All believers…are one body…closely connected together in Christ, and consequently ought to be helpful to each other.John Wesley
This is the third and final installment of the Body Image series. I write this for the wounded who find it difficult to push forward. Not just for them, but for those who know someone who is wounded and finding it difficult to move forward. We can feel so compelled to serve Christ, which we should, but sometimes limitations fall on us and that becomes a troublesome thing.
Let’s look at this in relation to the Body, the Body of Christ, the Church. I will try to keep things simple by getting to a main point made by 18th century theologian and revivalist John Wesley: “we are closely connected together in Christ and consequently ought to be helpful to each other.” That was his comment on Romans 12:5.
Paul writes a similar message to the Corinthians and says to each person that their “unique manifestation of the Spirit” is given for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:7). He describes different ways people are gifted and then likens them to body parts in order to diffuse strife that has built up from jealousy over gifts. Paul makes it clear that each one receives different gifts, each for a particular, unique and important purpose. For the sake of unity, he writes, “…so that there should be no division among the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.” He goes on to say that if one part suffers, every part suffers with it.
I remember standing on my legs and trying to walk 2 meters between parallel bars while trying to recover from my motorcycle accident. My right leg, though broken much more badly than my left, was stronger because it had a “Taylor Spatial Frame” on it. It held my leg together like a strong exoskeleton. It was the leg that made full weight-bearing possible and allowed me to stand. It took up weight for my left leg, which had no intact ligaments to speak of and a dislocated knee cap. I look around the church and see people who, despite having issues of their own, prop up those who are even weaker. God, bless those people.
I have video footage of my first steps. My arms were recruited to pull the rest of the body into a standing position. They had to work very hard to do so. Then, to walk those mere two meters, my arms carried virtually all of my weight, as my legs were wasted away. Arms are not made for walking. Their muscle mass is much smaller than the legs’ and designed to do other things. After a few labored steps, all of my energy was drained and I trembled under the strain. I look around the church and I see people who have to do work designed for someone else because that someone else is unable to. God bless those people.
Over the last two years of using a wheelchair and crutches to propel my body, my shoulder has become weary from overuse. I try to strengthen my upper back muscles, which helps, but make no mistake: it’s life span will suffer. The shoulder, the hero, has been sacrificing itself for a lengthy period of time for the benefit of the rest of the body. How else could the rest of the body be as useful if it could not get around? I look around the church and see people bearing one another’s burdens at cost to themselves. God bless those people.
My legs serve to illustrate what has happened to me in the church. Because of the injuries to them, the acquired disability, the resulting mental health struggles and other complicated knock-on effects, I feel I have been taken out of commission. For years I served in the armed forces, supervising as many as 63 people. The most rewarding aspect of my role was the pastoral care involved. The second most rewarding role I found myself in was teaching. After retirement, I eventually found my way to education in a pastoral care role. But since the accident, I have not successfully returned to work for a substantial period of time so now there seems to be a great void from not exercising the gifts I feel I have.
To make this more of a concern, I have recently stepped down from a leadership role in a fledgling ministry because further life-changing operations await. Staying in the role would have caused the mission to suffer because it won’t get my undivided attention or full strength. I am broken-hearted over this. The feeling of uselessness and failure comes in waves, even though I know these feelings are not legitimate.
So what do we make of these seasons when our wounds (be they, physical, mental, emotional or even spiritual) take us out of action? Any suggestions or principles I propose here can feel like hard-to-swallow medicine. Here’s what I’m thinking. I hope they are helpful to you:
- God is sovereign. He doesn’t need our service. That sounds harsh, but it’s true. He has everything he needs to live happily forever. He desires our hearts. David says something like that in Psalm 51:16-17. See, our gifts and services (done in joy, by the way) are for the greater good of the church and the church is to glorify God through the Great Commission. If something that is beyond our control inhibits us, having an understanding of this principle can take the pressure off!
- God is sovereign. He does everything for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). That includes anything that’s going on and whatever our wounds are. Just remember too, that, according to the next verse, the aim is to be conformed to the image of his Son. That’s a glorious thing. Incidentally, that will include having a body, mind and soul that doesn’t get wounded at all!
- God is sovereign. (Have I said that yet)? He is very economical and orchestrates many things together for the good of many people at the same time. That includes those who get to support you and do the work you would have done under different circumstances. Though it may be extra challenging for them, they will also grow and become more conformed to the image of Christ.
So take heart my friends, my brothers, my sisters. Do what you can and don’t give up. Pray. The rest of the body needs it.