There are times in life when we simply don’t know what to say. Suppose the phone rings in the wee hours of the morning, waking you from a deep sleep. If you are anything like me, your first thought, upon the comprehension that the phone is actually ringing, might be something like, “Uh oh, this can’t be good”.
You answer, and the person on the other end is your best friend who tells you that his or her spouse just died of a heart attack; your friend is simply overwhelmed… what are you going to say?
They ask you to come over… what will you say?
You arrive, and your friend is still overwhelmed by what has happened: what will you say?
What can you say? There are no magic words that will make the situation any better, and in all likelihood, your friend doesn’t really want you to say anything, he or she just doesn’t want to be alone right then.
At such a time, few are in the mood for speeches, fewer still are in the mood for condescension: “I told him he should exercise more and lose some weight”.
No, they just don’t want to be alone; it is a basic human need. This is sometimes called “The Ministry of Presence”. Presence is all about a person finding comfort in the fact that there is someone who cares enough about them to be present when they are at their lowest point, even though they might feel awkward or uneasy. It is more about a caring face, than golden phrases; it is more about connection and less about reason.
The Christian presence is powerful, it is more than merely the presence of another body in the room, for as Christians we are a royal priesthood, every one of us (1 Peter 2:9) and as a royal priesthood, each one of us mediates God’s presence to others by the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit within us. If that sounds a little too theoretical to you, don’t worry, for I doubt that any mere human comprehends it fully, just know that when you are present with a person in need of your presence, there is more going on than we might be conscious of, for we are bringing the love of Jesus Christ to the situation.
Jesus needed the ministry of presence too. Do you recall the story of His praying in the Garden of Gethsemane? Jesus was “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Mark 14:34), and He asked Peter, James and John to stay close by and keep watch; He needed their presence. As a Kingdom of priests, our presence is an active service to God, one of the most powerful acts of service in God’s arsenal, a service that God has clearly modeled for us.
As you know the Temple in Jerusalem is one of the most powerfully significant symbols in all of Scripture, for it represents God’s dwelling place in the midst of his people. It served as the center of Jewish life, their pride, their joy and their great comfort, for when they gazed upon the Temple, they knew that God was present with them. In the fullness of time, God moved His presence beyond the symbol of the Temple, taking on the flesh and blood for of a man, in Jesus Christ. Jesus could walk and talk in the midst of God’s people; He could literally reach out and touch them, share a meal with them and bring hope and comfort to them. Yet He knew that His time was short; preparations were made to keep God’s presence among His people worldwide, and when the time, His people received the indwelling Holy Spirit. I think it is safe to say that God has gone to great lengths to make His presence available to humanity, and part of His effort is for us to make ourselves available to one another in the ministry of presence.
So, what will we say?
Not a whole lot, so don’t worry about it. Maybe a brief prayer, or a longer silent one. Maybe a hug, a shoulder to lean on or to cry on, maybe the holding of a hand. Perhaps an ear to listen… or maybe just being there.