Should I be encouraging my chronically ill friend to serve?
Accountability and encouragement are two things we talk a lot about as Christians. Similarly, we know that the Bible calls us all to serve God. But what do we do when our friend (who we are supposed to be encouraging to serve) is chronically ill? Surely sickness lets them off the hook? We can’t really be expected to hold them accountable in this area when they can barely get out of bed… can we?
Surely sickness lets them off the hook? We can’t really be expected to hold them accountable in this area when they can barely get out of bed… can we?
But we can.
What service is and why sickness is no excuse
It’s tempting to say that serving God only looks like personal prayer and Bible reading and joyfully singing songs in our bedroom… but that is not quite true. The reality is, serving God is not just about the spiritual but the physical.
Yet God is not physically present – so how do we do this? The Bible tells us we serve God by serving others (Colossians 3:23-24). We are called to serve…
- Anyone – “Love your neighbor” (Mark 12:31).
- Those who are particularly vulnerable – “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me” (Mathew 25:40).
- The church – “as you have received a gift, use it to serve on another” (1 Peter 4:10).
But why? Well, bluntly, because Jesus tells us to.
Why Does it Matter
More specifically, we serve because Jesus did. He walked the talk. Jesus came down to earth and washed people’s feet, healed the sick and ultimately gave His life for us. He considered us before Himself – so can we dare to claim to follow in His footsteps and not try to do likewise?
In acts of service, we mimic our Saviour. If our friend is a Christian, they must serve.
But life is rarely that simple.
This is uncomfortable advice (but bear with me)
If this is grating against your instincts, you’re not alone. I grew up with a chronically ill parent who struggled to do day-to-day tasks. If someone had dared suggest they ought to be serving as well, I would have shut them down pretty quickly.
And yet the more I look into it, the more I realize that my sick mother should not be excluded from the privilege of serving – as long as we accept a few truths:
Serving can look different
‘Traditional’ acts of serving the community and the church are cooking meals, putting our names on welcoming rosters, teaching Sunday school or volunteering to teach English to refugees. Chances are, your sick friend is unable to perform such activities. But what if we broaden our perspective? And, what if service is not just an action but also an attitude? What if serving can be:
- Summoning the energy to come to Bible study, even if it means you are unable to interact much or have to leave early
- Smiling at the man at the door trying to sell things
- Reading your child a bedtime story
- Going to bed ridiculously early in the hope that you will have enough energy to love
- Leaving the room before you speak out in anger
- Praying for someone
- Simply sitting at Jesus’ feet and nourishing your heart even when you have limited energy – because this also will bear fruit and love others
If these things (and there are much more!) are done for others, to love or encourage, they are acts of service.
Sickness can change what service looks like, and that’s okay.
There’s no quota!
Giving them Options
Our friend does not have to commit to serving at a particular time each week or each day. There’s no need for them to feel like a failure if they can only turn up to Bible study once a year. Serving is not about having a to-do list to tick.
We are not saved through serving! God loves us whether we are able to set up chairs for a church service or can’t even summon the emotional energy to speak to someone on the phone.
If we fail in serving, that too is okay. If we yell instead of love or hide instead of showing weakness, it is not the end of the world. Why? Because that is why Christ died – and so let us turn to Him in repentance and Love and prayer. We cannot serve without His strength.
Sickness can make serving hard, and that’s okay.
Serving must be a choice
Let me clarify. Serving is your sick friend’s choice – not yours. By all means, if you love them you will encourage them and support them, but in the end, it is their decision.
You can’t make anyone serve. You can’t presume to understand their limits or God’s plan for their life. We suggest, and we stand by them, and we help them – but we never condemn or force. Service attempted under duress is not true service at all.
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A final warning
Because we love our sick friend, it’s easy to feel overprotective. We know the things which drain their health and energy. We understand the cost they will have to pay – and often we are the ones who are around the bear it! It is us who will be snapped at when they are exhausted or are the listening ear when they are stressed.
My friends, service is a sacrifice, make no mistake. But sacrifice is okay.
When our sick friend wants to serve or wants to try to do so, I think we need to (with wisdom) let them. Likewise, we need to remember to allow our friend to serve us. It doesn’t matter whether we could do the task just as well, or if it hurts our pride or makes us seem weak. We are called to trust God and let them
Likewise, we need to remember to allow our friend to serve us. It doesn’t matter whether we could do the task just as well, or if it hurts our pride or makes us seem weak. We are called to trust God and let them fulfill their acts of love – that in itself is our service.
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And so service is never simple, but it is worth it. Imagine a world where as we serve others they move to serve us! What a different place it would be. Let us encourage one another in love and humility to serve and be served, whatever our situation because our Saviour is enough. His, “grace is sufficient” for us, and His “power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)