Monthly Archives: January 2016

The Ministry of Refreshment

The Ministry of Refreshment

          Onesiphorus:   A 1st Century Challenge for 21st Century Christ-Followers


You didn’t misread the title of this article. It really is Ministry of Refreshment, not Encouragement. The two are different.

The Apostle Paul received encouragement from many people over the course of two decades of service for the Lord. But he mentions being “refreshed” by only one: Onesiphorus, whose name meant “bringer of profit”:

May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he

            often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains.” II Tim. 1:16, NIV

Paul carefully chose the word he used to describe how Onesiphorus helped him. It is the Greek word ANAPSUCHO and means “to cool down.” Onesiphorus cooled down Paul’s spirit.

Overheating can happen anywhere, to anything. Engines. People. Economies. Even worlds, as in “global warming.” Things simply get too hot.

I recently saw a driver stopped on an interstate with his hood raised. Clouds of steam spewed out. The cooling system had overheated, making his car momentarily useless.

There are similar times in our lives when our spiritual systems overheat. We know when we physically feel bad. Spiritual overheating results in feeling bad spiritually. We’re out of fellowship with God and we sense it, but getting spiritually healthy again can prove difficult.

Sometimes we don’t think clearly. We get out of touch with reality and respond inappropriately with our emotions. With our will, we make faulty decisions. We are likely to find ourselves on the side of life’s road virtually immobile, unable to go any farther, or do any more, until first we cool down. The unrelenting pressure and flow of daily life makes us feel overwhelmed, like we are being washed downstream out of control. Events in our lives, the influence of difficult people, tragedies, losses, and reversals can stress us out.   We overheat spiritually and emotionally, and can’t function as the Christ-follower we yearn to be.

Christians with overheated spiritual systems? Yes!   Prolonged strain can take a massive toll on us. Disappointment, personal failure and the failure of others, and increasing, unrelenting pressure from any source can make us look like an over-inflated balloon. We need relief.

If “encouragement” means to pour in courage, to inspire and hearten, comfort and empower, then “refreshment” means to make fresh, or freshen by wetting or cooling, much like sprinkling refreshes flowers. Refreshment means to replenish, restore, and revive the spirit of a person, especially following depression or fatigue.

What refreshes you when the gears of your life are grinding and your spirit is running hot? Cold lemonade? A short nap? Or the unexpected call or visit of a friend when your back is against the wall?

Paul said Onesiphorus refreshed him as no one else had, that he “fleshed out” the Ministry of Refreshment. In Paul’s life, Barnabas unquestionably served as the Encourager, but Onesiphorus would have been the Refresher. Am I suggesting the great Apostle faced times of depression and extreme fatigue? Yes.

Try putting yourself in Paul’s sandals. It’s summer, 66 A.D. You are the prisoner of Rome for a second time, awaiting your fate, and manacled to a Roman soldier 24/7. You are treated as a common felon, convicted of political crimes, and probably kept in the terrifying Mamertine dungeon. The next soldier entering might carry the parchment ordering your life to be snuffed out.   Consider these excerpts from Paul’s letters:

“For I am already being poured out. . .the time has come for my departure. I

            have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

                                                                                                II Tim. 4:6-7, NIV

“You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including

            Phygelus and Hermogenes.”                                      II Tim. 1:15, NIV

“Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me . . .only Luke is with me.”

                                                                                                II Tim. 4:10-11, NIV

“At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me.”

                                                                                                II Tim. 4:17, NIV

Onesiphorus’ greatest usefulness seems to come very late in Paul’s life. All the powerful sermons had been preached. The high popularity and great crowds have gone. His followers and supporters have deserted him. He is old and out of favor with the leaders of the churches of Asia. In prison. In chains. Soon to die. Alone and seemingly forgotten, except for Dr. Luke. Paul was not on the way up, but on the way out. I believe he was in grave danger. For understandable reasons, his spiritual system had overheated during this time of reversals. It was a low water mark in Paul’s life.

Then came word that someone from Asia was there trying to connect with him.   A man called Onesiphorus, who told the guards Paul would know him.

His appearance must have refreshed Paul like a glass of cold water slakes the thirst of a man parched by the merciless sun. He had come from home, Ephesus. Paul had not sent for him, and had no idea he was coming.

We are not told Onesiphorus said anything profound, clever, or quotable. None of his words or deeds are recorded. He was just “there” for Paul at this perilous hour, not for what he could gain, but what he could give.

Maybe it happed, as some suggest[i] , that Onesiphorus’ visit to Paul was a side line, that he was in Rome anyway on a business trip. Yet he found time to locate him in a city brimming with a million people. The suggestion is strong he had considerable difficulty locating him. One writer has drawn a vivid picture of his search:

“We seem to catch glimpses of one purposeful face in a drifting crowd, and follow

with quickening interest this stranger from the far coasts of the Aegean, as he

threads the maze of unfamiliar streets, knocking at many doors, following up on

every clue, warned of the risks he is taking, but not to be turned from his quest;

till in some obscure prison-house a known voice greets him, and he discovers

Paul chained to a Roman soldier.”[ii]

Others suggest that, in the course of seeking, finding, and aiding Paul, Onesiphorus hazarded and even lost his own life.[iii]   Anyone wanting to talk to a felon convicted of political crimes would become highly suspect.

Paul remembers the three years he had spent at Ephesus (Acts 19:1-20:1)   He would have been Onesiphorus’ pastor, and Onesiphorus would have been a leader. He was probably with the elders who came hurriedly to meet Paul at Miletus for a tearful farewell (Acts 20:17-38) and heard Paul plaintively remark, “You will see my face no more.”

That three year period at Ephesus included a time in which Paul was emotionally and mentally at the lowest point in his life, a time he “descended into a spiritual valley in which his soul endured stresses that nearly shattered him.”[iv]   If John Pollock is correct in his interpretation of what happened at Ephesus during late 54 A.D. to spring 55 A.D.,[v] Paul endured a time of mental and spiritual affliction, which he described as:

“. . .the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great

            pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.

            Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.” II Cor. 1:8, NIV

In this time of terror, Onesiphorus was there to repeatedly refresh him, long before he came to Rome.

What an admirable character is Onesiphorus! How rarely we find one like him whose mantra is “just do it.” He probably had a wife and family to support. . .an occupation or business. . .his church at Ephesus. . .community responsibilities. . .a busy person, like most of us. . .yet he makes time for this incredibly important ministry.

Jail is a bad place for bad people, the last spot on earth many Christians would want to go. But Onesiphorus was there. By himself; representing no one. The place, the people of the place, the danger of going there—none of these things deter him.

Onesiphorus is our model, our mentor, in the Ministry of Refreshment. He gets past all the theory and theology, the debate and religious talk, the trappings of church, including endless meetings. He just blows on past all of these and gives a cup of cold water to a thirsty man.

There was no struggle, no complicated decision to make about whether to help or not. No pros and cons to be weighed; no impact studies or risk assessments to be done. Leave all that for others. Onesiphorus is booking passage to Rome while the church study committees are in session figuring out how to distance themselves from Paul. He is a helper, and that’s all there is to it. He acts out of who he is. Naturally. Effortlessly. “This is Christianity in shoe leather.”[vi]

What about you? And me? In whose life can we bring cooling refreshment and cheer today? Who is the man or woman, boy or girl, you can refresh today? In whose life can you be like a breath of fresh air, or cup of cold water?

When a friend goes down. . .when a believer makes a train wreck of his life or family. . .when someone crashes due to sin, or whatever. . .go to him or her immediately. Proactively seek them out. Help them if you can. Bring them “profit.” Never be ashamed, as the Asian Christians were of Paul, of a fellow believer who has fallen into what some would call a disgrace. Refresh them in their failure, personal tragedy, or crisis, in whatever “jail” they manage to get themselves into. Chains of sorrow and affliction may be the awful penalty of sins found out.

How can we perform it, this “Ministry of Refreshment”? Paul’s cameo of Onesiphorus tells us:

—“he often showed me kindness

            —(he often) ministered to my needs, comforting and reviving and bracing me

               like fresh air

            —he was not ashamed of my chains and imprisonment (for Christ’s sake)

            —he searched diligently and eagerly for me

            —he found me

            —what a help he was at Ephesus.”                     II Tim. 1:16-18, Amplified Bible

Look around your circle of influence today. What friend, what brother or sister in Christ, is spiritually and emotionally overheating? About to drop out of the race? What would it take for you to refresh and cool them down so they can function again? A surprise visit or call? A kind word? A delicious, unexpected prepared meal? Caring for a child or aged parent to give a breather to an exhausted caregiver? An errand you could run or a detail you could handle?

Warren Wiersbe says the qualities found in Onesiphorus, three of them, are as vital and valid as they were twenty-one centuries ago for any Christian who seeks to share this ministry:

“The essentials for a successful ministry have not changed: courageous enthusiasm, shameless suffering, and spiritual loyalty.”

It isn’t enough for a Christian to just do no wrong. He is to intentionally, proactively do what is right. And doing right includes caring for the people God loves:

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ . . .

as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong

to the family of believers.”                                                     Gal. 6:2, 10 NIV

Refreshment is never an easy ministry, and performing it may cost us dearly. It could involve taking risks and exposure to difficulties. Onesiphorus could have piled reason on top of reason why he shouldn’t make the dangerous, costly trip from Ephesus to Rome. He came anyway. When we imitate his service, we are entering the rarified air of God’s choicest servants. There are few in the Company of Refreshers.

Thank you, friend Onesiphorus, for your gentle reminder today.

[i] Barnes, Albert. Notes on the New Testament, Vol 12 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book Hour) Reprinted from the l884-1885 edition, Pg. 219

[ii] Harrison, P. N., Cited in Barclay, William, The Letters to Timothy, Titus and Philemon (Philadelphia: Westminster Press) 1960, p. 178

[iii] Barclay, ibid., P. 179

[iv] Pollock, John, The Apostle (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company) 1969, p. 164

[v] Pollock, ibid., See Chapter 27, “Affliction in Asia” (pages 161-169)

[vi] Foster, Robert D. The Challenge Newsletter (Colorado Springs, CO) June 15, 1974

The Amazing Healing Power of Memory

The Amazing Healing Power of Memory

Reflections on Psalm 77

A popular commercial once asked, “How do you spell relief?” then proceeded to answer by carefully spelling the brand name of a product.  One could hardly miss the intended message: that’s the product you are to use at the first sign of discomfort.

But when your soul is sick, how do you spell relief?  Psalm 77 in the Bible suggests you spell it: MEMORY.  Memory.  And through the wise use of it, spiritual wellness can once again be yours.

Bodies get sick.  We catch colds, contact diseases, and suffer much pain if we mistreat our bodies.  Souls get sick, too.  We can allow ourselves to get emotionally and spiritually exhausted.  Prolonged depression can cripple us to the point we are paralyzed and nonproductive.  With our minds we think unclearly.  With our emotions we respond in ways not completely appropriate.  And with our will, we make faulty choices.  Sometimes unconfessed sin and disobedience lead to misery and terrible unhappiness. Destructive emotions, such as anger, can make us sick of heart.

Psalm 77 is the story of a man who is all but crushed by a load of undisclosed problems far too heavy to bear.

Life has made him sick   Soul sick.  In the anguish of trying to survive, he cries out to God, then discovers the answer to his needs lies in the wise use of his memory.

The writer, a poet, has become completely self-absorbed with all his problems, misery, and woes, oblivious to the needs of others.  He feels he can hardly help himself, much less others.  His view of life has shrunk during his time of self-pity to the point there is no room for anyone else in his world.

Seventeen times in six short verses he uses the personal pronouns ”I,” “me,” and “my” to show how badly beaten down he is:

“I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me.  When I was

            in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my

            soul refused to be comforted.  I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I

            mused, and my spirit grew faint.  You kept my eyes from closing; I was too

            troubled to speak.  I thought about the former days, the years of long ago;   I

remembered my songs in the night.  My heart mused and my spirit inquired.”

                                                                        Psalm 77:1-6, NIV

Without pausing to take a breath, the poet speaks of the anguish of his heart and the despair he feels creeping in.  The pressure of his situation has overwhelmed him:  “I was too troubled to speak.”   But he does anyway.  There will be no “suffering in silence” for this saint.  Without waiting for any kind of response to his problem, the poet pours out six questions:

“Will the Lord reject forever?  Will he never show his favor again?  Has his

            unfailing love vanished forever?  Has his promise failed for all time?  Has

            God forgotten to be merciful?  Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”                                                                                                              Psalm 77:7-9, NIV

He asks three questions about God, not of God, because it appears He isn’t listening anyway.  Why should he expect any answer from Him?

It is devastating to be overwhelmed by problems while crying out to a God whom you feel isn’t listening to a word you say.  Our poet in Psalm 77 feels just that way.  Isolated.  Beyond help and hopeless. Left alone to suffer his fate.

He needs relief, but relief won’t come.  Or, at least it hasn’t thus far.  And he needs it so badly, if for nothing more than to get one good night’s sleep.  Anxiety over unresolved issues has robbed him of rest.  He is completely wrapped up in how bad he has it: “I cried . . . I was in distress . . . I sought . . .I thought. . .I remembered.”

Memory—the ability to form, retain, and recall memories—is one of God’s greatest gifts to the individual.  Without it, most of what we experience in life simply would not be possible.  But like almost everything else in life, there is a right way to utilize memory as well as a wrong way.  Remembering can be helpful as well as harmful, delightful as well as damaging.

Memory as a Menace

In Psalm 77, the poet has misused the power of memory.  In his troubles, he has focused on the wrong things, on reliving “the good old days” which never were that good:  “I thought about the former days, the years of long ago.” (vs. 5)   He wanted to re-live the past.  It seemed safer as he faced his present troubles.   The past was known and could be handled.  It was the awful present and the uncertain future that caused him such anxiety.  The safety of the past is the escape many use in order to avoid the reality of life today.

The past can act like a prison.  Some people get stuck in it, particularly in a period that was especially happy and trouble-free.  Though the calendar pages keep turning, the chapters of life don’t.  The attempt is made to live and re-live the same experience over and over, which becomes idealized.  We are like a little child that wants the same story told to him over and over.

The problems of the Psalmist have grown so deep he has shifted from wondering why God won’t move and answer his needs (vs. 1-6) to wondering if God can at all (vs. 7-9).  Has God’s hand changed?  The writer has been using the capacity to remember in a damaging way:  “I remembered you, O God, and I groaned.” (vs. 3a)

This is amazing!  The writer says he remembered God, and it made him unhappy.  God wasn’t acting like he wanted Him to act, or doing what he wanted Him to do.  The next step wasn’t far away:  I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed.”  (vs. 3b)

This kind of remembering sent the Psalmist to the bottom in anguish and despair.  He had remembered the days, the years, the dates, the events . . . but not the God of them.  It is the same old problem that has always plagued believers:  we want the experience rather than the Lord of the experience.

Out poet has taken his eyes off God, and his memory does the rest.  What is lost is the sense of God’s presence in his life.  This is the misuse of memory.

It’s acceptable to be rooted in the past so long as we are reaching for the future.  Some cling to the past and become paralyzed, but this is not what God intends for our lives.  We are to honor the past, but then move on, using it as inspiration for the future.

The past is a great place to drive down spiritual markers in our memory to which we return in the future to draw fresh courage and inspiration.  These former times would include experiences when God proved Himself especially faithful, or we came to a new understanding of His goodness and providential care.  Memory can invigorate us and lead to spiritual renewal.  This is the wise use of memory.  It is to be used for fruitful, productive purposes, not to foster gloom, sorrow, and self-pity.

Memory as a Ministry

Faith takes a long view of God, not a short one.  One must never formulate his idea of God based on present difficulties.  Faith reaches back into the past and reflects on God’s track record of faithfulness.  It forces the believer to bring his thinking into line with the truth about God.

Controlling how we use memory is critically important.  What we choose to remember can drive us deeper into hopelessness and despair, or point the way out of the swamp.  With the right memories we can convince ourselves there is a way out of the present difficulties through hope re-born and faith re-vitalized.

The Psalmist chooses not to remain under the heavy burden of his sorrow, but to throw it off and find God’s way out.  He shakes himself and makes himself face his own self-inflicted unhappiness:  “And I said, this is my infirmity. . .” (vs. 10a)  The answer that would heal him emotionally came in a threefold repetition of resolve:  “I will remember the years of the right hand of the most high. . .” (vs. 10b)   “I will remember the words of the Lord. . .I will remember the wonders of old.” (vs. 11)

Our poet corrects his own error, and gets his mind and memory rightfully back on God.  With the same memory, now used properly, he greatly encourages himself.  His faith is refreshed and strengthened, and his endurance fortified:

“I recall the many miracles he did for me so long ago.”  (vs. 11)

“I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.” (vs. 12)

“What God is so great as our God?” (vs. 13b)

“You are the God who works wonders.”  (vs. 14a)

The Psalmist’s memory is now an instrument, a channel, of ministry to his own heart, a wonderful friend and ally.

Memory as a Miracle

In Psalm 77, the wrong use of memory made our writer sick, while the right use of memory made him well, restoring him to spiritual health and strength.  The same memory did both.

Seeking after experiences made the poet’s soul sick; seeking after the God of those experiences made him well again.

There is something very relevant about this 3,000 year-old Psalm.  I meet believers today who know Christ as their personal Savior.  They have a home in heaven when they die.  Their future is all secure.  But the present is a mess.  They feel no sense of the reality of God in their everyday lives, and they feel deep disappointment in their Christian experience.

Like the Psalmist, they seek:  “I cried out to God for help . . . to hear me . . . I sought the Lord.”  And like the Psalmist they ask:  “Has God forgotten to be merciful?”  The past is taken care of.  Their sins are forgiven.  The future is secure.  They have a home in heaven when they die.  But in the present, God seems as if He is light years away taking care of some distant galaxy.  Their prayers seem to go unanswered, as if He isn’t listening.  And their faith doesn’t seem to work, making no real difference in the way they live Monday through Saturday.  On Sunday, the ‘game face’ is installed and off they go to church.  They seek, then ask, but they have not found.

Somehow believers forget that the same risen Christ who takes care of man’s sin problem through His saving death is also the same Christ who gives victory in the present life of the believer through His saving life.  We forget that the grace that provides for our forgiveness and salvation is the same grace that provides the strength to live the Christian life.  So many followers of Christ take off on their own, attempting to live the Christian life through their own wit, determination, and strength.  And experience nothing but failure, followed by guilt.  There is also such a tendency to go chasing off after the last fad or “experience”. . .the latest book, the hottest speaker, the latest Conference, the newest DVDs or study guides. . .in hopes of finding something that satisfies.   But they don’t.

The great need for many believers today is to remember that Christ is the source of everything he demands, the source of the life we most desire.  We need once again to discover that the life that satisfies in not one of experiences, but the Christ of those experiences. It is the simple rediscovery of the presence of the Living Christ in one’s everyday life.

How is it with you today?  Soul sick?  Are you wanting to get spiritually well and happy in the Lord once again?  Then you need to use your memory properly.

Would you prefer to suffer a spiritual relapse, or enjoy a revival that propels you to higher levels of discipleship and usefulness?  The choice you make about the way you use your ability to remember will decide.  You’ll feel relief in a hurry as you get your focus back on God instead of on your troubles.

Don M. Hull   © 2015