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“Someone who is chronically suffering from illness or disability is chronically able to minister at our best as we have a chronic opportunity to lean into Jesus Christ.”
In the previous post, we looked into the intimate spaces of life with a disability. Here, I would like to continue that conversation and suggest some ways to confidently lean in and lovingly engage in relationship with people who are called to disability.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is full of offensive and hard words, but it is also the only healing balm to the suffering soul. If you have the Holy Spirit and the God of comfort has comforted you in a trial, you then have at least one thing to say to someone you desire to encourage. But if you are ever at a loss for what to say, remember this: be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:18b-20). If you are filled with the Spirit, you are likely filled with joy. The overflow of joy is love. Love will cast out your fear and after seeking to know a person out of that joyful love and knowledge, you can address them with praise to God. This births mutual encouragement and - important for the disabled person - takes our eyes off ourselves.
It takes so much self-care for me to even get out of bed each day. Chronic pain beckons my attention to myself. Chronic fatigue shelters me from seeing the rest of the world. So much of my illness points my attention back to me, myself and I - and I am so sick of myself. By speaking to me in Psalms of what God has done, by speaking to me in hymns of God’s faithfulness and what He promises to do, you are beckoning my heart outward. You are no longer giving me yet another opportunity for my attention to draw inward but drawing me outward. Don’t presume to teach me something, let me join you in praising God! There is a time to check in and ask how someone is feeling, and a time to teach, but if that is every conversation and the end of the conversation, you are stifling opportunities for mutual encouragement.
If you are still unsure of what to say to someone who is disabled - listen again. So often people look at someone who is disabled and assume that we are the ones that are greatly lacking and in need of encouragement. The truth is, all God’s people are often able to minister best out of our brokenness. Someone who is chronically suffering from illness or disability is chronically able to minister at our best as we have a chronic opportunity to lean into Jesus Christ. The problem is, our minds are either tired from chronic pain and/or fatigue or cluttered from other symptoms and/or side effects of medication and we will go to whatever tune you give us. Lead us both in an upward spiral toward the heart of God and see what pearls drip from our lips.
And by thanking God for me, you are reminding both of us that, though I am severely limited, I am important to God, I am important to you, and I am an important part of the church body. I am not less than because I am limited. Though I am a sinner in need of grace, a great ability for comfort, wisdom, and drawing others to closeness with Christ is chronically being sanctified in me. You can remind me that you are not serving me because you pity me, but because I am your sister in Christ. As my husband would say, you are not condescending to serve ‘you who are weak’ but ‘you who are made in the image of God and dear to me’. We can’t help but hear God speak from the tornado of the strong, but we must tune our ears to hear His still small voice speaking through the weak.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
-2 Corinthians 12:21-27
People with disabilities are, as the Apostle Paul says, indispensable to the church. We push people out of their comfort zones. We show the brokenness of this world on the outside, that which everyone desperately tries to keep on the inside. It is uncomfortable to look at disability but we can’t always hide it - we shouldn’t. We make you feel helpless and out of control and this is for your good because God works out everything for the good of those who love Him. You want to relieve our pain, you want to help in some way and these are good desires! But only the Father has control over these. You need not succumb to helplessness but surrender to God’s wisdom. This is for your good.
When you engage in friendship with a person with a disability a whole new world of fellowship opens up. Through us, you can witness and experience an intimate second-hand fellowship with Jesus Christ in His suffering. We will together worship with a renewed view of the Author and Perfector of our faith who for the joy set before Him endured the cross scorning its shame and is now seated at the right hand of God in victory. We will together lean into the Father with complete dependence asking for Him to meet us with the hope of future grace where our belief ends.
Jennifer is a member of Cornerstone WLA and serves in the Counseling Ministry.
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