By This, All Men Will Know

I have this horrible habit – I try diligently to mind my own business and seem to attract those who wish to discuss things loudly within my hearing.  It’s not that I try to eavesdrop – I just seem to be surrounded by those having what should be a private conversation at a very public volume.

One such conversation occurred recently – a woman was griping to her male companion (husband? friend? co-worker? Not sure) about a woman who she has significant difficulty getting along with.  In the speaker’s opinion, the woman in question has absolutely no redeeming qualities.  At least that’s what it sounded like.  She listed several flaws this woman has.  In the end, it sounded like the woman speaking and the woman she was bad-mouthing just have different ways of approaching tasks to be completed.

Then my heart broke when the woman finished with, “I just cringe every time I see that woman walking toward me in church.”  Wait.  You were verbally shredding a fellow believer?!  Pretty sure that’s not an okay thing to do.

John 13:34-35 “Let me give you a new command:  Love one another.  In the same way I loved you, you love one another.  This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples – when they see the love you have for each other.”

It’s simple – disciples of Jesus are recognized by the love they have for one another.  Not how ornate their church buildings are, not what style of music they use in worship, not what translation of the scripture their pastor uses . . . their love for the family of faith.  There is no escape clause in that command – we are to love one another in the same way God loved us.  Period.

My heart often breaks when I see the rage and animosity that has become a part of the internet culture.  We all want others to accept/support the causes that are nearest and dearest to our own hearts but we can often be heartless and unloving when interacting with others of different views.  But my encounter today tells me that maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.  If followers of Jesus cannot love one another, how on earth can I expect those who don’t agree on “big” issues to treat each other lovingly?!  I’m not going to lie – what I overheard was also very convicting.  I’ve been guilty of the behavior I observed more often than I want to think about.  I screw up this command far too many times.

Let’s face it – followers of Jesus are humans.  We fail, fall down, sin, hurt others, get hurt, deal with disappointment or cause it . . . we all screw up.  But none of that is an excuse to treat each other harshly.  The command above is pretty clear.  It is our love for our brothers and sisters that will distinguish us as follower of Jesus.  It doesn’t mean we pretend not to have differences or that we act like we never disagree.  In fact, I personally think it would have MORE impact if those outside of the faith could see us deal with differences of opinion/disagreements with gentleness, empathy, compassion, and love.

As I said earlier, it was a convicting experience.  The challenge to myself sounds simple but is going to be a challenge – all those who claim to be followers of Christ are my family and I will seek to treat them with love first and foremost.  I have no delusions – it won’t be easy!  But it’s a behavior that needs to become so deeply ingrained in me that doing anything else would be impossible.

Epiphany – Sort of!

This thought shouldn’t be revolutionary to me.  But it did stop me short earlier today.  It shouldn’t have.  Unfortunately, the fact that it DID stop me short is proof that head knowledge isn’t necessarily enough to make a heart change.

In the Gospels, we are told that a teacher of the law came to Jesus and asked him which law was the most important.  Jesus answered –

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. (Mark 12:30)

Love the Lord your God.  Not be a perfect wife or mother, not keep a perfect home, not be a model employee.  Love the Lord your God with EVERYTHING you are.

I waste so much time trying to “fix” or “improve” my life by focusing all my attention on those problem areas/strained relationships/personal weaknesses and get frustrated when I can’t get the positive changes to “stick”.

But my focus is wrong.  It’s not that God doesn’t want to affect those areas.  He most certainly does.  But he wants my priorities to be right.  If I can learn to love him with all that I have – my mind, my heart, my soul, my strength – then he will walk through all those broken places and start teaching me, stretching me, empowering me, and motivating me to make the changes as a result of making Him the absolute number one priority in my life.

For so long, I have tried to “be good enough” and all I end up doing is failing those I want to be good enough for and frustrating myself when I do so.  This is the key.  Loving God the way it is described in the verse above will give him the place in my heart that he needs to effect positive changes in every other area of my life.  Think about – focusing on obeying that one law will talk care of ALL the others.  (Now to make sure I don’t forget that!)

When Did This Happen?

I’ve confessed before that I struggle with being a people pleaser.  Sad, but true.  The only tricky thing about being a people pleaser is . . . other people don’t always agree!  So in an effort to keep one friend happy, I might accidentally disappoint another and then I end up miserable because I can’t figure out a way to please them both . . . you get where I’m going with this?!  To say that being a people pleaser can be a source of anxiety would be a bit of an understatement.

Now place that people pleasing person (me) in a situation where obedience to the Holy Spirit’s leading puts me in a place where people are definitely NOT pleased with me.  Seems like a recipe for disaster, right?  I mean, a people pleaser is liable to wimp out the instant someone frowns at her!  But something wild is happening.

With the help of the Holy Spirit, I’m continuing on the path of obedience.  I cannot avoid those who don’t agree with my choice (though one of them is VERY good at pretending like I don’t exist!) so I must regularly deal with the displeasure of others, expressed in direct terms or in passive-aggressive moves like refusing to speak to me.  Surprisingly, I’m not experiencing the anxiety that would be typical for me in this situation.  No sleepless nights, no stomach tied in knots, none of the typical stresses that eventually cause me to cave and do what those “others” want. 

Let me be very clear – this is NOT because I’ve suddenly become a stronger person.  The Spirit called me to act and now the Spirit is equipping me to obey!  This journey is far from over, of that I am sure.  But what I’ve already learned from the experience could prove to be life-changing.

In the Midst of Obedience

I spoke in an earlier post about the experience of obeying even when it doesn’t make sense and it’s kind of tough.  Well, here I am, a couple of weeks in, and it’s still tough and it really doesn’t make sense.

So what now?  Do I continue on this path and do what is obedient?  Do I continue to deal with those who consistently tell me that I should do what would make them happiest or do I just give in?  Do I continue to deal with those who just flat out ignore my existence because they don’t like my choice?

Yep.  It hurts to be treated in that way by others who claim to be my church family.  But it’s my reality.

Why do I keep doing it?

Very simple – I am convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that I am obeying the Spirit’s leading.  I am more aware of the Spirit’s leading/conversation in my life and it’s been wild ride but I love it!  Hubby and I have had some wonderful conversation around the situation and I am fully convinced of his support (and he’s been an amazing source of encouragement!).  And numerous little things have happened that have confirmed that I’m doing the right thing.

So I’m staying on this path with James 4:17 as my reminder:

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

My determination may not make others happy.  But this isn’t about making them happy.  This is about doing what I know I ought to be doing.

To Obey or Not Obey

As a parent, I remember times when my kids were young that they didn’t always understand why they weren’t allowed to do certain things or why I insisted that they do certain things.  There are times that a parent sees risk or danger that a child doesn’t see.  As a parent, I can also see the talents my children possess and I sometimes even know how to help them polish those talents! 

My Heavenly Father is even MORE equipped to know what is needed to polish off my rough edges and “grow” the gifts he has given me.  I wish I could say that last statement makes it easier to obey but the truth is, I can still dig in my heels like a petulant toddler, refusing to do what my Abba asks because I don’t understand why he’s asking or I don’t  like what he’s asking.

So here I am.  Called to alter (temporarily) a certain ministry involvement and I’m not sure why.  But I don’t need to know why.  I only need to remember that my Abba loves me, he wants to see me grow in my relationship with him and he never asks me to do things on a whim.  No clue where the current situation is leading.  But I’m going to obey.  I may have some people upset with me because they have different ideas about what I should be doing.  I tend to be a people pleaser so the attitudes of others is the one thing I fear most.  Nevertheless, I choose to obey.  I’m just a little curious to see how it all plays out!