A couple of weeks ago Phil and I started leading a Bible study at a local nursing home. What a blessing it has been! The residents are so engaged – even those who have cognitive and/or physical disabilities. And God is impressing a number of things on my heart.

Lesson #1: Those whose remaining lives may be short willingly linger to study God’s Word.
We are studying the book of Luke paragraph by paragraph. Yes, it will take us quite a while to go through all 24 chapters of Luke. And the residents are fine with that.

Phil and I have been leading small groups for a long time and know that covering material too slowly is death to a group. It doesn’t even matter so much how fascinating each week might be, people grow tired of studying the same topic or book for a long time – in fact, they grow tired of it even before they’ve experienced it. After spending their third week in chapter 1, members of the group will begin to think “Yikes, at this rate we’re going to be studying the book of Luke for a year and a half!” I confess, my thinking is the same. I’ll begin to think “Do I really want to spend a year in Luke?” How foolish we are to be willing to miss the treasures of Truth hidden in each paragraph simply to avoid spending a year studying the same document. It’s this mindset that causes people to avoid studying long books of the Bible and why the book of James is studied over and over again. If the study doesn’t fit into thirteen weeks or less, most groups won’t consider it.

Our nursing home study group doesn’t have that same perspective. They are thankful that we have come to lead a study and they are thankful for the lesson of the week. They aren’t dissatisfied if we’re not rushing from lesson to lesson. They are happy to linger over what God has for us in these few verses.

I have never felt more freedom to go through material slowly than when I am among these people who may not live through the entire study.

Lesson #2: Even those with cognitive disabilities – that is people who have difficulty processing information, have spirits that comprehend Truth. God is so good. He has created us with a mind, a soul and a spirit. Our mind processes information one way; our soul processes the same information another way; and our spirit process that same information yet another way. I am thankful that responding to God’s love isn’t dependent on any one of those three elements. I am also thankful that God enables us to respond to His love multi-dimensionally. That is, I respond to it in more ways than one. I can trust Him that should one of those abilities become injuried or deseased, He has already prepared me to know Him using the other abilities. We are truly fearfully and wonderfully made.

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

16 your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

Psalm 139:13-16

Lesson #3: Living joyfully is so much better than living in discontent or anger. The choice is ours. In the natural, most nursing home residents have little to be joyful about. Yet I see joyfulness on the faces of those who love the Lord, and I hear joyfulness in the tones of their voices and the light-hearted fun they have in everyday life. I want to choose joyfulness now. It’s such a better way to live.

We live the way we have learned to live, and we learn what we practice.

  • I’m afraid that I have practiced stress too much – I have learned to be stressed instead of joyful and confident in God.
  • I’m afraid that I have practiced discouragement too much – I have learned to be discouraged instead of joyful and confident in God.
  • I’m afraid that I have practiced complaining too much – I have learned to be discontent instead of joyful and confident in God.

Many residents who have every reason to be stressed, discouraged and discontent are joyful and confident in God. My heart goes out to those residents who live every day afraid, angry and unhappy. I pray for them and with them. God can change their circumstances. I also know that if He chooses not to change their circumstances, He can change their heart from being bitter, angry and discontent to being joyful and confident in God.

I want to choose joyfulness and contentment now, so that it is a lesson I’ve learned long before my latter years become my experience. I want to learn the lesson now so that the years between now and my latter years are spent in God’s joy and confidence instead of my own stress and discouragement. Regular readers know that this is a theme I come back to again and again. It is very easy for me to have my eyes stuck in this world. I continue to be in the practice and learning stages of these lifelong lessons.

4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:4-9

Friends, many people avoid nursing homes and nursing home ministry. I understand that. During the first years of my mom’s tenure as a resident of a nursing home it was a struggle for me to visit every few days. God honored my stumbling first efforts. He has faithfully met me and turned the stressful, discouraging and exceedingly sad situation into a joyful blessing and an opportunity to bless others.

Learn with me these most recent lessons from nursing home ministry. They are being taught by our elders who have learned them well.

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