can provide. All of us can walk alongside the ‘Glenns’ that come through out door, not just 1 or 2 chosen people.

3.    It’s a long walk (so get some comfy shoes!) Change takes time. I wonder if most of us would even think an alcoholic could be a Christian? Perhaps we’re more used to discipling people whose lives look like ours, but when a person’s life looks a mess on the outside, and they then come to faith, we can’t expect everything to change in an instant (barring a miraculous intervention from God). It might be that, in this life, they never fully overcome their struggles. What we have to understand is that we’re with them for the whole walk, and that it’s God that changes people not us! If they are changing – however slowly – to be more like Christ (and not just more like us!) then we can know that God is at work.

We need to be praying for those like Glenn who haven’t walked through our door yet.
We need to be praying that as we meet more people like Glenn we are prepared to carry the burden as a church family.
We need to be prepared to have our ideas about what a Christian looks like challenged and changed.
We need to be prepared for the long haul and for disappointments as people become Christians but struggle to break free from their way of life.
…And we need to keep praying for Glenn.

“and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” Ephesians 6:15