“As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. “(2 Timothy 4:6 NLT)
My wife and I have three beautiful boys. Our youngest is five years old. One of the things that he loves to do on his own is to pour his own drink. The other day he grabbed his older brother’s cup and poured out his juice into his own little cup and he did it without spilling a drop. The problem was he left his brother’s cup half empty.
Paul paints a beautiful portrait of life in his letter to his young protégé Timothy. Paul, who was getting older and sensing his time in this life was coming to a close, gives Timothy a unique perspective on life. For Paul, life is very fluid. In fact he suggests that our cups should always remain half full.
When you gaze a glass half filled with any liquid you essential have two choices. Is the glass half-empty or half-full? I have always answered that question with the latter response. I suppose my perception isn’t a matter of optimism vs. pessimism. My perception was based on my understanding of life and what life is really all about especially after I was diagnosed with Asperger’s four years ago at age 36.
I’ve always believed that if there is more room in the glass than it should be filled with more. It’s what our culture teaches us. Get more, have more, spend more, take more so naturally I learned to see something that is half-full, as something that is lacking and limited. This became especially true when I was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. As a Christian and a pastor newly diagnosed with a developmental disability, I assumed my glass was only half-full. I wondered if I lacked something that would stop me from being used by God. I wondered if my limitations meant that I would be of limited use to God and my church.
Except that Paul seems to think otherwise. By saying that he has poured his life out for God suggests that perhaps following God means finding ways to pour ourselves out into something greater than ourselves. What if the most satisfied that we will ever be in life is if our glass is consistently half-empty? What if our outpouring is what will make our lives outstanding?
Living life with a disability of any kind can be a daunting task, but the church can be a critical part in helping those with disabilities live outstanding lives by providing them with opportunities for outpouring. According to Paul, the process of pouring our lives into what matters most is not complicated and based on my own experience and the great support system at my church, I have learned that making the shift from doing ministry forpersons with disabilities to doing ministry with persons with disabilities can be done in three simple ways.
Finding the fight.
Paul says he fought hard, but it is because he found something that he believed that he could contribute to. Embrace the idea and present opportunities for meaningful contributions and spiritual growth. Remember every person is different and ministry opportunities must meet the unique needs and skills of each individual person, but the goal should always be to include persons with disabilities into the life of the church. This means that their contribution should contribute to the church’s overall vision and mission. Paul fought hard because the work that he was invited to do was meaningful and challenging in a spiritually healthy way. Helping people pour their lives out for God should be an opportunity afforded to everyone in your church.
Focus on Finishing
Paul also says that pouring your life out means to finish well. When doing ministry with the disability community consider providing opportunities that have a finish line. Ministry can be extremely impactful and rewarding if we create methods for helping people to accomplish their goals. Create accommodations that assist with success and create a system to celebrate their contribution and their completion of the goal. After all Paul points us to the idea that a life poured out to God comes with an eternal prize. Why not include a moment of celebration and recognition for those who serve well in your church?
Finally Paul says that pouring out your life to God means to remain faithful. Faithfulness is often a matter of consistency so consider the need for consistency in your ministry opportunities. When creating a culture of doing ministry with persons with disabilities examine your current ministry programming and assess if the opportunities to serve provide consist access for people with disabilities to serve. Are the events, services, small groups and mission trips consistent in their strategy for attracting persons with disabilities who would like to serve in those areas? Be sure that their ability to faithfully serve is not hindered by strategies that do not consistently provide opportunities for them. Ask yourself what is our plan to help them to pour?
In Acts chapter 2, the apostle Peter reminds the community on the opening day of the church that “... God says I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.” This means that making the shift from ministry for to ministry with persons with disabilities is not only an opportunity it is an obligation. God’s spirit rests on all people without distinction.
When members of the disability community are left without opportunities to serve their local churches in meaningful and fulfilling ways, the church is at best only at half strength because God has poured his spirit into them so that they may also pour out their lives in service to him and his church.
Dr. Lamar Hardwick is the lead pastor of New Community Church and the author of I am Strong: The Life and Journey of an Autistic Pastor and Epic Church: 5 Steps to Becoming the Church Jesus is Building. You can follow him at www.autismpastor.com and on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
Disability Ministry Video Roundtable
Join autistic advocate Carlyle King on this month's Disability Ministry Video Roundtable (July 18 @ Noon eastern), where our topic is Loving Out Loud: What Autistics Need to Connect.
Loneliness can be a source of distress for many autistic people. Snap judgments often prohibit friendships between neurotypical people and those with autism. Carlyle will share research and strategies to consider.
Register to have the Zoom videoconference link emailed to you: http://www.keyministry.org/video-roundtable