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The Essence of Relational Ministry

On the Road to St. Cloud:

On August 18th, 2015 I received a text message from my friend. My friend, knowing that I haven’t been my usual self lately, asks me if I would like go on a weekend trip to help his cousin move her belongings to St. Cloud. I told him I would go. His intention was to penetrate through the wall that I’ve been hiding behind. My intention was the total opposite: to get away and avoid my problems.


On the road to St. Cloud, after some small chit-chat, he asks me how I’m really doing. By God’s grace and mercy, the wall that I had been hiding behind came tumbling down like a house of cards. The emotions that I’ve been bottling up came gushing out. I raised my voice, and told him that I was not okay. In fact, I was angry. I was angry that God would allow my mom to run away to California. I was angry that God would allow my dad to have a heart attack. I was angry at God for my family’s financial hardship. I was angry at God because I had failed the previous college semester. I told him that it’s not supposed to be this way. I don’t deserve this. I wanted answers.


Then silence. I was sitting, torn by anger and bitterness. My friend didn’t talk. He didn’t ask leading questions. He just sat there in the driver’s seat and listened. Finally, I turned my face to look at him. To my surprise, tears were flowing down his face. His mouth was quivering as he broke the silence and briefly responded, “It hurts me to see you go through this. I’m so sorry . . . I know that God hears you and sees you. He loves you and knows.”


Encountering Jesus Through the Truth and Tears of a Friends:


The road to St. Cloud changed my life. Granted, it’s not inherently spectacular that people cry. Everybody cries. But at that moment when my friend cried for me, something powerful happened. In one of the darkest times of my life, what my heart longed for more than answers was a friend. A friend who will connect their hearts to mine and assure me that no matter how ugly or scary things might get, I am not alone. The cross reveals this Jesus, a God who is not far away in the clouds and unaware or indifferent to our sufferings but a God who’s deeply in tune. The cross reveals a God who does not take away the pain but joins us in it. The cross reveals Jesus as the Immanuel, God with us. I encountered this Jesus through the truth told with tears by my friend.


This truth is a great comfort. It is a great comfort to have a sovereign who not only knows me (Psalm 139:1) but also shares in our flesh and blood (Hebrews 2:14). When God took on our humanity, he took with it our feelings. This includes our sorrows. This reality cannot be any clearer in John 11 in Jesus’s response to Lazarus’s death and Mary’s grief. “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ‘“Where have you laid him?’” They said to him, ‘“Lord, come and see.’” Jesus wept.” (John 11:33–35).


Surely Jesus did not weep because he was powerless to do anything. Scripture states that Jesus is “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). On the contrary, it states that Jesus wept because he was full of love: “So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’” (John 11:36). Jesus made himself vulnerable and identified with frail humanity. He did not consider himself above our agonies, but emptied himself by taking our form, being born in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:7). Jesus, the truth (John 14:6), wept and his tears transformed Mary’s perception of her Lord. Jesus was not only a Savior but an intimate friend. Isn’t that amazing? The glory of God shone through deep friendship with Jesus (John 1:14; 15:15).


The Essence:


That’s the essence. The essence of relational ministry is fostering relationships in the truth as the way we encounter Jesus. It’s allowing Christ within us, which dwells through the Holy Spirit, to permeate forth in the imago Dei. It’s acknowledging that the other is not only a sinner, but also a sufferer. It’s truth with tears—tears of sorrow and tears of joy—in the context of relationships. Relationships involve sympathy. Sympathy is having one foot firmly planted on the rock of truth with the other foot in the quicksand of suffering.


Why suffering? God saw it fitting that the sufferings of Christian ministers would fill up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. The apostle Paul writes, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions of the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24). What’s lacking in Christ’s afflictions? Is it his atoning worth? By no means. What it lacks is a personal presentation of Jesus to those for whom He died. This is what Christians “complete.” We weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). The tear-streaked face of my friend is but a physical presentation, an image, of that bloody, tear-streaked face of our beloved Savior we all love.


Bottles of Tears into Bottles of Joy:


This is relational ministry. It’s promoting love by standing firm in the truth. This is the truth: The God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3) watches over our weeping. He sympathizes with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15). He gathers up all the tears and puts them in his fermentation bottle (Psalm 56:8). He will see to it that every tear is finally wiped from the face of those who are in Christ (Revelation 21:4) and turn these tears into well-aged wine of everlasting joy (Psalm 126:5). This is the news of the Happy God who loved his weeping people and sent his Son to weep and deliver those who repent and believe in him—for his glory and the everlasting joy of their hearts. Tell this truth with tears!

 

Tuezong Xiong (BS, University of Northwestern–St. Paul) received his bachelors degree in Pastoral Ministry and Bible at the University of Northwestern – St. Paul. He is currently studying at Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, MN for his Masters of Divinity. He is the husband of Pa Kou. He also blogs at www.tuezongxiong.wordpress.com.

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