I think one of the hardest things I struggle with is finding that balance between loving people even when they are doing REALLY stupid things. I think we all know intellectually and maybe even intuitively that we are to love the sinner but hate the sin. I’m actually really good with that until it comes to people seeking my help but then not acting on the advice I give. My initial reaction is just to walk away until those people can become part of the solution instead of part of the problem. I think today’s blog is just for me to put some thoughts on paper as I wrestle with how to find that balance.
In recent days there have been at least three people who fall into this category – no wait – four. They actually are really nice folks, but seemingly can never make good decisions that keep them out of trouble. Part of my ministry is trying to help people and my wife and I are actually eager to pour ourselves into trying to help. But inevitably what you find is no matter what advice you give, no matter how much time or money you spend, you just don’t seem to make a difference.
I guess the question I am left with is what do you do? Scripture says several things. First Jesus told us not to put our pearls before swine, meaning don’t spend your time giving wisdom to people who will not accept it. Jesus told his disciples that if a town to which they went did not accept their message that they were to shake the dust from their feet as they left town. This is a near-east insult, basically saying to the town your guilt is on your head or you’re on your own. Then there is the story of the rich young ruler who says he wants to follow Jesus. The Master asks if the ruler has kept all the commands and the young man says yes. Then Jesus says there is one thing missing: Go sell everything you own and follow me. The ruler walks off dejected because he didn’t want to sell his stuff, which Jesus knew had become an idol or anchor in his life. But here’s the second lesson: Jesus did not go running after him to convince him that he should do as Jesus said. Jesus let him walk away.
From these and other Bible verses I get that when people are not part of the solution there is a time you just have to stop pouring yourself into them until they are ready to listen and more importantly act on your advice.
But there are other scriptures that tell us that there are no throw-away people. Things like what you do for the least of these you do for me; and forgive seven time 70 times meaning every time; and feed my sheep.
As I’ve thought about this in terms of how I am to respond to the admittedly frustrating scenarios in which I end up (of my own doing, of course), I am leaning toward an understanding that I have to love people when they are unlovable, because God loved me when I was unlovable.
I see Jesus in the Gospels loving his disciples when they are being knuckleheads (John and James asking to sit on the left and right of Jesus, and Peter in all his brashness). I see Jesus loving sinners who have not necessarily changed their ways (Samaritan Woman, Adulterous Woman, Judas). I even see Jesus asking for forgiveness for the heathens pounding nails through his flesh as they fasten Him to the cross. It’s not that Jesus didn’t get frustrated, He did (one of my favorite Jesus lines is, “How much longer do I have to put up with you people?”). But Jesus always found a way in His heart to love everyone, even those who drove Him crazy.
See the same thing I struggle with I have done to Jesus. He’s asked me to change my ways, make better decisions, and has even given me not just advice but actual directions on how to be successful, yet I didn’t do what He said. I must drive him nuts! However, He stays by my side – not enabling my bad behavior in any way, but continually encouraging me to follow His voice and ways.
I think my frustration comes from the same place Jesus’ does: We want the people we work with to change their live so badly that it hurts us personally when they aren’t ready to do so yet. But unlike Jesus I get tempted to walk away, because I am weak due to my pride.
So I guess I’ll end this blog by sharing with you what I think Jesus just whispered in my ear: Suck it up! Stay engaged. Do the tough work. Feed my sheep.
Perhaps my ramblings today may resonate with someone out there. If so, maybe you need to listen to the Master as well.