This article is part of the Open Letters series.
The body of Christ needs you. It needs your words and deeds. That is simply part of the deal when you follow Jesus. The apostle Paul wrote, “encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). You are already speaking encouraging words and building people up. Now keep doing it, more intentionally, more skillfully, more prayerfully—when a child scuffs her knee, when a friend is separated from a spouse, when depression strikes a person you know, or when someone has been diagnosed with cancer.
The Lord specializes in using people who feel weak in themselves.
If you feel inadequate to help others in need, especially those with more complicated problems, that is a perfect qualification. The Lord specializes in using people who feel weak in themselves, and your sense of inadequacy will probably protect you from saying something unhelpful. We are usually unhelpful when we are confident that we know what another person needs to hear.
You already know the basics of help and encouragement. First, you have to move toward the other person, which is sometimes the hardest thing to do. You have to talk together and hear what is important to the person. Next, let the person know that you have them on your heart—you are with them and are moved by what they are going through. That might be enough for one day. You have built up the body of Christ.
If there are awkward silences or if you are inclined to go further, you can ask, “Could you suggest ways that I could pray for you?” If you are concerned that such a question could sound like a spiritual platitude, remember that it is only trite if you are not really interested or are not actually going to pray. If the person is on your heart and you are praying for them, you have given them a great gift.
Maybe the person will respond by talking more about his or her life. If so, listen, be affected by what the person has to say, and thank the person for being willing to talk. Then take what the person said and try to find some ways to pray. If you want to be bold and loving, pray then and there. Later, you will want to follow up.
Of course, there is more you can do. Ask your pastor about good books on suffering, and ask others what is most helpful to them when the problems of the day seem overwhelming. You can always grow in your love and words. Expertise is not what makes you an adequate helper; faith, love, and your desire to grow are sufficient.