A friend of mine brought up the (very valid) point that my last post, God, Bless America, could easily be used as a cop-out by someone who thinks they are being a good Christian by “being a nice person” and can therefore go along their merry way without more than a passing glance at the issues that are ripping our country apart right now. Can’t have that. That post was not intended to be a pat on the back, but a call to action. Folks, Jesus Christ is the one who set the bar here for how to love people, and he set the bar pretty damn high. (Pardon my French.) We, as Christians, have some work to do. Yes, all of us. All the time, for the rest of our lives. Being Christ-like is not a static calling. It’s going to be a growing process throughout our lifetimes and beyond. Maybe that sounds awful, but it’s not. It’s awesome. This is in no way meant to be a criticism, just a reminder that we’re never done growing. So what does that look like? I’m probably not going to get as specific as some people might like, but I believe GOD has to play the key role in defining specific strategies here, so I’ll leave that largely up to Him. That being said, there are certain things the Bible makes fairly clear. (This is going to be long, hang in there with me!)
For starters, we should check ourselves. On the regular. I used to think I had a pretty well-rounded read on the world (ahh, to be young again!), but as I’ve grown up and travelled and come into contact with a lot of different people and perspectives, I’ve realized I have blind spots. Big ones. They don’t make me a bad person, they make me a person. We are all human, we all grow up in a specific set of circumstances, have certain inherent ways of perceiving the world that give us biases. It’s not a reason to feel guilty. But, we are responsible for now. We are responsible to do our best to correct those blind spots. Jesus was FOREVER challenging the preconceived ideas of his disciples. Tax collectors are in. Samaritans are in. Religious leaders are out. That would have been massively hard to swallow for those guys. But they corrected. Romans says we are to by transformed by renewing our minds.
Romans 12:2 (ESV)
2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
We have to do the renewing. God helps, but it takes work. If you don’t know where to start, read the gospels. And then read the epistles. And then re-read both. Don’t gloss over the difficult bits, ask yourself why that section makes your thoughts skitter around it. This self-correction is a highly uncomfortable process that we get to do over and over and over again. (Yay!) And it’s scary to boot. It’s easy to think, as you willingly shake your foundations, that something important might get knocked loose. That somehow you’ll lose track of yourself in the process. And some things do get knocked out or rearranged, but if you go through this process hand-in-hand with God, when the dust settles you’ll find you’re still you. Maybe, hopefully, a slightly better version of you. We can pray, with David,
Psalm 51: 10 (ESV)
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Next, we can help each other out. Blind spots, as the term implies, are difficult to see for ourselves. God has given us a family so we can support each other, help each other grow, and love each other.
Ephesians 4: 15, 16 (ESV)
15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
When we’re each doing our part and when we’re working together, we grow (individually and collectively) in unity, in usefulness, and in love. Sometimes this help means being kind and encouraging. Enjoying each other’s company, laughing together, sharing thoughts and hearts. Sometimes it means confronting. In Galatians 2 (appropriately enough, for this conversation, over a racial issue), Paul says he had to “oppose [Peter] to his face, for what he did was very wrong.” Peter was being a hypocrite, and Paul told him so. It’s rough all around, but sometimes we need to do this for each other. (But seriously, don’t get crazy. My general rule is, if someone is already aware that they’re doing something wrong, don’t discourage them further by additional confrontation. But also just listen to God on it.) Or, we could even turn the tables and ask someone to help us recognize our blind spots. Beat ’em to the punch. The point is, we’re not in this alone for a reason. We’re going to need help in this walk, and that’s why God gave us each other.
Then, (these are in no particular order, by the way…we’re going stream of consciousness today) we can PRAY. A whole heap. Bring it all to Him, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Lay it on Him. He wants to hear it. Ask for help with the work you’re doing. Ask for wisdom if you’re trying to help someone else out. Ask for more of what you need to be Christ-like (wisdom, compassion, believing, joy, peace…). Ask Him to heal the hurts and correct the injustices in the world. Praise Him for who He is, thank Him for all He’s done. Pray specifically, pray generally, pray in the spirit if you don’t know what to pray for, just PRAY. I know sometimes it seems like certain things are either beyond His control or like He doesn’t care, but I know, I KNOW God answers prayers. I’ve seen Him answer big prayers, impossible prayers, even during this coronavirus pandemic. I’ve seen Him help me transform my own heart in ways I didn’t realize were possible. There are about 129,234,710 (not actually) verses on prayer, but I’ll leave you with this one.
Ephesians 6:18 (NIV)
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.
I feel like he might be trying to tell us something… Like maybe we should pray? On all occasions. With all kinds of prayers and requests. And always keep on praying. It’s really such an amazing thing for God to ask of us. “Come, be in a relationship with me. Talk to me. Let me help you.” The God of the universe wants that from you. Why would you say no?
We can share the gospel. Is this one a bit off topic? Well, first of all, though this post is being written in a time of race riots and primarily to address what we as Christians can do within that context, it should also be applicable in a broader context. And second of all, nope, I don’t think it is. Coming into relationship with the God and Father of all things and with Jesus Christ, our Lord and savior, is transformative. It gives us access to unconditional love, to peace, to joy, to hope, to eternal life. It breaks down barriers and builds up love. It turns people from “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” into family. It puts us in conversation with Love Himself, who knows all and has the answer to everything. So sharing the gospel, making that available to the people around us, is an absolutely powerful way to combat not just racism, but all the ills in our society. We need more people who are thinking like Christ in this world. This isn’t a message of “one of us.” It’s not “If we make everyone like us, no one will fight anymore!” Being a Christian should not turn us into cookie cutters (although, I will grant that in many cases it seems to…a topic for a different post), it should turn us into vivid, diverse individuals who are freed from the constraints of the world to become our best selves.
Next, (and guys, this is a big one) we should listen. A lot. First and foremost, to God. I remember back in Hawaii, someone shared after a teaching on prayer that they were specifically setting aside time for listening to God. This was a brand new concept to me. I was flabbergasted. But it’s really healthy. We talk and talk and talk at Him (don’t get me wrong, He loves it), but how often do we stop to listen? How can we expect Him to give us answers and wisdom and guidance if we never pause to receive those things? It takes a lot of patience, humility, and (let’s be honest, in this world) bravery to wait on the Lord. The world tells us, “We need a solution now! Figure it out yourself if He’s not speaking.” It can be so so hard to wait on His timing. In my Bible study right now, we’re reading through 1 Samuel. Reading about poor Saul. He started off so promising, and fell so so hard. One of his major fatal flaws: impatience. It was always, “Samuel didn’t show up, so I made the sacrifice myself,” or “God wasn’t talking, so I went to a medium to talk to a dead guy instead.” He wasn’t willing to wait for God’s timing, God’s solutions. It killed him in the end. If we make up our own solutions, they may be more prompt, but guaranteed they won’t be as good as God’s. Look around. See where we are right now? This is where human decision-making gets us. We start fires. We try to put them out but end up feeding them or starting another one. Just LISTEN to God. And be willing to wait for Him to speak.
Also, listen to others.
James 1: 19 (ESV)
19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;
As the saying goes, there’s a reason we only have one mouth but two ears. Unless we go into a situation with the express intention of listening, we will almost certainly start thinking of what we’re going to say next as soon as another person begin talking. Or maybe we’ll even beat them to it. Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who wouldn’t shut up??? You feel like they don’t actually care about you at all. Don’t want to hear your opinions or your experiences or how your day went. Don’t be that guy. How about a conversation with someone who encouraged you to speak? Who knew how to respond to draw you out and encourage you to keep going, who was genuinely interested in what you had to say. Didn’t you feel loved? DO be that guy. I think this is one of the most practical ways we can show people we love them ❤ We probably shouldn’t just listen to people in your immediate circle, either. Growth comes when we step outside our comfort zone. We can’t be afraid of new perspectives; in fact, we need them. (Remember that blind spot thing? Someone who thinks exactly the same way as us also won’t see it.) We don’t have to wholeheartedly embrace every different way of thinking (we can’t, actually, there are just too many and they are too conflicting), but we should at least hear them. When I went to YWAM (2 years ago!?!), I went with the declared intention of learning. I saw some of these amazing, on-fire Christians and knew I wanted what they had. And I knew that I wasn’t going to get there by staying the same and arguing every point along the way. There were times when I did share, absolutely. But mostly I listened. And their views were waaaay more different than I had even imagined haha. It was a rough couple of months. Man, I did the soul-searching thing in a big way. But I am so much better for it. I’m so thankful I had that chance to listen and learn.
(I hope and pray this one isn’t taken the wrong way.) We’ve got to forgive. Hurt people hurt people. It’s almost always the nature of the game. We’ve all been there: someone makes us feel like crap at work, so we go home and snap at our families. It’s an unfortunate reality of life. So if we want to help people who are hurting, we’re going to have to be able to forgive the hurts, little or big, that they intentionally or unintentionally inflict on us. To use a YWAM-ism, we need to cultivate “unoffendable hearts.” Forgiveness doesn’t condone wrongs. You know what, it doesn’t even mean someone WAS wrong. It’s more a self thing; a willingness to overlook our own hurt so genuine healing can happen. Maybe this will help us stop changing the subject. Right now, there’s a large group of people who are hurting. And yes, they’re not the only ones. And yes, violence and destruction are not the way to bring about change. And yes, all lives matter. And yes, it stings to be told that you’re the problem. But the conversation right now is racism. We can drop our own agenda and shake off the hurt for a moment. A lot of people are hurting and need our love. Surely we can forgive the tunnel-vision and hear them out? The other issues will come around, they always do.
Matthew 18: 21, 22 (ESV)
21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
This passage says “brother” right in it, so it often sends my mind back to my childhood. Sometimes when we were little my brother bugged me, because that’s what little brothers do. And I’m like, “Yeah! I can forgive 77 times!” But forgiving when we’re “bugged” is not what he’s talking about. This is Jesus. The one who said on the cross about the people who put him up there, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” That’s BIG forgiveness. That’s a bit harder to contemplate over and over and over again. But God, as love, will make sure our own hurts get addressed too. He’ll heal our wounds and comfort our hearts and soothe our souls. And part of forgiveness is realizing that justice for wrongs done to us is in the hands of a perfectly just Father. We don’t need to worry about keeping the score evened out. That’s not our job. But it is 100% our job to do the forgiving.
Last one, I promise. We just need to do what God gives us to do. I don’t know what that will look like for each person. We have to do that listening thing and see what He says. His plan may sound a bit weird or unconventional or scary. There may be 1000 reasons not to do it. But if we’re sure about what He’s saying, and if we’ve prayed about it and made sure it lines up with the Word, then we need to act on it. It’s going to look different for every single person, because God needs the diversity of His church to make things happen. Someone shared a quote on my last post that I absolutely loved. Helen Keller said, “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.” Some of us may be called to be heroes and give a mighty shove. But some of us may be accomplishing “humble tasks as though they were great and noble.” We may be helping our neighbors and calling our friends, being generous with our time, our talents, and our treasure (shout-out, Cornerstone!). Wherever God calls us, whatever He’s asking us to do, we can do it wholeheartedly and do it well. And even if we can’t see the impact we’re making, we can rest in the fact that His perspective is much bigger than ours, and He’ll make sure our contributions count. He hasn’t called us to be ineffectual.
I know the tone of this post may be a bit intense. But I’m passionate about this. THE LOVE OF GOD IS ABSOLUTELY ENOUGH. I feel like the world right now thinks our problems are so big (or Christianity so small) that we need God++. “Sure, do your cute Christian thing, but also try to actually make a difference.” I see it even in Christians! We get so upset over politics (for example) because we’re relying on the government to take care of people because we don’t think the church can. Which is saying we don’t think GOD can. Christians everywhere, we need to step up our game. We need to really truly trust that our God is who He says He is. We can’t afford to be tentative Christians. To do Christianity, but have a backup plan for all our real problems in case God doesn’t come through. He’ll come through. We need to act like God called us to change the world. Because that is EXACTLY what we’re called to do.