Usually, and this often happens in the morning, the names of friends or family members come into my mind out of the blue. Although it may seem random, God puts people on our minds for a reason.
One morning during my prayer session, a friend of mine whom I went to university with came to my mind, so I prayed for her. We spent a lot of time together while we were at uni, but up until that point we hadn’t spoken for at least a year, so I thought I might as well check in on her too. I found her Instagram and then sent her a message:
“Hey *her name*, you came to mind this morning and I lifted you up in prayer. How are you doing?”
10 days later she replied:
“…thank you so much for thinking about me, honestly these years have been really tough for me since [I] left *where we went uni*, just lots of bad things happened and now I'm quite stressed of the coming exams of the course that I'm doing. And I'm really struggling to believe in God if I have to be honest. Haven't been to church for awhile, felt guilty but I can't handle so many things all in once. How are you finding things recently?”
I was shocked and wasn’t expecting that response. From her Instagram she seemed like she was living life to the fullest, but little did I know that her message was the reality of her life.
After her message, we transitioned to a phone call and caught up more on life and what was troubling her. God saw it fit that I should just be there for her at that time to encourage her and help her press through her difficulties.
This personal experience shows the harsh reality that many people in our friendship circles are struggling right now, but we don’t know it. Many people are on the verge of taking their lives, many are on the brink of leaving the church and abandoning their relationship with God – and it’s all happening underneath our noses.
As Christians, we need to be intentional and serious about checking in on people and letting them know that we are there for them because the truth is many feel that no one cares about them, and many feel too afraid to reach out for help. I’ve been in that position.
I’ve been privileged enough to have received an out-of-the-blue message from a friend at a time when I was struggling, it was a similar message that I sent to my friend: they just let me know that I was on their mind and that they were praying for me, they then gave me a word of encouragement. I can’t properly express how that message felt, I was just in awe and thankfulness – it reminded me that I meant something to someone, that I was loved and thought of.
This blog is going to pick up some tips and pointers from Paul as to what we can personally do to check up on others and show them that we care and value them.
One thing that I love about Paul (I love many things about Paul) is that he was a master at checking in on people and making them feel loved and valued. If you take the time to read his letters and epistles you will find that he always let his people know this, “that without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers” (Romans 1:9; Ephesians 1:16; Philippians 1:4; Colossians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:2; Philemon 1:4).
1. Let people know that you are praying for them.
This isn’t a boastful thing, this isn’t you showing off that you’re some sort of prayer warrior (you may be), but that's not the point. The point is that by letting others know that you’re praying for them you’re telling them that they are on your mind, that you haven’t forgotten about them, and that even if they are struggling to pray for themselves they know that you're praying for them. Trust me, this makes a difference, I speak from experience.
I find it interesting, but not strange, that in Paul's letters and epistles he always let people know he was praying for them in the beginning and not at the end. For me, it demonstrates that Paul wanted his people to know, before he said anything else, before any encouragement or rebuke, he wanted them to know that first and foremost, he loved and cared for them and that they were on his mind, that he hadn’t forgotten about them and that they were on his prayer list.
As the saying goes, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Letting people know that you are lifting them up is a way of showing how much you care because the reality is, as a Christian if you truly care about someone – you will be praying for them.
To top this first point off, when you tell them that you are praying for them also ask them if they have anything they would like praying for. I have realised that when I ask this question, it creates an avenue for them to share what is on their hearts and what is troubling them (if they are ready).
For example, if someone asks you to pray for them because they are struggling to make friends at uni, you can ask relevant questions about that, and it also enables you to understand their greatest current need – a friend. Thus you’re able to practically help them.
2. Say Hi to people
At the end of some of Paul’s letters and epistles, he greeted people specifically and personally. At the end of his letter to the people in Rome, Paul took the time to greet his friends: “Greet Prisca and Aquila” (Romans 16:3), “Greet my beloved Epaenetus” (Romans 16:5), as well as to some people he knew in Colossi “give greetings to… Nympha” (Colossians 4:15) etc.
Imagine being Prisca and Aquilla, or Epaenetus and Nympha and reading the letter and seeing Paul the apostle mention and greet you personally. I mean, I would blush; how nice of Paul to think of me is probably what I would think or, I would smile at the fact that Paul remembered my name. Either way, it's nice to be remembered.
There are probably many people on your WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat or whatever communication network you use who probably think you’ve forgotten about them or take no notice of them. Just messaging them to check in on them goes a long way.
They may not respond (I have had many people ignore my messages) but that's fine, you’ve done your part. Others may respond with a dead reply, but that’s fine, keep checking up on them, they may be testing whether you genuinely care for them or you just want something from them (sometimes we only message people when we need something). Others may reply but may take time to open up about what's happening in their lives, and that's okay too, by messaging them and checking up on them here and there, you’re creating a safe space for them to eventually open up to you because your actions show you care.
Whatever the case, keep trying, and keep reaching out. It’s not in vain.
Make it a weekly, biweekly or a manageable regular habit to check in on someone, especially someone you haven’t talked to in a while.
3. Visit people
As I said earlier Paul was a master at checking in on people, but Paul was not only ink and pen, or in contemporary terms, he wasn’t solely a keyboard warrior, he left his pen and paper, and he physically visited people face to face.
After letting his people know that he was praying for them, after greeting them personally Paul understood how important it was to meet face to face and so he said to Barnabas, “come let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing” (Acts 15:36).
Just to put what Paul is saying into context, we need to realise that the mode of transport in his day was drastically poor compared to ours today. All they had at that time was a horse (if they were rich) or a donkey and maybe a carriage; their feet were another key mode of transport as well as a boat or ship. Paul didn’t have a missionary discount card for his public transport, there was no Jerusalem underground, neither did Paul have Uber, he didn’t have comfy Sketchers to walk in, and neither did he have a slick motor-powered boat.
Visiting his people “in every city” where he preached was a laborious and time-consuming task because Paul met and preached to a lot of people on his missionary journey. But for Paul – it was a sacrifice he was willing to bear because of the love he had for them.
A couple of months ago I was on the way back from work, my connecting train was in the city where a friend of mine stayed. I usually check in on him here and there over the phone: we usually pray and fill each other in on life, but we didn’t see each other face-to-face much. At this time of his life, however, he was battling with a lot of guilt: his girlfriend’s nephew, whom he was very close with was found on his living room couch dead. He thought he was responsible because the teen overdosed on his drugs. A shaking and heartbreaking experience as you can imagine. To make matters worse for him, he wasn’t even allowed to attend the funeral to say goodbye.
Every time we would call he would say that he was struggling to see how God could forgive him for what he did; although we had talked about God’s forgiveness, it never really sunk in for him.
However, since I was passing through I thought I would visit him to see how he was holding up. I stopped by his new place and we caught up on life; he was ecstatic to show me the amount of weight he had lost and to give me a tour of his new abode. It was great to see him and to get a big bear hug from him – I knew he appreciated and needed the visit. At the close of my visit, we sat in his lounge and, as he usually did over the phone, he started to talk about how he believed God would never forgive him for what he did.
I had my Bible with me, so I thought it fitting to have a concise Bible study on forgiveness with him. We went through the story of David and how despite all the madness that he did God forgave him. We went through Bible promise after Bible promise on forgiveness and at the end of it all, I could just see from his face and his posture that he understood the message that God can forgive us of all of our sins, no matter how bad (Hebrews 7:25; 8:12; 1 John 1:9). He understood and believed that we, as bad as we may be, can come to Jesus just as we are and He will not turn us away (John 6:37). At the end of the study, he said that he felt so much better and he believed that God had truly forgiven him.
Meeting face-to-face is a different ball game; it wouldn’t have been the same over text or the phone.
A few weeks ago, we had a catch-up over the phone and he told me that he is getting baptised and would love for me to be there for it. Powerful stuff.
If you’re local, or you’re just passing through an area where your friend lives, go out of your way to see them face to face. It can be a simple “hi” on their doorstep, and that's okay or you can just arrange a meet-up with them, that's even better. Doing either shows that you care, it shows that you are willing to be there for them, it shows you are willing to make an effort, and it shows you’re willing to make room for them in your life. Trust me these little things make a difference in people’s lives. They feel loved and valued, it gives them strength and encouragement to keep going.
This final point is a must and is the foundation and the cherry on top:
4. Ask God to put love in your heart
Let’s be honest, praying for people, letting them know we are praying for them, saying hi to people and even going out of our way to visit them is a lot of effort and we cannot do it on our own. Neither is there in us that unconditional love that enables us to do these things – but that's where God comes in.
Asking God to put love in our hearts is so key because if we try and do this on our own, with human love we will get tired, we will get frustrated and we will eventually stop checking in on people.
Each morning ask God to put love in your heart for others, ask God to put people's names that He wants you to reach out to on your mind, and ask God for the strength to enable you to do this life-changing work.
As you do that, God will use you to be a difference in people’s lives, He will use you to bring hope and encouragement to those in need.