Practical SupportBy Nathan Mates
[This writing can be thought of as a continuation of One Church, Many Functions, which I wrote a week ago. In it, I noted Romans 12:4-5 and other passages showing that there are many necessarily different jobs to be done within the Church, and 1 Corinthians 12:21-22 which reminds us that we can not dismiss any other part because we don't see its need or like it.]
A Christian is almost certain to know at least one other Christian in their walk, usually many more. Those that you are accountable to, your spouse and/or family (hopefully Christian as well), Christian small groups (Minichurch, prayer groups, or anything similar), coworkers, and more. Once you acknowledge that you need to help out other parts of the Christian body (including, but not limited to the list above), how does one go about that? While this following set of suggestions is by no means complete, it is a start.
Before I mention specifics on what you can do for others, the first person that should be addressed is yourself. If you don't have close friends or a prayer partner, find one. Next, once you have found some Christian friends, is to do something potentially risky: trust them. [Of course, the flipside is to discern which friends are trustworthy.] If you're dealing with good Christian friends, you can trust them with areas of weakness in your life, and be confident your story won't be on the front page of next week's tabloid. So, with good friends, learn to power down your shields, and be open with your friends. On the receiving end of such things, be the trustworthy confidant of things when appropriate, and remember the comments about not judging your brother in Christ. [Romans 14:10-13 for example]
The first thing that should be done-- for enemies and friends alike-- is prayer. This is something that doesn't need to include their presence, but it certainly helps. Anyone you get to know after a while, you'll probably be told (or notice) some areas in their life that need prayer: job, family, health, and the like. Take a minute to think of Christians you're in regular contact with. Do you know off the top of your head what their prayer needs are? If not, then take notes the next time you meet. Many people keep 'prayer diaries' of things to regularly pray for; this is a good way to build up a list of prayer requests for others until the list is somewhat memorized by praying enough.
Next, you should get to know the other Christians you're with a lot. Coffee, decaf, tea, or water? Carnivore or vegetarian? Modern worship songs or Hymns? High church or low? Some of these items may sound like irrelevant trivia details, but learning them shows a level of concern for them as a person that helps a lot. But, Paul noted "Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall." [1 Corinthians 8:13]
While most of us wouldn't consider the choice of food as a stumbling block to sin, the general principle is there: don't do anything that would offend or ensnare another Christian. And what offends them? Get to know them! A more modern example of what Paul said is this: don't offer a beer to another Christian who's in AA. While not such an ensnaring action, don't invite a vegetarian friend to dinner at the "Kill a cow and throw it on these hot coals" restaurant, or invite a carnivore to "Rabbit Food 'R' Us". Yes, such things are only rank insensitivity, but the Devil can and will blow up insignificant irritations between Christians into Church-splitting issues. [I've heard (though not substantiated) of Churches split over the choice of Hymnal, or anything else that really doesn't matter that much.] So, keep the irritations between you and others to a minimum by knowing what they like and don't like.
Next, learn how the other Christians you're working with want to receive love. A friend of mine had a list of five things that people tend to prefer: spending quality time with them, words of praise, gifts, acts of service, and touch. Everyone usually has one or two items high up on their list to receive, and a few others they don't care about so much. None of these is really "better" than any of the others, and most people rarely change their preferences too wildly, so it's good to know what others like. It's also good to know what you're best at giving-- for both of these, asking others is recommended. Someone may prefer to give gifts, but receive quality time, or any other possible combination.
Once again, this comes down to the general guideline of "Know thy brothers and sisters in Christ." If you don't know them, get started on it. Unless your gifts run towards very detailed, immediate discernment, it'd be best to learn all these things (prayer requests through how they prefer to receive love) the old fashioned way: sit down and talk to them. This doesn't have to be a chore; it can be done over coffee one weekend, or in fellowship after a Church service. The more you know about others in the Christian body around you, the more you'll care for them, and resist the temptation to shrug them off as useless.
Remember Isaiah's writings about Jesus: "He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him." [second part of Isaiah 53:2] In short, Jesus was not the attractive, the seemly, the one with a pretty face the world looks up to. Jesus could probably be ignored in many churches today where people don't take the time to reach out to everyone in their midst, but only sticking to their small cliques. And yet those cliques are usually the parts of the body saying "we don't need you" to the other parts-- a very stupid move. Don't ignore anyone in Church-- from janitor to pastor, from saved to unsaved. We all need to work together, as we are far more effective in serving God as a whole than a bunch of squabbling pieces.