“Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Carrying one another’s burdens within the local body of Christ is one of the most beautiful ways that Jesus becomes present to His people. In carrying someone else’s burden, we imitate Jesus as He walks to Calvary—carrying our burdens. As we imitate Jesus carrying our burdens by carrying someone else’s burdens, the person who is receiving our care sees the love of Christ on our faces and in our labor of love for them and the result is that they see His beauty. We not only imitate Him as we serve others so that they see Him through us, but He promises that we (the ones serving) are actually with Him when we do this: “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also…” (John 12:26). So, in doing the hard work of love for someone else, we experience the presence of Christ too! So, our vision/goal in caring for one another can be summed up like this: we want to behold the beauty of Christ as we carry one another’s burdens. But a vision is far from our reality most days. What do we do to practically carry one another’s burdens? It is certainly more than a mere “I will pray for you”, isn’t it? So what do we do?
Care begins with prayer. Certainly care is more than saying “I will pray for you.” Certainly care is more than actually praying—but it is no less than praying. Whether you are looking to see how you can help a family with a disabled child or you are about to go visit someone in the hospital, the first step to caring for them is praying for them. We might ask why prayer is so important. First, it is because we don’t naturally love people. When we pray for them, our hearts are held up to the warmth and light of God’s heart for people and the radiance of His love warms our hearts for them. We are no longer cold towards them nor are we frozen (doing nothing for them). His love for them energizes our love for them. Secondly, it is because we don’t have wisdom to know how to help. When we slow down and pray for them, we put ourselves in a position of listening: first we listen to the Spirit of Jesus and second we listen to the one we’re seeking to care for. These two things are of massive importance in the life of Christ (namely, listening to God and listening to others). Jesus said that He only did what the Father was doing (John 5:19)—he watched and listened to His Father. If we are to have the care of Christ in our hearts for others, we must begin in prayerful watchfulness to see what the Father is doing.
When You Have Listened to God, Listen to the Person You’re Caring For
Listening to others and their needs is also how Jesus cared. Over and over in the gospels when someone approaches Jesus, He doesn’t assume that He knows what He should do for them. Instead, He asks them, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Luke 18:41 with blind Bartimaeus being an example). In this way, the person we’re seeking to care for actually feels cared for as we listen to them and their needs. Being listened to gives someone dignity. We listen to people—we fix problems. People can tell the difference if we view them as a problem or a person and our Savior always treated people like people created in the image of God. Just as a practical note, oftentimes when we begin a labor of love for someone, they actually don’t have a response to the question “what can I do for you?”. That shouldn’t surprise us—it’s okay. But we must be persistent in our love and in that question (ask them again the next time you see them if it’s appropriate). Eventually, they’ll either think of something or they will feel loved enough and safe enough to share their need.
After You Have Listened
When you know the need that this person has, fulfill it! And we shouldn’t be surprised if the need stretches us. Even if it’s hard, we should seek to meet the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ. In fact, we should seek to meet the needs of our brothers and sisters especially if it’s hard since Jesus did the same for us and we will meet Him in the hard work of love in ways that we’ll never experience otherwise. As you fulfill this need, never lose sight of what the Father is doing and keep looking to Him to help you—you can’t do it on your own (especially if the need is something that you’re not naturally good at helping with)!
Where Should I Start?
Your own family is the best place to start. Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 5:8 that “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” That’s because, in Paul’s mind, family is a believer’s primary responsibility of care. Start praying for them. Start asking them what you can do for them. If you do this, you’ll likely be proficient at helping those outside of your own household since you won’t be able to avoid the labor of love with your own family—they’re with you all the time! They’re the hardest people to care for because they see the real you 24/7 and you see the real them 24/7. They are the people that God has tasked us to love the most in our lives and they are the people who, as time goes on, can be the most draining people to love. Family is the hardest people to care for and the most important.
After family should be your small group. Pray for each member of your small group by name and lift up their prayer requests throughout the week. When there is a need that is brought up in your small group, consider how you can help meet that need. Don’t be afraid that loving a member of your small group will be an inconvenience to you. It most certainly will be an inconvenience for you at some point. But that’s the cost of love: suffering. But that’s the pattern of Jesus’ life, isn’t it? Love cost Him and we shouldn’t expect love to cost His followers nothing. If each member of each family and each member of each small group were actively carrying one another’s burdens in prayer to the Lord and then listening to one another’s needs and meeting them, our church would in this way fulfill the law of Christ.