Jump Start # 2274
Philippians 2:27 “For he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.”
I know several brethren throughout the country who are dealing with cancer. Prayers are going up for them daily. I know that, because I’m one of those who are lifting their names to Heaven. Long term illnesses are hard. It’s hard on the body, the finances, the family who takes care of the person, and it’s hard on our faith. Unlike the flu, cancer and heart disease doesn’t pass and get better after a few days in bed. It stays. It changes lifestyles and it makes us reschedule our schedule. Doctor appointments and treatments become a monthly, if not weekly routine. And, for the child of God, he misses services. That’s one of the hardest parts of dealing with long term illnesses.
Our verse today surrounds Epaphroditus, one of Paul’s dear preaching companions. He was sick. He was very sick. He was at the point of death. In that condition, he couldn’t travel for Paul. He couldn’t preach. He couldn’t do all the wonderful things that he had been doing. He likely was in bed. That’s not a stretch when you understand he was at the point of death. Weak. Sickly. And, rather than helping others, he was in need of help. Others had to come help him.
Epaphroditus got better. Prayers were answered. Paul’s words are, “God had mercy on him.” Paul attributed his recovery not to chicken soup or medicine, but God. My dear mother lingered for weeks before she finally passed through the door of death into the next room. She was ready. We were ready. It’s hard to watch a person just slowly slipping away but they hang on.
Here are some things I’d like to share with you:
First, God knows. God understands that you can’t be at services. Sometimes brethren don’t understand or even have a caring heart, but the Lord does. Which is better, sitting around a sick loved one, praying and reaching to Heaven, or sitting in a church building with your mind a thousand other places? Sometimes folks who have never been around cancer do not understand that it’s a journey, a long one. For some, there is recovery and remission. That’s a time for thanksgiving and praise to God. For others, the journey ends with Hospice and making funeral arrangements.
Second, looking backwards doesn’t help much. We always want to know why. Why did this person get cancer? For some, the answer is obvious. Take a guy who has smoked heavily his entire life. He gets lung cancer. That’s pretty obvious. But what about the guy who never smoked and he gets lung cancer? I know of such cases. What about the person who really was picky about what he ate, exercised regularly, yet still had by-pass surgery? Genetics may play a big role. Mostly, we live in a world that is broken and it doesn’t always makes sense. I suppose it gives us some rest in our minds if we knew the “why?” But usually we don’t. I doubt that Job ever knew.
Third, when people do not feel well, patience can run thin and feelings can become sharp. It’s hard on the family who for days after days sits and cares for the loved one who is ill. They get tired. They have to juggle being with the sick one and continuing on with the world. There are jobs that demand us. There are bills that must be paid. There are kids, church, and a zillion other things that go on, even though the world seems to have stopped for the one lying in bed. Things can be said that shouldn’t be, but weariness and stress can make us impatient and short with one another. Often with an aging parent, there is a child near by who has been there all along and a child who lives away comes in for a couple of days for a quick visit. A war among the siblings can take place because one feels the burden of the daily care and the other hasn’t been there. Those bad feelings only make matters worse.
Fourth, our privacy, pride and self-reliance makes it difficult for us to reach out to others for help, but we ought to. Especially, to the church. Have someone come and sit while you get out, run some errands and get a break. So often, folks at church want to do something, but they don’t know what. Be specific about what you need and what works. Not everyone can do this and you have to recognize this. Some talk loud and long and that can make the ill person even worse. Some don’t recognize how long they have stayed and they can make others weary because they stay and stay and stay. We have to appreciate the privacy of others. Some just do not want others doing their laundry. Respect that. Some are very picky when it comes to what they can eat. Respect that. When we do not respect that and we force our way into the lives of others, it can hurt them more than it helps them. Ask, first. Ask if you can clean the house for them. Ask, if you can bring some food. Ask, if you can run errands for them. Don’t be offended if they say “no.” Some people are very private.
Fifth, be careful about asking too many questions. It was announced that someone was having surgery. After services the poor soul must have told the same thing over and over and over. I felt sorry for the person. It made me weary just watching. I know people mean well. And, people care. And, people want to pray. But our curiosity can get the best of us. We want to know what it is you have, what doctor you are seeing, what treatment plans you are following, how long you have known about this. We mean well, but I wonder if a person ought to just bring in his medical charts and spread them out on the Lord’s Supper table so everyone can go around and analyze them. Be careful about being too noisy and be respectful of the person. Remember the golden rule. How would you want others to treat you?
Sixth, our verse takes us back to God, where we always need to be. Years ago we had a sister in the congregation who was going to have a serious brain surgery. I remember preaching a lesson about that and then having a special prayer service just for her. It was a serious operation. The Lord had mercy on her. Doctors, tests and labs are limited. God is not. There is only so much that the medical staff can see and treat. Not God. So, first, always and last, prayers must be offered. Sometimes a family struggles spiritually. They have questions. Sometimes their faith slips because they have missed so many services being with the sick family member. Do some special things that will help their faith. Maybe some folks can come by and sing some hymns. Maybe a personal Bible study. Maybe sitting with the sick one so the family can go to worship. Maybe bringing some of the class papers from a Bible study and keeping them up with what’s going on. Sharing a bulletin so they don’t feel so out of touch. If the congregation has video streaming, help them get that set up. Many do not know how to do that. Letting the family know that you are thinking of them and praying for them is wonderful.
I remember my dear mom keeping every one of her cards that were mailed to her. She’d have me go through and count for her. She received over a thousand cards. I know that because I counted them over and over for her. I read and re-read many of those cards to her. She’d just look at the pictures on the cards and those little acts of kindness touched her heart so much. Remember that. You don’t have to write much. It’s the thought, the effort and the heart behind all of this that matters. Those cards meant a lot to me. It reminded me that there were a whole army of family and brethren who were behind us and hoping the best for us. Knowing you are not alone means so much.
Epaphroditus was sick to the point of death. God had mercy on him.