On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”
— Luke 5:17–26

One of my favorite memories growing up was going on mission trips with my church and family. It was on those trips that I learned the joy of serving others — whether it was painting a house, leading a Bible club for kids, or helping on a construction project. The activities themselves were helpful, but the significance of our time together went way beyond the material benefits we provided. Typically, our work had an underlying purpose:

  • Develop relationships within the community.
  • Strengthen ties.
  • Help connect people to God.

Jesus modeled this same kind of service through his healings and miracles. When He healed someone, He wasn’t just interested in restoring their sight or helping them walk. His purpose was much deeper than that. He cared as much about people’s hearts and souls as He did about their bodies. He was concerned with their whole person. After all, He had created all of them.

And while we may not have this same creative claim as Christ, we too ought to be sensitive enough to see beyond a person’s felt need and see their real need. The paralyzed man who was lowered down to Jesus knew he needed to be healed in order to walk. What he might not have realized was that he also needed to be forgiven. This is the deepest need of every human being: reconciliation with their heavenly Father through the salvation offered through Jesus Christ.

So, our serving must not be superficial. We don’t need to be Christ-followers to build a house or serve the elderly in our community. But we do need to know Christ if we want to introduce people to a hope that goes beyond their home or their community. And we need to know them as well.

In the end, this is what evangelism is all about: knowing Christ and knowing the people He died to save. What are their felt needs? Food? Shelter? Security? The list is long and varied, but the real need is always the same: salvation through Christ and reconciliation with their Maker.

In ministry, we need to care about both felt needs and the ultimate need. To ignore people’s felt needs is insensitive and uncaring, but to ignore their deepest need is heartless as well. If we are to love people the way Christ did, we must care for the whole person, not just their symptoms. When we love them the way Christ loves them, our service opportunities become avenues of connection that go beyond their immediate needs. By connecting ourselves with them, we have the opportunity to connect them with Someone far greater.

Once again, the question of motive comes into play: if we are only serving to make ourselves look good, we will be content to just “do the job” and move on (after an appropriate amount of self-congratulation and recognition). But if we are serving out of love and a desire to see more than just felt needs get met, we will find that our service becomes a springboard to an introduction to something far greater.

And you don’t need a mission trip to a far-off place to have that opportunity. Start with someone close by — right next door, perhaps. The location is not nearly as important as the connection — the connection to you and the connection to the One who called you to serve in the first place.