January 4, 2021
The Ministry of Proximity
Lee en español
Our three children shared a bedroom when they were young, sleeping in a triple bunk bed. Ballet tights and Batman pajamas happily resided side-by-side in their dresser. Then, when they were 9, 6 and 3 years old, we moved to a new house, giving our daughter her own bedroom.
After that, our youngest son had a difficult time adjusting to sleeping without his big sister in the room. To alleviate his distress, my daughter would take a pillow and blanket to the boys’ room, pray with him that God would help him settle down and then lay on his floor until he fell asleep. For him, just knowing she was nearby was enough to alleviate his fears, allowing his anxious mind to calm and his fidgety body to finally drift off to sleep.
In the letter of Philippians, the Apostle Paul discusses longing to be in heaven with Christ but also desiring to remain here on earth near his friends to strengthen and encourage them. (Philippians 1:20-26) Then, in today’s key verse, he states, “… I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith.”
There is a wordplay in the original language of this verse that isn’t easily reproduced in English. When the apostle says he will both remain and continue, the Greek words menein and paramenein were initially used. The word menein means “to remain with” or “to continually be in close proximity,” referring to a person’s physical location. However, the word paramenein hitches the prefix para to add a new dimension. This term means not only to be close by, but “to linger physically beside a person, ever ready to help.”
It’s as if Paul is relaying two crucial truths to his friends in this verse: “I’m here” and “I’m here for you.” Not only is he letting the church know he will be close at hand, but also that he is prepared to help them in any way he can. How this letter must have encouraged their hearts, allowing their anxious minds to rest by knowing their father in the faith was in close proximity, ready to assist them if needed.
Later in Philippians 4:5, Paul writes: “Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.” (CSB) The Greek term near here meant both near in time and near in proximity. The apostle may have been referring to the Lord’s future earthly return. However, the word also carries the thought of God being close in proximity, ready to come to their aid.
Paul didn’t just tell his friends he was near. He encouraged them that the Lord was too. And today, when those in our lives can’t see God physically, our presence reminds them He cares for them. Our behavior can tell others, “I am here,” while also assuring them, “I am here for you.”
It might mean sitting near your friend as she awaits the outcome of her loved one’s surgery, praying she feels the Lord’s presence by your proximity.
It could be taking a meal to your coworker who is reeling from a recent heart-crushing breakup, asking God to comfort her with your cooked meal and company.
It may look like being with a neighbor, cleaning her house and doing her laundry as she helps her children adjust to a new normal. Your care will display to them that God cares too.
The ministry of proximity not only displays to others your readiness to help; it also assures them that God is near. How might the Lord be calling you to the ministry of proximity today?
Father, may I be on the lookout for those who need Your comfort and love. Help me to show them compassion and care as I remind them You are ever near. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
TRUTH FOR TODAY:
Psalm 34:18, “The LORD is near the brokenhearted; he saves those crushed in spirit.” (CSB)
Karen’s upcoming book, Make Their Day: 101 Simple, Powerful Ways to Love Others Well, is packed with creative ideas for scattering care and kindness in your community, family and circle of friends. If you preorder by February 2, you’ll receive a PDF of Valentine's Day gift recipes, including homemade peanut butter cups, cinnamon-spiced nuts and dark chocolate-cherry fudge, along with ready-made Scripture tags for photocopying to include with your gift.
Giveaway time! Head to Karen's Instagram, where she is giving away three copies of Make Their Day: 101 Simple, Powerful Ways to Love Others Well and hosting a comment conversation on creative ideas for encouraging others.
REFLECT AND RESPOND:
Was there a time someone said with their actions, “I am here” and “I am here for you”? What specifically did they do or say that helped you sense God’s presence?
We’d love to hear from you! Share your thoughts in the comments.
© 2021 by Karen Ehman. All rights reserved.