Have you ever felt it?
That awful moment when you're faced with a question, and you know the answer will make the other person feel horrible. They're waiting for the answer, and you've got to say something...and inside you're already feeling in empathy all the emotions you think you're about to inflict. And you find yourself thinking, 'I just can't do this to them.'
Or maybe you’ll know you’ll upset them, and that might damage your relationship with them.
So you temporise, you soften your language or you dodge the question.
Or is that just me?
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say it's not just me. I see it in myself, and I see it in those around me. So what's the issue? Isn't it good not to hurt others? Isn't it loving not to upset them? Isn't it loving not to judge? Aren't we supposed to be 'nice'?! How can it be 'nice' and 'loving' to tell people that they're sinful and make them feel bad? Aren’t we supposed to preserve relationships?
Our emotions and empathy are a God-given and precious part of us. The ability to understand what someone is feeling helps to build deep connection and relationship. Where would we be without it?
It is good that we don’t want to hurt others. It is good that we hesitate before upsetting them. It is good that we remember that there are grey areas, and that there are many things that are complex and not clear cut. It is good to be humble.
There are times though, when God’s word is absolutely clear...and the application can be absolutely heartbreaking.
It is heartbreaking to sit with a young girl fathoms deep in love, and say ‘your life is going to be very difficult if you marry a non-Christian’.
It is heartbreaking to sit with a friend and see the pain and fear in their eyes and say ‘yes, I know you were lonely, and that’s awful, but sleeping with someone who is not your husband is wrong, not matter how right it feels.’
It is heartbreaking to sit with someone and say ‘You are sinning against God in that particular area’ when that area is making them happy, and fixing it is going to make them incredibly unhappy.
It's heartbreaking to sit with someone in pain over the brokenness in their lives and not be able to rescue them from the knowledge that their sinfulness caused it. Worse, it's heartbreaking not to be able to offer assurances that the consequences will go away...even though God offers forgiveness freely and removes the guilt.
It is hard to speak the truth in such matters.
As I said, the temptation is there to temporise, to soften the blow, to dodge the question. The temptation is to move the goal posts so that no-one ever has to be called a sinner, and no one ever has to face the awful moment of conviction of sin.
It is awful. There’s no two ways about it. I hate that moment in my life.
Here's the thing though. Jesus died to save sinners. Jesus died to save the lost.
If we never define ourselves as sinners...then He didn't die for us.
If we never define others as sinners...then He didn't die for them either.
What good does that do us?
If we never face the fact that we’re sinful, and never ask others to face it either ...we remain stuck in sin and bondage. At the end of our lives, we will still have to face our Almighty God, whose standards never change.
Isn’t it better to speak the truth now?
Isn’t it more loving to risk upsetting someone we care about now – no matter how hard it might be – than to leave them to face eternity without God?
I firmly believe that from that which we won't face, we can't be freed.
We can be scared and shift the goal posts so they feel better temporarily. Or we can take a deep breath, and reach out a hand and tell the truth.
We can say in love 'sister...you screwed up, and it's awful. You sinned. I'm not going to lie to you. But I've sinned too, and I'm no better. Let me tell you what God has done for me, and what He can do for you. Let me tell you how you can get rid of that burden and be free and whole again. Let me tell you about Jesus.'
Isn't that more loving?
John 8:32 says ‘you will know the truth and the truth will set you free’. Owning the truth of who we are before God brings us to the cross in humility and repentance. There we find the grace and love that sets us free.
Let's not buy in to the 'we have to be nice girls' lie. Let's be loving and brave. Let's use our empathy to tell the truth in a way that doesn't condemn and shame them. Let's use all our empathy to show them we're all in same muck at the foot of the cross together. Let's help them work towards dumping the weight of their sin on the One who has paid for it all. Let's rejoice with them when grace removes guilt, and redeems their brokenness. Let's not let us 'being nice' stop someone else from hearing about Christ or from growing further in Him.
Lord, help us to be women of empathy and strength. Help us to remember who we are before you, and be vulnerable enough to own our weaknesses before others, that they might own their weaknesses before you. Help us to show your grace, love and truth to those around us. Thank you for Jesus, and the cross which sets us free.
I recently spent my first ever night in a tent (in the backyard). I know, I know, that's a little late in the game compared to most people, but that's the way it is! As I went to bed on the first night, I looked at the stars and was a little disappointed at how few stars I could see, even though it was a clear night. A few hours later, I opened my eyes and wondered what had happened.
There were so many stars! Far more than I could ever count, and so clear and close, even with the light pollution from the surrounding houses and town. I was absolutely awestruck by what I could see. It wasn't until the experience was repeated on the following night, and then the one after that, that it struck me. Nothing had 'happened'. The stars were the same as they had always been. There weren't less clouds in the sky. The earth hadn't suddenly moved into a section of sky with more stars in it. The stars weren't suddenly brighter. No...my night vision had fully developed, and now I could see and enjoy the splendour before me. And enjoy it I did!
As I lay there looking at the incredible spectacle, it struck me that the Christian life is often like that. Much like I knew the stars were there, we know God has a plan for us and that He works all things to the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28). And yet we look around and we can't see God's hand at work. Shouldn't it be more obvious? Shouldn't it look like (fill in your own blank)? Shouldn't it...?
And that reminded me of another star, the one the Magi followed to find the King of the Jews. You see, God doesn't work to our plans. He works to His. He'd promised the Israelites a Messiah many centuries before Jesus came. He'd promised them a Saviour and King who would rule forever. The problem was...when he came, he didn't look like they expected. He was born in a stable, in a manger. When he grew up and proclaimed that he was the Messiah, he still didn't fit what they expected. They wanted an earthly king who would get rid of the Romans. Here was Jesus, performing miracles around them, healing the lame, giving sight to the blind, walking on water, feeding 5000 from a few small loaves and fish, raising the dead...and yet they didn't recognise him. I'm sure there were people in Jerusalem looking around and saying "Where is God? Shouldn't He be doing something? Didn't He promise us a Messiah? Where is He? 400 years is a long time to be silent, Lord!"
The issue then was not that God wasn't doing anything, any more than the issue is that He's not doing anything in our lives today. The issue is...we simply can't always see, or recognise what He is doing. We don't have fully developed 'God vision'.
Sometimes that's simply because we're finite humans, who can't see or comprehend what our infinite God is doing. But sometimes, it's also that we're too busy looking at the lights of this world, and our own expectations of what we think God should be doing to allow God to develop our understanding of what He's actually doing.
So here's a challenge...what if we took some time out? What if we deliberately laid down our expectations of what our life should look like, and what 'God's plan for our lives' should look like? What if we went back to the Scriptures to see what God actually promises, not what we think He should promise? What if we based our world view and expectations around that?
Several years ago, in a moment of utter desperation, I prayed 'let me see through Your eyes. Give me Your perspective.' I've been amazed at the incidences of God's hand at work that I've seen since then. It wasn't instant, and I'll be honest - there are still plenty of things in my life, and the life of those around me where I still find myself saying 'Where are you God? How does this work? How is this part of your plan?' Sometimes I see God's hand at work and life still hurts. I choose to trust Him though, and I choose to keep praying for my 'God vision' to develop. God never promises this life will be easy. In fact, in John 16:33 Jesus says '....In this world you will have trouble...'
Ouch! Thankfully the verse doesn't end there. '...But take heart! I have overcome the world.'
Such encouragement! Our future is secure, no matter what twists and turns this life takes, and God is working it all to our good. And nothing can separate us from the love of God. 'For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, niether height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord' (Romans 8:38-39)
So, as a New Year is about to begin, perhaps you too will join me in praying to see the world through God's eyes. Perhaps you too, will deliberately lay down your expectations and seek God through His revealed word, rather than what we think it should be.
Lord, help us to see through your eyes. Help us to take every thought captive and submit it to Christ. Help us to structure our understanding of the world and our lives on the basis of your Word. Help us to trust You, even when we can't see Your hand at work. Thank you that You are at work in all things, and that You love us. Thank you for Jesus!
Just one more thought...I've been told that the stars in the outback, away from the light pollution, are absolutely incredible. How much more incredible will it be to look back and see all the ways God has been at work that we aren't even aware of?