Ministry Inside.96

The Dark NightGood preachers occasionally reflect on this question:

What happened the night before?

Shortly after we moved to Waco, I began serving as a police chaplain for the Waco Police Department.  Practically, this meant that I rode with an officer one night a week.

One night, the officer I was with was called to a home near the school where my wife taught.  There had been a fight between a young woman and her boyfriend.  The fight turned into an assault. When the officer arrived at the home, the paramedics were already there.  It was on a Thursday past midnight.  Blood was on the floor and on the bed where the guy had cut his girlfriend.  She was in the bedroom receiving the attention of the paramedics.  Another officer arrived and they began taking statements from witnesses.

In a nearby bedroom, I saw four children, all elementary school age.  Their schoolbooks were stacked on a chest of drawers. The television was blaring in the living room.  It was almost 1:00 a.m. Six hours or so later, a school bus would stop nearby to pick them up.  I wondered what they would be like in their classes the next day after staying up so late, having the police come to their home, and witnessing their mother’s assault.

On Sunday mornings, ministers need to occasionally think about what might have happened the night before (Saturday night) in the lives of the people to whom they are speaking.

  • The night before, a family was in turmoil, with children wondering what will become of their family.
  • The night before, a young single woman was planning to visit your assembly and felt anxiety wondering whom she would sit by and would she know anyone.
  • The night before, a guy spent much of the night by himself watching old movies.  Now on Sunday morning, he is anything but alert.
  • The night before, parents received a phone call informing them that their son had been arrested and put in jail for public drunkenness and resisting arrest.
  • The night before, a young high school girl had sex with a guy at a party.  Her parents thought she was elsewhere.
  • The night before, a discouraged, lonely widow thought about how difficult it was without her husband.

The point?

Sometimes we need to be reminded of the real life situations of the people hearing our message. We need to be reminded that life is often hard and complicated for people.  I think this just might impact the prayers and passion of the one preaching.


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  • jason reeves

    Excellent, excellent post, Jim. Thank you for the reminder.

  • Jim Martin

    Thanks very much, Jason. Something I want to keep in mind as I preach.

  • John Ketchersid

    Good stuff! This Sunday I preach on loving one another. You words are very timely for me. Thanks.

    • Jim Martin

      John, thanks so much! I appreciate your kind words.

  • Michael Mills

    Excellent post, Jim!

    I am not a pastor nor do I play one on TV. ;-P

    …but I do serve (volunteer) as a victim advocate with the Longmont Police Department here in Colorado. So we’ve probably seen many similar tragedies–victims of crime, suicide, DV, auto accidents, unattended deaths, etc. About two years ago I was called to meet with a young man who was the intended “target” of a shooting. Fortunately, the shooter missed. But it shook up the man a lot. I actually began to believe that I could make a huge difference in this young man’s life due to our common backgrounds.

    He was ex-army. Me too.
    He’d had some horrible experiences while in the service. Me too.
    He experienced guilt from some of his actions in the service. Me too.
    He had suffered PTSD. Me too!

    Given this, I actually believed that I could “save” him. Oops–not my job description! Our Lord quickly pointed out that my saving him was not possible. (You’d think at the age of 61, I’d know better…but it’s a lesson God needs to remind me of from time to time…) However, I did do what God called me to do in the first place. Namely, I was present. I was there. I showed him someone cared. In the end, God used a Christian friend of his to encourage and uplift him. My part was small. Yet, I did what God called me to do in the moment.

    Like my experience with the victim advocate program, you have no control over what happened to those you minister to “the night before.” but your post reminds me that God is the one who saves, not us. It also reminds me that we are to be “present” in the lives God brings our way and to let his love for them flow through us. Sometimes that happens in GRAND ways. But more often than not, the difference we make is a Gentle Whisper.

    One brief and practical example:

    From May 2006 thru May 2007 I lived and worked as a contractor in Kabul, Afghanistan. In addition to the work we were being paid to do, we also aided the Allahoddin Orphanage in Kabul with clothing, school supplies, toys, etc. I had been there approximately 6 weeks when the man in charge of our orphanage efforts returned to the U.S. As he was leaving, he turned to me and said, “You’re in charge of the orphanage efforts now. Do a good job.” I was dumbfounded, to say the least. He never asked if I’d be willing to do it. He merely dumped the job on me. As I was walking down the road, I cried out to God. I said, “Lord, I can’t do this! If you want me to supervise something, well, okay, I can do that. I have years of experience doing that. But this requires administrative skills…I don’t have those skills or experience.” In that moment I sensed God walking beside me. I think I heard him chuckle just a bit–like a parent does when their child says something naive. Then I felt him put his arm around me and say, “That’s okay. I’ve got the skills.”

    Well, shut my mouth!!! For the remainder of that year, I had the privilege of watching God work…and WORK, he did!

    I suspect the same is true as we become more and more aware of the hurts, trials and temptations people suffer on “the night before…” He’s the one who has the skills to save them. He merely asks us to be present….

    • Jim Martin

      Michael, thank you for this outstanding comment. I appreciate the story about Afghanistan. Your story illustrates the nature of ministry quite well. We all get in the middle of situations that we would not have asked for or that we feel qualified for. Time and time again, we are called to trust God in the middle of these situations.


  • Margaret

    great reminder–many times we look around and think everyone had the same type of night we did. Which isn’t true

    • Jim Martin

      Margaret– so true! Thanks.