In this concluding message in our series on mission, we look at how relief and development can be a ministry of the gospel. We looked at Micah 6.1-8. Have a listen below, or watch the Facebook Live feed by clicking the link below that.
We all make mistakes. Some days, our blunders are bigger than others, but even on our good days, there are booboos. We need to deal with them quickly and constructively.
One of the things I help couples understand during marriage preparation is the importance of open communication – owning our own feelings, telling the other person in a constructive way if something is bothersome, or even offensive. This is true in all our interpersonal relationships, of course, but most people don’t come and talk to me about it unless they’re preparing to get married, when I require them to have the conversation. I wish it were required for all people at various times in life. (Maybe if we had a crash course in interpersonal relationships as often as we have to get our licence plate stickers renewed, the world would be less encumbered by conflict!)
If you have been offended – I don’t mean in the trendy way of a new generation, but truly hurt – you have a responsibility to tell the person who hurt you and own up to how you feel. The other party then has the responsibility to apologize for the offence and to make amends, even if she or he doesn’t think anything was done inappropriately. After all, what the other person received was her or his reality, and something can be learned for the sake of the relationship if an apology is offered and the conflict is cleared up. And then – this is sometimes the hard part – your next responsibility is to forgive that person quickly.
It may be hard to forget the offence, but for the sake of the relationship, it’s important to clear the slate and start fresh. I often illustrate it this way: I have a small scar near the knuckle of my left index finger. I remember exactly how it got there. I was adding weight to a freight car on my model railroad, about 16 years ago, when a dollop of hot glue landed on my hand. Of course, my immediate reaction was to get rid of what was causing the pain. As I brushed off the glue, it took some skin with it. It healed, and I have the scar – but no pain. I remember the incident, but it’s over. It causes no angst, no pain; I am left only with the memory.
That can be the case in relationships, too. We may remember the offence, but the pain is gone when we’ve forgiven the other person.
“…be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4.32, NLT).
The dreadful mass killing in a Texas church last Sunday once again brought forward a recent phenomenon creeping into social media, that is, the idea that we should abandon the notion of “thoughts and prayers” in favour of gun control in the United States.
This piece is not about gun control in the United States. I am not an American; I am not entitled to an opinion about US domestic policy or constitutional law. This piece is, instead, about “thoughts and prayers” – something with which I have some experience.
Is there a flippancy with which we toss out that we are offering “thoughts and prayers” when we see word of a tragedy? Perhaps. If we type something like that on a post about an unfortunate event on social media, without acting on it, then the gesture is as flippant as the all-too-common “How are you?” question, for which the interlocutor really doesn’t want an answer anyway.
For some people, perhaps “thoughts and prayers” has become a benign term of sympathy. After all, in the face of adversity, many people don’t know what to say to others. (Have you ever paid attention to what people say when they greet mourners at a funeral visitation? Often, they fill the air with meaningless words in an attempt to cover up the fact that they don’t know what to say. Perhaps the next trend we’ll see in the funeral home will be people walking up to grieving friends and greeting them with the words, “thoughts and prayers.” It sounds preposterous, but I don’t think it’s a stretch.)
If typing “thoughts and prayers” is as phony as air-kissing, though, let’s abandon it. But what if thinking about, and praying for, troubled individuals or grieving family members or challenging situations actually did some good? Would we continue to do it?
Prayer is conversation with God, and conversation with God – for the faithful – is always comforting (or at least centring). And those who are prayed for usually feel encouraged, knowing that they are being supported by others. (It is a different, and rather more challenging, question as to whether or not prayer can change the mind of God, but we’re not going there today.)
So if we actually pray when we offer “thoughts and prayers”, then carry on! I know how much it matters to me that others pray for me, and when I pray for others, I seek to let them know in some meaningful way. Maybe there’s a way we can communicate that we are praying for those suffering in tragic situations that doesn’t sound flippant.
Then, the challenge for us who pray is this: if God calls us to act as a result of our prayers, will we? Perhaps it isn’t necessary to separate praying for people from acting to ameliorate their situations.
“Search for the Lord and for his strength; continually seek him” (1 Chronicles 16.11, NLT).
I had a conversation the other day with a pastor friend who told me a story that he has given me permission to share. He was driving home from a conference he had been attending when another driver, not looking properly, sideswiped his car on a busy street.
Both my friend and the other driver were shaken up, as can happen even with a minor fender-bender, but neither of them was hurt. As is common in such difficult situations, they exchanged information. The other driver, who had admitted to it being her fault, wanted to attempt to get the repairs to my friend’s car made without going through insurance (and possibly pushing her rates up).
My friend told her he was a pastor, and that he had a Christian friend who is a mechanic who deals with people fairly and honestly, and that he might be able to give her a decent quotation on the cost of repairs to my friend’s car. (As it turned out, the quotation was higher than expected, and the lady opted to go through her insurance. Happily, she had a clause in her policy that had accident forgiveness!)
As my friend and the other driver were exchanging information and conversing, she was asking him about his church, and seemed interested in the Christian faith. All the while, my friend sensed the Holy Spirit saying to him, “You need to pray with her.”
He resisted, understandably, because it just seemed an odd time and an odd circumstance to pray with a stranger. But the more he resisted, the more clear the Holy Spirit’s prompting became: “You need to pray with her.”
So he said to her, “I know this sounds kind of weird, but can I pray for you?”
She consented. He prayed for her. And over the course of the next few days as they spoke on the telephone to get repairs looked after, she mentioned how she has a teenaged son that she wants to get engaged in a youth group.
She lives closer to a different church than my friend’s, and so she may end up taking her son there. Either way, it’s a win for God’s Kingdom.
But what if my friend had not been listening for the Holy Spirit to speak into his life, even in such an unusual situation as a car accident? Or what if he had continued to ignore the prompting of the Spirit to pray with the woman? Would she still be interested in the things of God?
It’s vital for all followers of Jesus – not just pastors, of course – to listen for the Spirit of God all the time. It’s a muscle that we need to exercise. After all, if we want to lift weights, we need to exercise the muscles that lift the weights. And if we want to hear from God, we need to exercise those spiritual muscles, too.
Read the Scriptures daily. When you pray, don’t do all the talking; sit in silence and let the Lord speak to you, through his Word and by his Spirit. Then, when you are out in the world, engaged in normal, everyday activities, who knows what God may say to you by his Spirit that could change someone’s life forever?
“Then he added, “Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given —and you will receive even more. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given” (Mark 4.24-25a, NLT).