Priesthood of believers to practice 4-fold ministry

We Protestants emphasize the priesthood of all believers, the notion that we are all called to be a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9), but do we practice being “priests” in our daily lives?

When it comes to priests in God’s kingdom, perhaps we need to rediscover the basic functions priests had in biblical times.  I’ve been reading 1 Chronicles in my devotional time, and I am impressed with the instructions that priests are given in order to serve God.  Can these functions be translated in our own time that we too might reclaim our identity as “a holy nation, God’s own people” (1 Peter 2:9)?

In 1 Chronicles 23:13, David assembled Aaron’s family and commissioned them to be priests at the soon-to-be-built temple.  This family was “set apart to consecrate the most holy things [in the temple], so that he and his sons forever should make offerings before the Lord, and minister to him, and pronounce blessings in his name forever.”

That sounds like a laundry list of religious obligations, but we too are expected to do these basic functions in our own life.

There are four functions that apply.  The first is to “consecrate” holy things.  In our day and age, there is no temple to consecrate, and many of the things in our churches–the pulpit or communion table for instance–have lost that mystical symbolism that ascribes to it special status.

We are, however, still called to consecrate things, or in other words, make some things sacred by making things meaningful unto the Lord.  It is not a matter of practicing magic or some spell that turns ordinary objects into spiritual entities, but creating sacred spaces and opportunities that help others connect to God.

Take my daughter’s stuffed bunny rabbit, for instance.  At first glance, there is nothing special or sacred about it, but she has had that rabbit for over eight years.  If she ever lost it, she would face grief and sadness.

My wife and I help my daughter see that the same feelings she has about that rabbit are the same feelings she can have towards God.  Just as the rabbit brings her comfort, so too can she look to the Holy Spirit to provide comfort and protection.  We are creating a sacred interaction between the Spirit and my daughter by way of something very meaningful to her.

Another function is to intercede on behalf of others.  Our prayer for others are “offerings” to the Lord in which we surrender our deepest needs, anxieties, and cares to God.  Originally, those offerings consisted of either animals or food, but we can replace that with our very lives.

Paul wrote in Romans 12:1 that we are to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice.”  This presentation also concerns the needs of our community and our loved ones.

A third function is to do ministry.  Often, people in the church look to clergy to do ministry and missions.  As a priesthood of all believers, however, we are all called by God to do the work of the church.

A last function is that of blessing.  It takes grace and courage to bless others because God often calls us to bless the least deserving and the most disagreeable among us.  It’s our job, however, to model grace by blessing–and being a blessing to–all people, whether friend or foe, around us.

F. B. Meyer, writing about this portion of 1 Chronicles in Our Daily Homily, wrote, “We should bless that little portion of the world in which our lot is cast.  It is not enough to linger in soft prayer within the vail, we must come forth to bless mankind.”

Good advice for a people practicing to be priests, and certainly just one of four basic functions for those of us who seek to draw near to God and join God in helping a world in need.

Caregivers: Burdened and blessed, and how to move on (Part 1)

About ten years ago, Cynthia took on an important role for her mother, Edith: that of caregiver.  At that time, Cynthia started to care for Edith, (who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease), personally, financially, emotionally, and spiritually.  Edith was such a supportive mother for Cynthia; Cynthia is now doing the same for her.

As Cynthia’s and Edith’s roles reversed, Cynthia realized that being a caregiver was both a blessing and a burden.  Cynthia had moments of fulfillment and joy, as well moments of resentment and anger.  It was a pleasure to help Edith, but the more time Cynthia took to care for her, the more she felt strained, pressured, and mistreated.   No one seemed to help Cynthia, and the blessings of care turned into an endless obligation of dread.

Cynthia is not alone.  The National Alliance of Caregivers states that nearly 29% of the U.S. population (up 5% since 2005) consists of people who care for loved ones, the elderly, or special needs children.   Like Cynthia, many of these caregivers confront mixed feelings of satisfaction and of suffering.

In our society, we depend upon our families for support.   This is, for all practical purposes, the way the world turns.   Yet, we pay very little attention to just how much the task of caregiving requires in terms of time, money, personal energy, and stress.  We certainly fail to see how much strain this places on individuals who are struggling with economic pressures, precarious careers, and much-needed time to raise healthy families.  Nevertheless, despite the many burdens caregivers face, society passes this expectation on from one generation to the next.

Churches have traditionally praised the role of caregivers without pointing out shortfalls.   We hear from the pulpit that Jesus commands us to deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow him.  When God seemingly asks us to care for loved ones, we are deny ourselves yet again.

It is this very denial that creates the burdens that sometimes hinder the blessings afforded by healthy caregiving.  By “taking up their crosses,” Caregivers neglect the self-care needed to retreat, renew, rest, and exercise.   Often, caregivers simply don’t have the time to do the things that lead to a more balanced lifestyle.

Self-care takes a back-seat in the face of productivity and pressures: Caregivers work hard to please their loved ones.  To do any less creates feelings of guilt and of impending failure.  This, in turn, feeds a vicious cycle that spirals out of control: blessings, joy, exhaustion, guilt, resentment, anger.

A week passes–perhaps a month or a season–and the cycle begins again.  Caregivers end up broken, spent, and lonely.  Is there ever a chance for renewal, even if only for a few moments at a time?

According to therapists, spiritual leaders, and caregivers well-versed in this field, the answer is a resounding “yes!”   Many studies show that when caregivers invest even a few minutes a week in growing spiritually, attending church (one hour on Sunday will do!), and taking intentional steps to enact self-care, they gain the resources and energy needed to cope with the burdens associated with their particular journey.

Some churches are making a course correction:  As the number of caregivers increase, churches are starting ministries that cater to them and their loved ones.  These ministries create ways to help caregivers grow in their faith with loved ones, not in spite of them.

One way churches minister to caregivers is to explain that self-denial does not mean abandoning self-care and does not exclude receiving care from others.   Caregivers must work with God to allow a new cycle to begin: blessings, joy, exhaustion–pause!–retreat, revive, and renew.

As my church and I put in place a new ministry for caregivers in late September, I would like to take the next few weeks to share some biblical resources for caregivers in our community.    I hope that it will benefit the many caregivers who need some “good news” during these difficult days.

Trinity Baptist Church is hosting the open house of the Center for Caregiver Spirituality on September 30th, 7 PM.   Click on the link for more details.