December 1, 2012
“The Benediction Project”
A couple of years ago I read a piece from a churchgoing man that went something like the following (I can’t remember the actual words). “I find that one topic people in church rarely want to talk about is God! Why should it be so difficult—in church of all places—to find someone wanting to discuss things of God?”
This man was not saying that God was not mentioned in the church services, but that in the “free time” before and after services, or between scheduled activities such as a class and a worship service, or even in the midst of social “fellowship” times, people seem eager to talk about many things (such as their childrens’ school activities, their jobs or their friend’s recent diagnosis of cancer) but not about God—at least not in a personal way.
I had often noticed this pattern over the years but had never come across anyone who actually wrote or spoke about it. I myself have come to accept and participate in this type of conversation with people at church, and have often found it enjoyable and even beneficial. There is nothing at all wrong with such talk unless we knowingly quench the Spirit of God within—when the Spirit is prompting us to bring up a different line of thought.
I am not suggesting that, in the hallways, aisles, and foyers of our local churches we should be continually asking people such questions as: “How is your relationship with God these days?” or “What has impressed you lately in your Bible reading?” I would absolutely love to be asked such questions but I realize many people would be surprised or (in a few cases perhaps) even offended. I am suggesting, however, that we should be sensitive to the spiritual atmosphere if and when we become aware that our conversation partner might benefit from a word of encouragement or blessing (benediction) from us—not spoken in a paternalistic manner but in a genuinely caring way, from one weary pilgrim to another on the dusty road to the heavenly city.
Sometimes it is easy to bring up spiritual issues, especially when someone not in a hurry asks “How are you?” or “How are you doing?” Most of the time with me in recent years the person is asking about my health, since I have had—both before and after my heart transplant in 2003—serious medical problems. But, whether or not someone is asking about your health, you may wish to answer (and perhaps should, if it is true) with something like: “I have been spiritually dry lately, and I would really appreciate your prayers for revival in my heart.” The person might be quite surprised by your reply (since the expected answer, at least here in the United States, is “fine” or something like that), but they will usually be very glad to say that they will pray, and feel very honored that you asked them. All true Christians want to help others if they are able, if they have the time and if they are asked personally. It really is more blessed to give than to receive, as Jesus taught. Many of God’s choice servants know this “secret” of happiness!
In the situation just mentioned, however, the person might answer, “I am also spiritually dry, so I don’t know if my prayers will get through.” In this case you could agree to pray for each other, and perhaps do so right there, in the hallway, at the front of the church or wherever else you may be: two thirsty souls crying out for the water of life.
There are several reasons I am writing on this topic. One is that I long to grow in my Christian life and know many others do also. Another is that I regularly need godly encouragement and know many others do as well. If someone is bold enough to bring up sensitive matters (their own or others) and/or introduce into the conversation specific scripture texts or other direct “God-talk,” the invisible barrier that sometimes keeps even sincere Christians from discussing matters of the heart and soul suddenly falls away, and the Spirit (the one Jesus spoke of as the Comforter and Counselor) moves in and does some wonderful work. I have been fortunate for over twenty years to belong to a solid and loving church where this kind of mutual ministry often takes place.
In addition to our own needs and the needs of others, we should be eager to speak of God’s activity in our lives because it is biblical. There are numerous scripture texts that advocate this highly beneficial practice, and I will close with four of them. A most blessed and fruitful Advent, Christmas and New Year to each of you!
1. “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
2. “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).
3. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God. …” (Ephesians 4:29-30).
4. “Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard” (Malachi 3:16).