Most of the time, we see things backwards. When things go bad or hard times come we tend to have a very narrow view. It is very difficult to step back and see the bigger picture. In the book of Acts, we get to hear the story about Paul and how he spread the word about a loving, generous God to people all over the area. It is fascinating to hear about his adventures and how he faced opposition and challenges.
After he had spend many years pouring himself into key leaders, teaching them the good news about Jesus he knew he needed to go to Jerusalem. There were many people that warned him strongly not to go. They told him is was too dangerous, that he would be imprisoned, beaten and possibly killed. Any way you slice it, he would be facing extreme opposition if he went.
Agabus, a prophet, strongly warned Paul that the Jews in Jerusalem would tie him up and hand him over to non-believers. After hearing this Paul’s friends all begged him not to go. This is how he responded to the fear that gripped those around him:
“Why all this hysteria? Why do you insist on making a scene and making it even harder for me? You’re looking at this backward. The issue in Jerusalem is not what they do to me, whether arrest or murder, but what the Master Jesus does through my obedience. Can’t you see that?” Acts 21:12-13 He also said earlier in Chapter 20:24 “What matters most to me is to finish what God started: the job the Master Jesus gave me of letting everyone I meet know all about this incredible extravagant generosity of God.”
Paul refused to let life’s problems derail him. He understood that what happens in you is more important than what happens to you. He also understood that when you look to Jesus as your role model and draw strength from Him each day, He’ll give you all that’s needed to overcome life. Here are some more take-aways from Paul’s example:
What do you need to face head on instead of running from? What perspective do you have on what is happening in your life right now? Is how you are handling life bringing glory to God? What painful experience has helped shape your character and who you are today? What situation are looking at backwards?
In Jesus’ first sermon recorded in Mathew he talks about core values. He lists ten core values that he wanted all of his followers to embrace. As I read through Mathew chapter 6 and 7 these values jumped out at me. Read it for yourself sometime. Here is Jesus’ top ten values:
Jesus also summarized the Bible by saying “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12
Wouldn’t it be great if we had signs for people like we have signs for roads? You approach a person and they hold up a sign that says “I just had a big fight with my spouse this morning, proceed with caution”, or “Feeling highly stressed, may explode”.
Maybe at work your boss could have a sign saying “Under Pressure” or a co-worker “Having trouble with my child, Hard to Focus”
We could go on and on describing different signs people could wear. The point is that we don’t get that clear of a message in our relationships. We all have to go through drivers education in order to get a license to drive. We don’t go to relationship training to learn how to relate to people better. A lot of us should get pulled over for not reading relational signs correctly. We often run red lights, don’t merge properly and ignore many signs people are giving us relationally.
Jesus was a master at reading people, noticing people that others ignored. Of course He had the advantage of being God and knowing their thoughts, but we can learn from Jesus’ example. He paid attention to the outward signs from people and could quickly read the motives behind the actions. The problem for many of us is that we are far to engrossed in our own lives that we fail to notice the people around us. We lead busy, preoccupied lives and often miss the bright neon signs someone is flashing in front of us.
This happens a lot in marriage. One spouse is holding up all kinds of signs that are saying we are in trouble, we need help, we are heading in the wrong direction. The other spouse ignores those signs and maybe puts up others sign like things are OK, full speed ahead, we can do this on our own.
God shows us in Genesis 4:6 how to read signs “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?” God sees that Cain is upset because of his facial expression. We can also know if someone is angry, frustrated, unsure, scared, disappointed etc from the facial and body expression that people use.
When we tune into each other and notice these little outward expressions, it helps us to connect at a deeper emotional level. Some people are not very good at picking up on these signs and can actually be blind to many of these signs. Often that starts early in life by being shut out relationally by family, school mates etc. They begin to insulate themselves from getting rejected and eventually stop being able to read what another person is feeling. Those who have been abused can also insulate themselves from emotional connections with people.
To regain that takes emotional healing and a lowering of the walls that have been built around the heart. Everyone can learn to read other peoples signs better. Often it is by trial and error, by asking questions and talking about what you are observing. Many times we can sense when something is wrong with people we know well. That sense comes from the non-verbal and verbal communication they are sending us. Simply asking some questions of that person can help to open the lines of clear communication about what is going on.
So my challenge to us all is to pay attention this week. Look for signs like “Road Closed”, “Stop”, “Yield”, “Proceed with caution”, “Slow Down”, “Do Not Enter”.
Life is full of signs and people wear them every day. I love the comedian that talks about “Here’s your sign” that is different, that is us giving someone else a sign instead of reading theirs.
Paying attention, asking questions and knowing when to give someone space and when to pursue them are all critical relational skills. I hope this will also help you as you display your own signs. What are you saying to the people around you? Maybe you need to change out some of your signs to allow people to get closer to you.
“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need and has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:17-18
My takeaway from that verse is that Christians need to be doing more not less to help those in need. There are two kinds of responses people can make to this verse.
I guess there could be a third response of I have thought about helping the poor, but just don’t know how.
A word of caution to the people with response number two. There can be mixed emotions and motives behind wanting to help the poor. Here are some possible motives:
The danger is to unintentionally reduce poor people to objects that we use to fulfill our own need to accomplish something good. Really the answer for all three responses is that we need to be reminded of the Gospel every day. We are all broken and poor in some way. It may not be financially, but it might be relationally, emotionally, spiritually or physically. We need to be reminded that Jesus paid it all and covers all our sins and short comings. So we are not on this earth to fix ourselves or other people, we are here to love God and love other people.
Our approach to helping poor people should be to love them. Taking the time to build relationships, to listen to their story and really care about them. It means taking a longer term approach with people instead of a quick fix like paying a bill for them, or buying them groceries once. Often times we like to swoop in and help someone out and then never interact with them again. That usually confirms to that person that they are poor and feeds the shame they feel. It does not help that person heal emotionally or to mend broken relationships or build new healthy relationships.
Here are five principles we can use in our approach to giving:
In order to really help someone we need to understand if they need relief, rehabilitation or development. In many situations, relief is not needed, but rehabilitation or development is needed. Relief should go to the severely disabled, some elderly that cannot care for themselves, the very young, orphaned children, mentally ill homeless and victims of natural disaster. Most others may want relief, but need rehabilitation and development.
Most people are poor because of broken relationships. Development looks to help restore and to build healthy relationships. This takes time, patience and work. We should not do things for people that they can do for themselves. When we step in and do things for people they can do for themselves we send a message to them that they are incompetent, hopeless and helpless. Instead we should work with them to help them improve their lives. This is the helping in truth part from the opening Scripture.
This holiday season, I want to encourage you to think long-term if you want to help someone in need. If you are not willing to do that, then it would be better to not get involved. You can still help by giving to organizations that have this approach. Here are some organizations that my church supports. NewPointe Community Church also has this approach of mentoring and working long-term with people to help make big changes in their lives. We might help them financially along the way, but it is part of a plan for helping them grow and change.
I read this today in Michael Hyatt’s Blog and thought it would be worth sharing. This is a different way of looking at the world around us. I have been challenged lately to love people better. Jesus told us to love others like we love ourselves. I am not sure I can say that I do that every day. So here is a prayer for me and for you:
May God bless you with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,
So that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression and exploitation of people
So that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war,
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them
And turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness
To believe that you can make a difference in the world,
So that you can do what others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness to our children and the poor.
I hope that was as inspiring and challenging to you as it was for me. I want to challenge you to start praying that prayer and asking God to make you uncomfortable. Compassion and love for people is not a feeling, it is an action – Go make a difference!