Monday, August 16, 2010

Take the Initiative and Reach Out

(the following photos & excerpts are from the article "Have Love Among Yourselves" on pgs 14-18 of the 2/1/03 Watchtower)

A Lost Sheep and a Lost Coin
To teach his listeners Jehovah’s view of those who have strayed, Jesus gave two brief illustrations. One was about a shepherd. Jesus said: “What man of you with a hundred sheep, on losing one of them, will not leave the ninety-nine behind in the wilderness and go for the lost one until he finds it? And when he has found it he puts it upon his shoulders and rejoices. And when he gets home he calls his friends and his neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost.’ I tell you that thus there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner that repents than over ninety-nine righteous ones who have no need of repentance.”—Luke 15:4-7.

The second illustration was about a woman. Jesus said: “What woman with ten drachma coins, if she loses one drachma coin, does not light a lamp and sweep her house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it she calls the women who are her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found the drachma coin that I lost.’ Thus, I tell you, joy arises among the angels of God over one sinner that repents.”—Luke 15:8-10.

What can we learn from these brief illustrations? They show us:
(1) how we should feel about those who have grown weak
(2) what we should do to help them

Let us consider these points...Like Jehovah and Jesus, we too are deeply concerned about those who are weak and missing from the Christian congregation. (Ezekiel 34:16; Luke 19:10) We view a spiritually weak individual as a lost sheep—not a lost cause. We do not reason: ‘Why worry about a weak one? The congregation is getting along just fine without him.’ Rather, like Jehovah, we view those who have drifted away but who want to return as being valuable.

How, though, can we express our feelings of concern? Jesus’ two illustrations indicate that we can do so:
(1) by taking the initiative
(2) by being gentle
(3) by being earnest

Let us look at these aspects one at a time...

Take the Initiative
In the first of the two illustrations, Jesus says that the shepherd will “go for the lost one.” The shepherd takes the initiative and makes a deliberate effort to find the missing sheep. Hardship, danger, and distance do not hold him back. On the contrary, the shepherd persists “until he finds it.”—Luke 15:4.

Similarly, reaching out to a person in need of encouragement often requires that the stronger one take the initiative. Faithful men of old understood this. For instance, when Jonathan, King Saul’s son, noticed that his bosom friend David was in need of encouragement, Jonathan “rose up and went to David at Horesh, that he might strengthen his hand in regard to God.” (1 Samuel 23:15, 16) Centuries later, when Governor Nehemiah saw that some of his Jewish brothers had grown weak, he too “immediately rose” up and encouraged them ‘to keep Jehovah in mind.’ (Nehemiah 4:14) We today will also want to ‘rise up’—take the initiative—to strengthen those who are weak. But who in the congregation should do so?

Christian elders, in particular, have the responsibility to “strengthen the weak hands . . . and make the knees that are wobbling firm” and to “say to those who are anxious at heart: ‘Be strong. Do not be afraid.’” (Isaiah 35:3, 4; 1 Peter 5:1, 2) Note, however, that Paul’s admonition to “speak consolingly to the depressed souls” and to “support the weak” was not given to elders only. Rather, Paul’s words were directed to the entire “congregation of the Thessalonians.” (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 5:14) Reaching out to those who are weak is thus a task for all Christians. Like the shepherd in the illustration, each Christian should be moved to “go for the lost one.” Of course, this is done most effectively in cooperation with the elders. Could you take some steps to assist a weak one in your congregation?

Be Gentle
What does the shepherd do when he finally finds the lost sheep? “He puts it upon his shoulders.” (Luke 15:5) What a touching and telling detail! The sheep may have wandered for days and nights through unfamiliar territory, perhaps even being exposed to the threat of stalking lions. (Job 38:39, 40) No doubt the sheep is weakened by a lack of food. It is simply too frail to overcome in its own strength the hurdles it will encounter on the way back to the fold. Therefore, the shepherd bends down, gently lifts up the sheep, and carries it across all obstacles back to the flock. How can we reflect the care shown by this shepherd? A person who has lost contact with the congregation may be exhausted in a spiritual sense. Like the sheep separated from the shepherd, such an individual may have wandered aimlessly through this world’s hostile territory. Without the protection provided by the fold, the Christian congregation, he is exposed more than ever to the attacks of the Devil, who “walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone.” (1 Peter 5:8) Additionally, he is weakened by a lack of spiritual food. Hence, on his own he likely is too weak to overcome the hurdles he will encounter on his journey back to the congregation. Therefore, we need to bend down, so to speak, gently lift up the weak one, and carry him back. (Galatians 6:2) How may we accomplish that?

The apostle Paul said: “If anyone is weak, do I not share his weakness?” (2 Corinthians 11:29, The New English Bible; 1 Corinthians 9:22) Paul had empathy for people, including the weak. We want to display similar fellow feeling for those who are weak. When visiting a spiritually weak Christian, reassure him that he is valuable in Jehovah’s eyes and dearly missed by his fellow Witnesses. (1 Thessalonians 2:17) Let him know that they are ready to give him support and are willing to be for him “a brother that is born for when there is distress.” (Proverbs 17:17; Psalm 34:18) Our heartfelt expressions may gently and gradually lift him up to the point that he is able to return to the flock. What should we do next? The illustration of the woman and the lost coin gives us guidance.

Be Earnest
The woman who loses the coin knows that the situation is challenging but not hopeless. Had the coin been dropped in a large, bushy field or in a deep, muddy lake, she probably would have given it up as lost beyond recovery. However, knowing that the coin must be somewhere in her house, within reach, she begins a thorough and earnest search. (Luke 15:8) First, she lights a lamp to brighten her dark house. Then, she sweeps the floor with her broom, hoping to hear a tinkling sound. Finally, she carefully searches every nook and cranny until the lamp catches a glint of a silver coin. The woman’s earnest effort is rewarded!

As this detail of the illustration reminds us, the Scriptural obligation to help a weak Christian is not beyond our abilities. At the same time, we realize that it requires effort. After all, the apostle Paul said to the Ephesian elders: “By thus laboring you must assist those who are weak.” (Acts 20:35a) Keep in mind that the woman does not find the coin by looking around her house casually, just here and there, or incidentally, just now and then. No, she succeeds because she systematically searches “until she finds it.” Likewise, when we endeavor to regain a spiritually weak individual, our approach needs to be earnest and purposeful. What can we do?

How can we help a weak one build up faith and appreciation? A personal Bible study in an appropriate Christian publication may be just what is needed. Indeed, conducting a Bible study with a weak individual allows us to assist him in a consistent and thorough way. It is likely that the service overseer could best determine who might provide the needed assistance. He may suggest what subjects could be studied and which publication would be most helpful. Just as the woman in the illustration uses helpful tools to accomplish her task, so today we have tools that help us to accomplish our God-given responsibility to assist those who are weak.

Assisting those who are weak brings blessings to all. The one being helped enjoys the happiness of becoming reunited with true friends. We experience the heartfelt joy that only giving can bring. (Luke 15:6, 9; Acts 20:35b) The congregation as a whole grows in warmth as each member takes a loving interest in others. And above all, honor goes to our caring Shepherds, Jehovah and Jesus, as their desire to support the weak is reflected in their earthly servants. (Psalm 72:12-14; Matthew 11:28-30; 1 Corinthians 11:1; Ephesians 5:1) What good reasons we have, therefore, to continue ‘having love among ourselves’!