(This first published in September, 2018.)
I can easily fall prey to our “fix-it-quick”, culture, tossing out truths that are, well, true, but fail to hit their mark. In fact, there’ve been times when I’ve caused more harm than good. When I’ve hurt others and damaged relationships. Usually my motives were good. I desperately wanted friends and loved ones to come to Jesus. I wanted them to experience the life, healing, and freedom only He can offer.
But in my zeal (often coupled by fear), I took off running and verse touting and left the Holy Spirit far behind. I was convinced I was right. After all, I only spoke truth, and truth sets people free, right?
Besides, Jesus never shied away from hard conversations, nor did He worry about offending people. When He encountered the adulterous woman, didn’t He tell her to go and sin no more? And the “invalid” He healed by the pool of Bethesda to stop sinning?
Yes and yes, but He also told the Samaritan woman who’d cycled through men (or perhaps had been discarded by them) to go and grab her husband. And the tax collector in Matthew nine to “follow Him.”
In other words, Jesus addressed each individual individually, speaking directly to their deepest needs, deceptions, and unique stumbling blocks. But He had something you and I don’t—insight. Jesus knew the history, hurts, and fallacies each of them held. In fact, He knew each man and woman better than they knew themselves. So when He spoke, He always hit His mark.
You and I don’t have that insight, nor do we always invest the time necessary to gain it. At least. When engaging others in spiritual conversations, I didn’t even consider there might be deeper issues involved.
But then God reminded me of my story. Through I trusted in Jesus for salvation at a young age, I didn’t begin growing in Him until my early adult years. Actually, for a while I spiraled in the opposite direction, living a drunken, partying, throw-myself-away type of lifestyle. By the time I met my husband, I was consumed with shame and self-loathing.
Around then, pastors started coming around. Not just one, but two. One would come knocking at our door, would step inside and talk with us a bit, and then leave. Another took my husband and I out to lunch with him and his wife. I don’t remember much of what either of them said, but I do recall the warmth in their smiles and the easy way they conversed. I remember the way they made me feel—safe. Loved. Welcomed.
The interesting thing is, my husband I were living together, unmarried, at the time. In other words, living in sin. (Though my worldview was so warped, I didn’t think a thing of our lifestyle. It seemed normal to me.)
Had those men come at me with “truth”, they only would’ve deepened my shame and pushed me away. They would’ve confirmed to me what I already believed—that I was worthless and disgusting. Bad. Not just that I was doing bad, but that I was bad. I understood that I was a sinner. What I didn’t understand, what I needed to see, was grace.
That’s exactly what those pastors showed me. With every interaction, they revealed the gentle love of Christ. A love that beckoned and drew me, that healed me bit by bit, and ultimately, transformed me.
Because Jesus knew my story. He knew what was keeping me from living in His will. While it’s true my lifestyle was very contrary to God’s desire for me, this wasn’t because I was actively trying to rebel against Him. Rather, it was because I’d given up on myself.
I needed Jesus, revealed through the grace-filled actions of others, to rekindle my hope so that, eventually, I had the desire to reach for life.
Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying we should never speak truth nor that we should accept or coddle sinful behavior. What I am saying is we should approach each broken, hurting child of God carefully and prayerfully, being careful to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading.
I often think of how I might talk to someone standing on a rooftop, ready to jump. I think of how alert, how attentive, how “others-focused” I’d be. My greatest desire in that moment would be not to say anything that would tip them over the edge and to coax them, ever-so-gently towards life.
That might seem like a drastic analogy, until we remember, with every interaction, real lives are at stake, lives that will either spend eternity with Jesus or separated from Him. That doesn’t mean we should become paralyzed by fear of messing up. But it does mean we should ensure, with each conversation, that God, and not our pride or our fear, is doing the leading. Only He knows when to speak truth and how much, when to listen, and when to simply say, “I love you, and I’m here.”
Let’s talk about this! Is there someone you’re trying to reach out to? How can you build trust and get to know them better—beyond surface level? Would you add anything to my thoughts? Do you perhaps disagree? Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments below.