Jeff Christopherson on the Magnetic Power of Shared Burdens

Image: Photo by Dan Myers on Unsplash

Jeff Christopherson is a church planter, pastor, author and Missiologist at the Send Institute – an interdenominational church planting and evangelism think tank.

“And we exhort you, brothers and sisters: warn those who are idle, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See to it that no one repays evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all.” — 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15 (CSB)

Life feels heavy these days. The weighty burden of everyday life seems to be exacerbated by a relentless stream of headlines that range from the unique (murderous hornets) to the fear-inducing (a global pandemic) to the shockingly horrific (videos of racism and murder). The natural impulse in the face of this unyielding bad news is to cower down and pursue self-preservation. Today’s pandemic has certainly exposed—not caused—our own proclivity toward selfish individualism and isolation.

In First Thessalonians, chapter five, Paul calls the church to a bold faithfulness in light of the certain return of Christ and the assured persecution they will face until then. This passage provides a reminding context that, while it may seem like everything has changed in the span of a few months, that God’s church is sovereignly designed for troubling times. But it is in these unsure moments, that his people, then and now, are tempted to hunker down in isolation and fear resembling those without hope and without the gospel. But that impulse is not the way of Jesus. In the worst of days, Christ calls us into relationships.

All of the commands found in verses 14 and 15 are relational in their very orientation. We can’t obey any of them individually. They require human relationships. It’s as if Paul knew that the secret to facing life in a fractured world necessarily involved others.

There is only one challenge given to all: “be patient with everyone.” The other commands require a degree of intimacy to gain personal knowledge. Somehow, we must be invested in the daily lives of others to know who is idle, who is discouraged, who is weak, and who has done evil. Once I know who fits these descriptions, I’m then able to cater my intentionality in relationships to fit their situation. I don’t “warn the weak’—they don’t need warning, they need “help.” I don’t “comfort the idle”—their obsession for comfort requires a “warning.” I have to know others well enough to know what they need, and in the same way, I must be known in such a way that others can speak grace-filled words of hope or challenge in the ways I need it most.

We’ve seen this need expressed as smaller subsets within local churches have begun to reconnect in-person in some places around North America. As they do, people begin to relay real pain, discouragement, and burdens that they are experiencing. The situations are different. The challenges real. The burdens weighty.

We see the burdens that racism brings. When we reduce God’s beautiful handiwork into human targets to unleash our base fears and insecurities, the burden intensifies. When God’s children cannot feel safe amongst those who are charged to protect them, the burden intensifies. When a smartphone camera is the only way to bring to light the horrors that a people have endured for generations, the burden intensifies. And this burden is owned by many around us.

We see the burdens that poverty brings. When hard working people are no longer employed, the burden intensifies. When simple things once thought of as basic needs suddenly become luxuries, the burden intensifies. When ‘food insecurity’ becomes a household phrase, the burden intensifies. And this burden is owned by many around us.

We see the burdens that a pandemic brings. When ailing loved ones are locked away in hospitals and nursing homes with no opportunity to receive the comfort of family, the burden intensifies. When 100,000 lives are snuffed out in less than three months, each with a family, a future, a story – the burden intensifies. When normal is flushed, and hope for a new normal seems miles away, the burden intensifies. And this burden is owned by many around us.

Yet many of us are largely unaffected by systemic racism, the pain of poverty, or the devastating effects of this pandemic. We have no real burden. We see the pain as we scroll through our social media feeds, but we are insulated, detached, and smugly grateful.

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Source: Christianity Today