Pastor, one of the two biggest moments in the history of the cosmos centers upon the ministry of presence. What is the incarnation if it is not the ministry of presence? Think about the promises given to us in scripture promising that “God is with us.” Remember Psalms 23: 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” Think of Jesus’ words to his disciples. Accompanying the commandment to go to the ends of the earth is his promise “And I am with you….” And dare we forget the promise of the coming encourager–even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (Joh 14:17) Immanuel. God with us. The Word became flesh. That is a rock to which our souls anchor themselves. A promise that inspires risk-taking Gospel advance. And a sound principle for gospel ministry.
Probably nothing has the power to communicate and share love like presence. This investment of time, energy, and caring reveals to another how important they are to you. Being present with people demonstrates the love of God that we have experienced. It is loving as we have been loved. The ministry of being there brings the power of love and comfort to bear on the hurt or difficulty, but also in joy and hope. When we stand with people in love we are simply doing our best to echo in a frail human way, Paul’s emphatic statement about God in Romans 8:35—who can separate us from the love of Christ? The answer comes loud and clear “nothing” can separate us from this great love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. With the ministry of presence, we affirm this with one another.
Presence is also powerful because it enables us to lend strength to another. I like it that the Holy Spirit is called the paraclete, the one called alongside. That is what we do for each other. We walk with another to lend them our strength and support for their hour of need. We have all applauded those moments in the sports world when athletes gather to offer their support to another. Many of us witnessed the ministry of presence of so many fellow players with the recent injury of Demar Hamlin of the Buffalo Bills. Many gathered on the field to be present with him. We are fellow encouragers and supporters. We can lend our power and strength to another to help them get through the difficult hour. But we can do the same thing in moments of joy. Every time you attend a wedding you are affirming them with your presence! You may say or do nothing on the day, but you are there!
Being there allows us to minister and share the suffering, the hurt and the joy. This is being compassionate—feeling what they feel with them. Over the years I have had many people say to me, “Well I would go, but I don’t know what to say.” You don’t have to say anything, just go be with them. Presence is a powerful way to say, “I care about you.” Presence is a gift of time, energy and investment to the hurting and to those in joy. Many times, if not all the time, being there makes a bigger difference than any words we might say.
The power of presence enables the power of touch—a held hand, a hand on or around the shoulders, a hug. These are powerful gifts to the hurting. Sometimes read through the life of Jesus and look for those the master touched, and you will see this power of his presence connected to the power of his touch.
Understanding and sharing presence is hard because most of us are used to doing. It shows in our conversation—how can I help? What can I do? So often, if there is not something to do or help with, we stay away. But when we stay away, we may miss the greater opportunity to share and help. Presence is sharing yourself with someone, not your money, not your food, not your skill, but you, sharing yourself with them. Eventually, the memories of food and deeds will fade, but the gift of presence is remembered forever.
Dennis Taylor is a long-time Oklahoma Baptist pastor and retired from First Baptist Church Okmulgee. He can be reached at email@example.com.