Friday, July 31, 2015

4 of the Best Pastoral Care Quotes You Will Ever Read

SEETHING was I, when at the first opportunity to really sob, I had a social worker barge in and start talking process. I lashed back at her in the most assertive way my emotions could allow. With tears streaming down my face and my nose running, cradling Nathanael’s body, I said, “I’m sorry, but does this have to happen now? This is the first opportunity I’ve had to really be sad. Would you leave us alone, please? Thank you.”
Only eighteen hours beforehand had we met our deceased son. And with close family invited in to share in our loss at the earliest opportunity, we found 6pm on that Friday night was the first time we had to break down.
The social worker was only doing her job, and she was obviously trying to fit it in before the weekend. I didn’t give her an option to do what she needed to do, because she came and sat down next to the bed and said, “I’m very sorry for your loss… I need to go through these forms with you.”
You know it when you sense that people don’t actually get your loss or what you are feeling; it’s a great deal worse when they pretend to care and prove they don’t. Yet, I still knew I had to apologise, and I did a few days later. That’s another thing; as pastoral carers we don’t want to be placing those who are grieving in a position where they have to do additional emotional work. We ought to relieving the burden, not adding to it.
Because of the above story, the following quote resonates cogently:
“Our role is to respectfully earn our place at the bedside, and never assume that just because a person is vulnerable and sad, and we are competent and willing, that we can enter into their experience uninvited.”
Earning our place at the bedside is appreciating that we step on holy ground. God is, in fact, present, by the very nature of the eternality in our midst. We imagine hearts as antique shops with precious items everywhere. If we make one careless move we push a delicately poised fine porcelain piece to the floor where it will smash. But caution does not mean fear, for in fear there is no abiding peace, and it is Christ’s incarnational peace that we must carry into such sacred space.
“Our role as pastoral carers is to be internally brave, and comfortable enough in our own life story to hold strong emotions in such a way as to offer them to be explored if requested, but equally, to carry them for a time if they are too heavy or painful.”
Counsellors and pastoral carers are only of benefit to the people they help when they are sufficiently healed of their own broken antiquity to be able to operate as a free spirit able to discern the Holy Spirit and do the will of God.
A dual competence then becomes possible: 1) to go into intrepid territory with cautious confidence implicit of safety if it is clear they wish to ‘go there’, and 2) to understand it is our own desire that wishes to ‘go there’ when they don’t, and that to resist such a pull is to serve their interests; for serving our own interest is falling short of the glory of God, and a great injustice.
This seems fundamental, but it’s worth stating: there is a direct correlation between the courage required to do the work where we are comfortable enough in our own story with being able to bear the pain of another’s story. Bearing another person’s pain requires from us the very strength we learned in having dealt with our own pain.
“I never answered her questions because we both knew she wasn’t asking them to hear a reply.”
Many mysteries prevail in the space of loss and grief. Most things cannot be reconciled. Questions inevitably cannot have neat and boxed-up answers. But the unspoken silence dignifies the mystery. The unspoken silence allows the things of God to be as they eternally are. The unspoken silence becomes space for the Holy Spirit to enter, to create capacity in the grieving, and to begin the process of healing.
Isn’t it wonderful the things we can communicate without words? When words only sully the mystery, where truth is hardly knowable, an unspoken silence builds a bridge of intimacy that words would only denigrate and destroy.
“In my most pastorally caring voice I said nothing.”
Astounding is the simplicity in the abovementioned wisdom!
The polar dichotomy of suggesting that a voice says nothing! But that is the key to our method.
The Incarnation is real in us when we realise that our pastoral care is about “life that makes present and visible the realm of the invisible spirit.”
Jesus could communicate the things of his Spirit with few words or no words. That is both our challenge and opportunity. Less is more.
When we govern ourselves as mute — unless to speak would be abundantly appropriate, as it often is — we are able to pray through every vocal deliberation before we even commit to uttering a word.
In any event, many moments in palliative care are exigently sacred. The less we say the more our pastoral method has credibility and veracity. The less we say the more God can say. But to say something at the Spirit’s leading is to obey the will of God.
The less we say in the field of the divine, the more the divine might say in the field of life.
The pastoral carer is a divine advocate; skin-of-skin, the Holy Spirit.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

The four quotes above, which are among the best I’ve ever read, come from an article by Jenni Ashton called, Pastoral Care for Families in Palliative Care. The profound wisdom in these quotes on being “divinely respectful” in vulnerable spaces has been gleaned through thoughtful reflection over the process of more than two decades. They are pure gold and are worthy of sincere and laboured thoughtful reflection.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

28 Minutes with Henri J.M. Nouwen

TASKS I love to set myself: writing tasks. It is the fun of life for me. So, I have 28 minutes in order to read some of The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life and to write down some reflections.
Suffering, the Gateway, Through Prayer, To Deeper Meaning
The “deeper meaning of prayer becomes manifest” in suffering. Uniting ourselves with Jesus in our suffering we unite ourselves to the one who suffered most and deserved it least. What solace that is when we consider (falsely) that our suffering is always more than what others have to bear and more than we deserve. But Jesus is a friend more than any can be when we suffer, because he suffered most and deserved it least. Jesus proves that bad things happen to good people. It’s just the indiscriminate way life is. And going there with Jesus we find something deep and ethereal about the experience. Prayer, in suffering, makes for deeper meaning. Deeper meaning is implicitly worthwhile as we look back afterward. Through suffering we view others’ suffering differently, with more compassion, insight, and willingness to serve and help.
The Mystical Power of Prayer in Healing Every Sorrow
“Prayer is leading every sorrow to the source of all healing.” What a paradox the gospel life is! When we are worst off we are best positioned to receive spiritual healing beyond all comprehension.
Can we learn to trust the voice of God when we go to him in prayer? We can only do such a thing if our soul is quiet, and that will take practice. The Lord is gentle and humble of heart (Matthew 11:28-30). He won’t force himself on anyone. The more attentive we are, the more we screen out the entire world competing, the more we will hear, and the more we will hone our sense for God’s Spiritual Presence.
Prayer in this way is not often what we think it is. Prayer for healing is a silent exercise of sitting, waiting on the Lord, and imagining what he is saying to us, by our knowledge that he suffered great injustice. He knows what we are dealing with. He, alone, can help. He, alone, helps as an exemplar of patience in distress, hope in vanquishment, and in love, bearing, believing, hoping, and enduring.
Oh, did I reach my goal of reflecting through this piece of writing in 28 minutes? No. I was interrupted. But it was a God-interruption and I’m just fine with those types of interruptions.
But, the key point is this: we learn depth in our suffering and every sorrow can be healed through soul-silent prayer.
Prayer through every sorrow,
In faith toward our healing,
Prayer heals what we are feeling,
We will be better for tomorrow.

© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Monday, July 27, 2015

20 Types of People to Truly Encourage, Affirm and Love

THERE are still too many in our richer First World societies that have had life so comfortably good — who have never had it bad — that cannot empathise with another portion of the world that have rarely had it good — or who have had it so bad it transformed them. The vulnerable deserve our encouragement, affirmation and love.
These are just some who deserve every bit our encouragement, affirmation and love:
1.     The single mother or father who supports their children diligently and sacrifices much so they are fed, clothed and educated, and still finds time to work, to study, and to better themselves.
2.     The person with a disabling disorder or mental crisis who gets up out of bed each day, who gets dressed and puts their shoes on, walks out to life, even in their grief, depression and anxiousness.
3.     The one who has come to the end of one life through no circumstances of their own making and is forced to make of life a new life.
4.     The cancer patient.
5.     The parent with a disabled or impaired child, where many days are simply arduous, and some days are hellish.
6.     The abused person, or the person who lives in the shadow of an abuse that should never have occurred.
7.     The lonely person who has either lost a partner or has never had a partner.
8.     The person happy on the exterior, but calamitously lonely or fearful on the interior.
9.     The discriminated against. Nobody deserves to be ostracised or condemned.
10. Those affected by the tragedy of sudden paraplegia or quadriplegia.
11. The person who lost a child.
12. The child who lost a parent.
13. Those for whom humiliation has occurred; where they are segregated from a community they once belonged to.
14. The family member who lives in the hell of another family member’s drug or gambling (or other) addiction, and the one who has overcome their addiction.
15. The person entrapped in a cycle of poverty beyond their own means or making.
16. The exploited person.
17. Any child not able to routinely access peace, hope and joy.
18. Anyone who does not know if they will eat tomorrow; anyone without a roof over their head, warmth in winter and cool in summer.
19. The forlorn prisoner.
20. Anyone who provides leadership with a heart to genuinely serve.
The greatest gift we can give to the poor, to the vulnerable, to the abused and the exploited, is the gift of encouragement, affirmation and love.
The greatest gift we can give the needy is love with arms and legs, hands and feet.

© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

4 Dimensions of Integrity for a God-Faithful Life

INTEGRITY may seem to be rare these days, but here are four ways to notice it in others as we nurture it in ourselves.
Show Consistency
If there’s one thing we can trust it is consistency. Even a poor standard, consistently applied, can be trusted — it is reliable. But in terms of integrity, there is something charming in a regal sense in someone who is so faithful they will not bend their standards. My wife is one of these sorts of people. (I’m much more flexible.) Flexibility is at its worst when we can be ‘talked around’ too easily. Sometimes we just need to know when things are non-negotiable. Yet, we also show most integrity when our consistency is prepared to make way for the exceptional exception.
Speak Truthfully
This is the hardest thing to do. As a Christian I can’t help but be aware of the instances and the amount of untruth I am willing to engage in. Whether it is that I don’t have the courage to challenge others’ lies, especially friends and those I don’t want to hurt, or I don’t have the humility to challenge my own pride on occasion, is beside the point. A huge part of wisdom and maturity is being able to attend faithfully to the truth, no matter the cost. The truth costs. What costs hurts. We need to be willing to bear the burden of such cost if we are to be known for our integrity.
Act Rightly
Justice and acting rightly (righteousness) are inherently linked. We decry all the injustices of our culture (sending back ‘the boats’, abuse of children in immigration detention centres, etc), but we are less interested in acting rightly in the midst of our own lives. This is especially the case when we are in a hurry. That is when we are tempted to cut corners and do the wrong thing. The most blessed of all of us is the person who sees when they don’t act rightly as impetus for acting rightly more often — a faith worthy to such a high regard of the kingly standard: repentance.
Accept Responsibility
The diligent do this; they take responsibility for everything they did, ever do, could have done better, and did not do that they should have. They may also be prepared to take responsibility for that portion of the account that is in dispute. And God will sanctify them every skerrick of the way. Those who accept responsibility believe more ardently in reconciliation than they do in a justifiable recrimination. They understand that reconciliation starts in one person’s heart and it is possible in all situations with God. In essence, the responsible person has the humility to be wrong, to be sorry, to forgive, and to notice the problem is often in them well before it is in the rest of the world.
Overall, Then
The words of Psalm 15 come immediately to mind when I contemplate integrity. Those on a journey of integrity will gain much wisdom in reflecting on this short psalm.
To show consistency, speak truthfully, act rightly, and accept responsibility is to bear a dear cost. Integrity costs. Morality is a constant burden. But if we are God-faithful, we will find ourselves willing to pay that cost more and more often.
When we notice integrity in others we ought to commend them through encouragement. When we nurture integrity in ourselves we earn others’ genuine affirmation.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Credit to Tim Healy and Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia, for the structure used by me, here, is theirs. Credit also for their image, which I have used.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Prayer for Those Who Really Need God’s Help Today

GRACIOUS and merciful God,
God of our fathers, God of our forebears, God of those yet to be created,
You are our God, my God, and the Lord of all creation. You, and You alone, are the reason existence is, and You, alone, give everything its place and time and space, as only You ordain. You are to be magnified. You are to be exalted.
You are our Provider God; You pre-ordain everything to exist for its purpose. I pray, Lord, for Your covenant grace to pervade the place and time and space of those who truly need You today. And we all need You. Yet, there are some who need You especially today. Grace them by Your Presence, in their need, today, Lord. Help that person to know You are with them, in their midst, even today, even now, this moment. Give them a memorable piece of You. Give them what they have never had before. Or give them a remembrance for what was, perhaps years ago, a landmark experience of You. Thank You, Lord, that our deepest need, and Your worthiest provision, is to know You.
I pray by Your covenant mercy that You would look especially kindly to the poor today; to those without means of transport; to those who are oppressed; and, to those who find themselves trapped, confused, perplexed, abused, violated, upset, numb, afraid, and especially those who feel depressed. I pray Your emotional and spiritual healing over those who are vanquished of spirit and bereft of soul. I pray even Your anointing becomes to them that precious provision boosting them into new life.
For the incarcerated — whether by external authority or their own affliction — that You would open their minds and free them to choose for Your joy in their tumult. I pray for the shallow of heart that they would experience Your depth of expanse. I pray You would set free the captive; bind up the wounds of the broken-hearted; bring the oil of gladness in place of a spirit of despair. I pray perspective be theirs most who need it. I pray for Your special sight — Your glorious perception — to be in the person who reads this prayer.
Gracious, merciful, and most holy God, I beseech You in Jesus’ name, that You would act upon the heart and cause the mind of anyone who reads this prayer to be renewed. Take them by surprise. Give them a hope that cannot be explained.
I pray that the needs of the needy would be known to You by their prayers; that they would pray knowing that You, the God of all creation, is listening and affirming.
In Jesus’ saving name I am praying,


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

It Happened

DIALOGUE occurs within us when matters of our experience are discussed. When matters of our experience are significant and deep, when suffering has transformed us, for better or worse, for instance, our ears are piqued and our hearts are intrinsically attuned to what is said. Our consciences judge implicitly. Have we been catered for? Were we acknowledged? Was what was discussed true in our experience?
When stillbirths are discussed, for instance, having a unique experience as my wife and I do, my ears prick up and my heart is inevitably engaged. When stillbirths are mentioned in my hearing, with people who know me, it is a blessing to me that my experience and my grief is acknowledged — even if it is in the past tense.
But when we are not acknowledged, something in us has the potential to die. Are we who we are? We know our image, but do others? And, is that important? (It is more important to some than it is to others.)
It happened.
Because it happened it is forever important in our experience. Because it happened we cannot help but attach importance to it. Because it happened, and because of the fact it happened, God uses it to heal us within our ever growing sense of identity. The more outward the ripples of our experience tend, the more our identities are formed because of what we have experienced.
So, it happened. It has, therefore, become an essential part of us. We are incomplete now without it; without the vitalising component of our brokenness that completes us.
When what has happened — always the dark material — and sometimes it is, for the fortunate, the relief of achievement — has happened we are bigger. When what has happened happened by the providence of God — a diabolical idea replete, unfortunately, in truth — but one true all-the-same — we are blessed in simply being validated.
It happened.
Simply. Completely. Irrevocably.
Part of God’s compensation that we had to endure it is that it becomes a key part of our story. What we found was terribly hard to endure actually becomes a codifier, a qualifier, to our endurance. We were made strong for what we endured. Through our weakness we were made strong. And here’s the rub: we need to be affirmed in our history: it happened! God affirms: “It happened. I know what you suffered. I know how you suffered. I know what it cost you.”
We are made because of our stories. We become what we experience.
Because our suffering happened we have become who we are today. It happened. Because of who we have become, praise God; it happened.
If it happened, it lasted for a season.
Because it happened, it had its reason.
If it happened, by it we became.
Because it happened, we will never be the same.
If it happened, it makes us what we become.
Because it happened, it adds to our sum.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Who Am I Without You, LORD?

Forlorn without God, and wrecked without a hope, despite what the godless say, without God I cannot cope.
Consider with me my wicked way, String together all the sins of mine, and all this is how it’s destined to stay, my sinfulness is a sign.
Without you, Lord, I am broken and bereft, and without you where am I left? I am unable to do a single thing right, when I am in reach of my own sight.
My caustic tongue and my angry gait, how am I without you to ever relate? How on earth am I to do this life, when I am destined, always, to find my way to strife?
I want to honour you, my Lord, my God, but every time I stray I deserve your rod. Yet your grace, I find, it is ever sufficient for me. Now I must comprehend I am free.
Who am I without you, Lord? Who would I be if you I ignored? And who should I become when I deserve to be gored? Thankfully you, alone, are Lord.
I hurt those who are closest to me; those who are stuck with me. How am I to bless their lives when instead it is me who gives them hives?
Pity party this is not, for I think of others and how rotten is their lot. Help me, Lord, freshly today, to make for them something better than grey.
What will become of me in my lack? Lord, help me today to find my knack. But today I acknowledge I need help, so help me today, please, when I begin to yelp.
Many areas of life I can’t deal with; many send me to the realms of hell. Help me know when I need to reach out in order that you might quell. Help me rest in you — so of your glory I can tell. Help me know of the life beyond hell.
Save me from the times of my sin, when it is clear I am dangerous to my kin. Lord, save me when I am about to do wrong. From sin’s weakness make me faithful and strong.
Give me insight when I cannot see a thing. Make me hold; to you I cling. Make it be that in weakness I sing. Make me sing of what you bring.
Who am I without you, oh my Lord? For this, and more, you deserve to be adored!
Help me deep down in my sin. Get down, deep in me, beneath my skin.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Passions of Folly in the Fad, Passions of Wisdom for God

LEADERSHIP fads are too easy to fall in love with, if it’s not fashion or the latest craze it’s something else. Something else is always worldly — something that never changes is what we easily fall in love with. The world’s way is we fall in love with the world’s wares. And when we are easily wed to the things of the world, we do not easily see the ruse that takes us away from the Lord.
When we look just past the fad, in a healthy form of scepticism, because the fad sounds just a little too good to be true, we can find passion for what we are truly looking for: God.
Unchanging is God as the passing fads that come and go also do not change.
But the fad promises something empty when the promise of God is chockfull.
The world competes for our attentions in so many seemingly banal ways. And we take the bait hook, line and sinker. But we only need to look past the fad in search for the truth. The truth will be known if only we can see past the sensation. If people are all-a-buzz and there’s no sign of God in it, it’s a fad.
This is all important. We are on an ever-certain journey toward eternity, so only the things of the Lord matter. So much of life is a waste of time. But the things that matter now are the things that matter in eternity, even as we can know them — the things that make a difference relationally, like the transformations that occur; not simply the transactions. Transactions are only important if they are intended to lead to transformations.
Why on earth do we invest so much energy into the tasks of life that make no difference in lives? Making a difference in lives by entering in are the tasks of life, for life. When we hit the ground of life running we completely understand this one thing: the eternal work is in a smile; it’s in a handshake; it’s in the generosity to give up our own position for someone else. It’s in something so irretrievably eternal it will make little sense in the world, but it will make sense in the world of joy within us.
Idolaters love their fads,
When signs of God are eternal,
Go beyond the unsustainable,
Life without God is infernal.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Church Today – How Far Has the Apple Fallen From the Tree?

Today, church ministry:
1.     Can commonly be done by ‘ministers’ who haven’t necessarily been cleansed by the blood of Jesus. Yes, a pastor can ‘minister’ never having actually been regenerated by the Holy Spirit — having not actually yet experienced the cleansing and renewal of the Holy Spirit.

2.     Is seen as an option rather than something that all Christians are to be engaged in. In early church times, everyone was involved in ministry — which is probably seen as a sign of having undergone a salvation experience. Those who see ministry as an option haven’t considered that there is always a role for anyone to play in the Kingdom of God. To serve should be considered a fruit of the Spirit.

3.     Is more a noun — a thing of status, whereas in the earliest day it was a verb — a function. When ministry is a function incorporated into our life itself, we have a direct line of communion with the Lord. If it is a status, however, we do our works for the Kingdom in vain, which is not to say that God won’t use them.

4.     Is no longer a shared activity as it was almost always in the early church. Ministry nowadays is very often done individually. Those who engage as teams honour how church was done from the earliest days. We need to remember that those who are still on the journey to faith need to see how we “love one another” in the actual midst of life.

5.     Requires “authorisation” and follows more a secular model. In the early church authorisation always seemed to follow ministry — a deed done by faith. When we go forth “in the Spirit” we trust the Spirit and no human authority should clamp down on such a thing unless it’s unsafe, immoral, inappropriate or unbiblical. If a truly regenerate person follows a leading of the Spirit they are acting in obedience and they should be encouraged.

6.     Intellect carries more weight than character. That flies in the face of the biblical worldview. Character, and giftedness, was always more important in the early New Testament church. This, I find a personal frustration, but I also honour the fact that God can refine us and sanctify us even more through our studies. But Degrees without character and giftedness are a waste of time and will prove vain.

7.     Is very often led by young and inexperienced pastors, but the First Century church, and much of time since, church leadership was set apart for experienced people. Young people, especially in this day, are much more charismatic and attractive than those in their 40s, 50s and 60s, but we miss so much of the grace embodied in experienced persons when we promote those in their 20s and 30s to senior positions — especially when they have had few life experiences of suffering. Our gospel is a gospel of being sanctified out of suffering and of service out of that suffering.

8.     Is done by ministers whose training is confined to colleges or seminaries, whereas ministers have traditionally been trained on-the-job, like apprentices, under Rabbis and the like. With such an emphasis on formal training there is less grounding in how to deal with people, relationships, conflict and actual forgiveness. It is possible to become accredited or ordained and to have never honed those ‘soft’ skills that require and form so much character in us.

9.     Is not a local and circulating ‘activist’ ministry as many early ministers were. These early ministers were freed to serve in the areas of their gifts without being weighed down by the sorts of administrative tasks that deacons would carry out. There seems, in the earliest days, to be a more topical dividing line between those who are settled in ‘parish’ roles compared with those in ‘itinerant’ roles.

10. Is not often conducted by local ministers who have a long-term commitment to their local church like the far majority of ministers of past centuries had. Many ministers over the centuries gone have devoted themselves to decades in one place. This is still a good standard of success today.

11. Involves the ministry of paid pastors, which was basically unheard of in early times. The church might still support their minister, as they should, but there would often be some sort of tent-ministry that the trained leader would stay part of. Either way, paying pastors by salary emulates a secular model. Imagine if we could ‘pay’ our pastors more creatively according to their and their family’s real needs. This would mean we would have to know them, pray for them, and have a line of communication open that would allow the church to love their pastor appropriately.

12. Usually features pastors and church leaders who like to do all the ministry work themselves. But all throughout the history of the church, the minister would see their ministry as being that of an enabler of persons; an identifier of gifts in others that the good Lord would desire to use. This reminds me of my first senior pastor, who identified his role as most simply being an enabler of persons to unlock their giftedness. When a senior church leader sees people as God’s gift to the local church, he or she asks, “How can I endorse this person’s gifting, inspire them to use their gifts, and see them blessed through the use of their gifts?”

13. Does not seem to value as central the role of solid Christian doctrine as the vastness of the tradition of church leaders have in the past. We can reel off a series of high profile ‘pastors’ who spruik a prosperity doctrine, for just one instance. They we only have to think of Westboro Baptist in America’s south as another example of truth without love. The early church had three qualities in ministers of the gospel: 1) character, 2) “apt to teach,” and 3) “holding fast to the faithful Word.”

14. Is loaded with the need to have functional and in many cases elaborate facilities. The early church was built around people and not buildings. But we are often constrained if we don’t have amenities that live up to an impression we wish to give. The works of ministry are easily able to operate in the atmosphere of care and in the environment of acceptance, love and inclusion.


Church leadership and ministry today has moved a long way from the core ideals set up by the Apostles. The less we run our churches and our ministries according to secular ideals, the more we will bless the Kingdom.

Offering people a solacing sanctuary away from their fractious world is one cogent thing the church can give people of all walks of life.

© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Reference: these observations are a commentary on Michael Green’s 14 points as written in Freed to Serve (London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1983).