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An Unexpected Ministry

“Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey.”

Sometimes, it’s not initially clear how the Lord may uniquely call us to serve Him in the situations we are in. Yet, we can trust that as we continue to seek Him, He will make it clear and give us what we need.


A couple years ago, I took a job in patient services at a local medical clinic. In my phone position, I daily encountered scores of people in various states of need. Many calls involved people who were at the end of their rope, some of them very angry or looking for a fight. With the often high call volume (an average of 9 calls an hour), I had to quickly transition from being present to one person’s need and then the next. From the beginning, I occasionally ( but rarely) offered to pray with patients, and I struggled with feeling overwhelmed and burnt out at times by the level of need, suffering, and volatile emotions. 


Yet, over time, as I brought my work to God, He transformed it, leading me to find joy and deeper purpose in it. 


The first threshold was crossed a month into the job. I came to work the Monday after Thanksgiving completely exhausted after an extended weekend which had included picking up shifts at a convent where I worked taking care of elderly nuns with dementia, participating in a parish program through my church, and celebrating the holiday with family and friends. Feeling I had nothing to give, I was moved to start praying, “Come, Holy Spirit” before answering each phone call. 


The first call that day was a man who was very upset. As he was yelling, I experienced grace to be patient, and to peacefully help him with what he needed. He got upset routinely throughout the call: he was annoyed about the amount of information he had to verify, and went off about an injustice a pharmacy had done to him, etc.. When we finished, however, he was quiet for a moment, then took me off-guard when he said,“That was outstanding customer service! In all my years calling, I’ve never had care like that. Usually the gals get snippy with me, so I get snippy back, but you didn’t!” 


I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, since I was totally unprepared based on what I had been receiving for most of the encounter. But it was clear that the Lord had been present in it, and from then on I continued to invite the Holy Spirit into each call. 


As I did this, the fruits of the Spirit began to manifest more: I experienced joy and lightness, instead of nervousness about what I would receive from the other end of the line; I had a deep peace that helped to de-escalate many situations and shield me from the emotional effects of people’s initial ire; and I was able to be steadfastly patient – whether with someone who couldn’t communicate well, who wanted to overshare, or who was looking for a fight. 


Some of my coworkers noticed and commented about how peaceful I was able to remain, which was an opportunity for me to share with them the effects of prayer. And as I continued to receive good feedback from patients, I chose to respond with a simple, “praise God,” giving glory where it was due. 


But, the Lord had more He wanted to do. 


Because of chronic health conditions, my daily life can be filled with pain, extreme fatigue, trouble thinking, communicating, and remembering, and difficulty doing normal tasks. This experience has made me better able to empathize with and accompany suffering people, making my job in patient services a unique fit. But I found I needed to confront more fully my conviction that God wants to heal – both as it related to me, and as it related to those I encountered. 


In the time I daily spent reading and praying with Scripture, I began to meditate on scenes where Jesus healed, and to grapple a bit with his identity as a healer. One of the passages I prayed on was Matthew 15:30-31, where crowds bring to Jesus those in need of healing and lay them at his feet; He heals them, and those who witness it are led to praise God. It’s a beautiful scene of the Kingdom of God breaking out, contained in just 2 verses. Through prayer, I realized more deeply that God wants everyone healed: physically, relationally, spiritually, and emotionally. That is who God is. Some may receive healing more fully in this lifetime; for all who believe, it will come in all its fullness in the next, but there’s an assurance of God’s presence and provision here and now.  


I then had the opportunity to be prayed over by a group of friends. We gathered in a circle and took turns praying with each other, asking God for a greater infilling of the Holy Spirit and speaking any words the Holy Spirit gave. The next morning in my prayer time, I was very moved to pray on two images another member had received: having a ring of keys, and going down a street, using the keys to enter into homes and run and open the windows, letting the Holy Spirit in; and sitting with the resurrected Jesus alone, as He showed me his wounds and allowed me to touch them. 


All of a sudden, I couldn’t help offering to pray with people throughout that workday; it was as if something had ignited in me that I couldn’t turn off. There was a teacher with whom a student had collided while rounding a corner; I offered to pray with him and he immediately said, “Wow, thank you, Paula. That would be great!” There was a woman, crying in her car, at her wit’s end after nights of not sleeping, similarly moved by an offer to pray. All throughout the day, I offered to pray with many people, and no one declined an offer. As together we brought their needs to Jesus’ feet and asked Him to touch them, it was moving to hear how grateful each person was, knowing that someone cared and that God had the power to fix their problems – entering into difficult situations and areas of sorrow, fear, or frustration. 


In each encounter, I often heard a surprising amount of someone’s story and what was on their heart. I began each prayer with “Come, Holy Spirit. Lord, we thank you and give you praise. We thank you for all the ways that you are constantly loving us and looking out for us. And Lord I thank you for (person’s name,  and then a list of attributes of the Lord that had been clear through our interaction—such as their kindness, the strength they had been given, their selfless love for others).” Then we brought to the Lord whatever was going on in the person’s life.


Through the Holy Spirit, God had given me a ring of keys: a desire and boldness to open the windows to invite God more fully through prayer into the lives and sufferings of those I encountered. 


He also helped me to experience more deeply that I was encountering Him – the wounded Christ, whom I had sat with in my meditation – particularly in the patients who were suffering most acutely. Occasionally the sorrow or tragedy of a situation would move me to tears, but not in a hopeless way: I experienced sharing in Christ’s sorrow, an assurance of his presence in the midst, and the hope of the resurrection. 


What had initially been the most challenging part of my job became the gift of my job: getting to talk with so many suffering people meant that I was uniquely positioned to bring Christ’s love personally to more people daily than I would have in many other lines of work. Because I had invited the Lord into the challenging parts of my work and He responded, I began to find joy in my work, and to look forward to seeing how God would show each day.

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