The Ministry of Touch and Presence (a 7.5 minute read)
- Dan’l Markham
I was on the Board of Directors, and later the Vice President of Development, for a ministry called Life Without Limbs, i.e. Nick Vujicic, a world famous motivational speaker and evangelist. A signature of Nick’s public and private ministry to others was “a hug.”
Hugs are terribly under-rated, significantly underutilized, and much needed.
Yes, hugs are even feared by some due to perverts and a politically-correct world gone mad. BTW, hug by asking permission first.
When I was a new Christian, freshly born again out of the Hippie movement, while working as a reporter and then editor for my hometown newspaper in rural Washington State, the first ministry Christ put on my heart was to go as frequently as possible to a local rest home and simply be with the infirm, to read Scripture to them, to touch and pray for each other. They loved every minute we had together. I loved every minute. God’s love was manifest, yes tangible!
God becoming man in Christ Jesus brings us to perhaps the most fundamental and most overlooked theological aspect to ministry– the ministry of touch and presence; succinctly and comprehensively called the ministry of “incarnation” (Immanuel meaning God with us.).
Jesus was a man of hugs and touch. After all he was Jewish. Middle Easterners, including Jews, hug and laugh, dance, and enjoy other human beings in-person.
The ministry of touch and presence is desperately needed in the light of a detached world. Connected in the virtual world wide web but detached from being “in person” with others.
An epidemic of loneliness has swept the world while all while we are told we are more connected than ever before because of social media. Not!
In Great Britain, the government actually appointed a Minister of Loneliness to address this problem for our neighbors across the pond.
The spiritual power behind the COVID epidemic divided us all is so many ways. Right? Not the least of which is dividing churches and families over stupid things like masks. The word Devil, comes from the NT Greek diablos, i.e. to divide. If you see division you know where it comes from. If you practice division, you are who Jesus called “of your father the devil.” Simple truth friend. Deal with it.
For ten years I worked for a worldwide disability ministry called Joni and Friends, i.e. Joni Eareckson Tada. In the Gospels disability ministry was much more than healing or the miraculous. It is more than providing wheelchairs and retreats for people affected by disability. It’s ultimately personally ministering to people with disabilities by bringing them socially and spiritually into our circle of life (Luke 19:5, Luke 14:1-24, Matthew 25:31-46, II Samuel 9:1-13, I Cor. 12: 22-27). It is replicating the incarnation of Christ by “being with” people.
Jesus did more than physically heal those affected by disability. Which was remarkable given the fact we learn from scripture that the people of Jesus’ culture despised or at least socially rejected people affected by disability. They saw them as cursed or in their state of disability as a result of their sin or their parent’s sin (John 9:1-3). Jesus was first and foremost with them “God with us.”
In our time deficient lives and detached world, the ministry of incarnation will be an inconvenience until we intentionally make it a part of our calling in Christ.
It shouldn’t go without notice that perhaps the first person (in a least a long time) to ever look up to Zacchaeus (a dwarf, a little person) was Jesus Christ (Luke 19:5). It is certain that God orchestrated that the first time Zacchaeus would look at Jesus he would be looking down at Him. How rare for this diminutive man to look down at anyone, especially the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!
People always looked down upon Zacchaeus. Jesus always lifts up, if even with only a look: “Jesus looked up…to…Zacchaeus.” Lifting Zacchaeus socially, Jesus invited Himself to Zacchaeus’ house (Zacchaeus was also a despised tax collector.) for food and fellowship.
While Jesus healed the lepers he went a big step further. Enforced by social mores under influence of Old Testament Law (Lev. 13:45, 22:4, Nu. 5:2) to not even be in the vicinity of people affected by leprosy, Jesus did the unthinkable, he physically touched the leprous (Mtt. 8:3, Mk. 1:41, Lk. 5:13).
During the midnight of my soul and life – separated from family and church – the deepest yearning of my heart after months of loneliness was to be touched, just to be physically touched by another human who cared.
The ministry of touch to the untouchables is massively underrated. The most chronic and consistent form of suffering related by people affected by disability is loneliness.
I see this regularly today in my ministry work with the Everett Gospel Mission. Homeless people are looked upon as the lepers of our day. It is more than profound what a kind smile, a warm look in the eyes, and a simple conversation can bring about.
So use up some of your surplus time to be with others – especially the lonely and the outcaste. If you don’t have surplus time sacrifice your time. How about one less TV show? You will be ministering to Jesus in doing so (Mtt. 25:31-46).
Jesus practiced and mentored the ministry of touch:
Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed." Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. – Mt. 8:3
So He touched her hand, and the fever left her. And she arose and served them. – Mt 8:15
Then He touched their eyes, saying, "According to your faith let it be to you." – Mt. 9:29
So Jesus had compassion and touched their eyes. And immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed Him. – Mt. 20:34
Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, "I am willing; be cleansed." - Mr. 1:41
And He took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers in his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue. – Mr. 7:33
And he took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying his hand on them . - Mk. 10:16
Then He put out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed." Immediately the leprosy left him. - Lu. 5:13
And they were bringing even their babies so that He would touch them…. – Lk. 18:15
But Jesus answered and said, "Permit even this. And He touched his ear and healed him.” – Lu. 22:51
This was all very much in keeping with the style of Jesus’ ministry – very personal, up front, close, and physical, extending his loving heart through His loving hands.
I’ve been often drawn to Jesus’ ministry to children which provides another intimate look at this ministry of “touch” our Master lived. In Mark 10:15, 16 (see also Luke 18:15) we read of Jesus, “Then he took the children into his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them” (New Living Translation).
The original Greek text bears this out. This was more than the perfunctory touching of a person’s forehead one might see at an ecclesiastical function. He took the children “into his arms” and “placed his hands on their heads” and “blessed them.” He spent personal, intimate, loving time with them – embracing them physically and speaking intimately to them words of blessing.
He understood loneliness - forsaken by his closest friends and separated from his Father at the cross .
He personally understands the need for, and affirmation of, close physical proximity and touch.