Hello there, fellow contender for the faith. May the richness of our heavenly Father’s love, grace and mercy flood your life this day and every tomorrow. Greetings and much love to you, wherever you are. My contending for the faith has, during my present sabbatical, taken on a much different look. Rather than the focus of my life being to travel the planet and reach out to many, many people, it is now more like I am daily reaching into my own heart to see what’s there. With an almost total change of lifestyle, I am definitely “on the edge” of my comfort zone.
I am, of course, interacting with people, both locally and via phone and email, but my formerly frenetic pace has slowed quite a bit, and I am learning (I hope) how to better live in the moment and be more aware of others, one at a time, as well as more aware of myself. The Lord is conducting his personal curriculum for me by giving me new ways to reach out to others, ways that, differently than before, require me to die to myself, that is, to subjugate my own desires to the needs and wants of others.
As I began to write this column, I thought I’d look at Jude 3, the verse from which The Contender got its name. Here it is: “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” Verse 4 goes on to say why Jude felt so strongly about doing that: false leaders with false doctrine were infiltrating the Church. I thought about what Jude said he originally wanted to write about – “the salvation we share,” and it reminded me of Philemon 6: “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.”
I could wax eloquent about “the salvation we share,” simply by quoting scriptures about the exceedingly grandiose magnitude of what it means to be a child of God in this, the Grace Administration, also known as the Administration of the Sacred Secret. However, knowing the basic beliefs of most of our readers, I think I’d be “preaching to the choir.” May I suggest, though, that you now take a moment and, as intently as you can, focus your heart upon “every good thing that we have in Christ.” Doing so might even motivate you to be more “active in sharing your faith,” especially when it is with someone not yet blessed with a knowledge of the truth like you have. It is sobering to think about how few people on the earth really understand what it means to be a Christian, and perhaps more sobering to think that the only people who can tell them about it are those who know it.
Two key words in Philemon 6 are “so that.” They are connectors, so to speak, showing that being active in sharing our faith is prerequisite to us really having a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. It’s sort of like not being only a hearer of the Word, but a doer, or, like in reference to the lepers Jesus ministered to, that “as they went, they were healed.” It really is quite stimulating to wake up each morning knowing that you are “on a mission from God,” a mission that consists in large part of sharing your faith, both in word and deed, with anyone and everyone you possibly can. Honestly, I know that I don’t live with that kind of evangelistic fervor day by day. Yet I, like you, no doubt, can think back on many times when I have opened my heart and my mouth and dared to share my faith with someone, and how much of a learning and growth experience it was – and often, how rewarding and fulfilling!
OK, let’s say that you and I do have a desire to share the Good News about Jesus Christ with people. Personally, my challenge has often been how to connect with a person so that the truth in my heart gets into his heart. Surely you have heard the old adage, “A person doesn’t care how much you know unless he knows how much you care.” Of course, there are some people who are either so aware they are lost, or so hungry for truth, that they don’t care how Christlike the source of direction is, but for the vast majority of people, the above adage is absolutely true.
I am still making my way through a book titled The Art of Intimacy, and, although much of it is a bit too philosophical for me, parts of it are quite profound in regard to my own quest to master this art. I’d like to share with you some of what I have found in the book that relates to the subject of coming across to people like Jesus did. I’ve thought about that a lot lately. How was he being when he was hanging out with the so-called outcasts of society? Certainly he not only never compromised the truth of God’s Word by engaging in their sin with them, but he also had a burning passion to share it with them who needed it so badly. Yet they never felt “judged” by him in the wrong way, because that kind of attitude did not live in his heart and thus could not come across to them unless their perspective of reality was badly skewed.
The Art of Intimacy was written by a father-son pair of psychiatrists, and one of them wrote some things along this line with which I can really identify. In the context of realizing that he was not reaching people like he wanted to, he says:
I came to understand that my “having to help” my clients, my “wanting them to do better,” and my “helping them change things,” was being experienced by these people as my nonacceptance of them. And, in a sense, they were right. I was gentle, I was close, but I was focused on the goal of “improving them.” I was not able to be of any real use to them until I could accept them as they were. It took me some time to learn how to do that. It is a great deal harder than it sounds.
Boy, can I ever identify with those words! That is exactly how I have felt many times. I knew that I really did care about the person I was trying to reach, but for some reason he didn’t get it, and we didn’t really connect the way you can feel when it happens. The author goes on:
It is vitally and fundamentally important to people that they be accepted as they are, with no ifs, ands or buts. This is who I am, messed up as I am, but me. Can you care for me? I do not ask you to approve of me, agree with me or think I am right, but can you care for me? You do not even have to let me be as I am, so long as you care for me as who I am. You can intrude, shout, be upset, get angry and unload a ton of advice on me, so long as you care. This is not permissiveness. Permissiveness is not acceptance; if anything, it is its opposite. Contained within permissiveness (“I don’t care where my teenagers are, they are old enough to take care of themselves, and I think they have a right to do what they want to do”) is a real sense of not caring.
Here are some more enlightening insights:
If you do not care for me and love me where I am, I cannot go any further. I am stuck… If I am not worth loving as I am, then I will never be worth loving. If I am not worth loving as I am, then there is nothing to improve. If I improve and you love me more because I have changed to meet your expectations and requirements, then when can I ever be intimately quite at ease, no longer anxious about your expectations and requirements for changing?
…The profound importance of being loved for who I am becomes clear: Unless I am loved and cared for as I really am, however much my being that way distresses you, then I cannot change…Accept me as I am, and perhaps I can be different. Give me the feeling that you do not, and cannot, accept me as I am, and I cannot be different…Love and accept me as I am; then I can struggle to be different with you. If you will love me only if I am different from who I am, then you do not love me. If indeed I can change and become whatever it is you want me to be in order for you to love me, then my love of you is a dependent need, not a free love. A dependent need is at best a resentful love, and therefore really no love at all. I will defiantly stay as I am, hoping that you will come to accept me as I am, and all the while resenting you for your non-acceptance. There is nowhere for our relationship to go. We are condemned to my unending resentment of you. I cannot be different, I cannot change, because to change would be to give up my respect for myself, my right to be myself. Accept me, even though you do not like the way I am being, and I can grow, be different, and come to a better relationship with you.
Under the subtitle of “Grace and Acceptance,” he continues:
Acceptance is the human equivalent of God’s grace…“To love for the sake of being loved is human, but to love for the sake of loving is angelic,” [wrote so and so]. In acceptance, we begin to love for the sake of loving…It is felt by the person who is being accepted not as tolerance, or acquiescence or forgiveness (“Now that’s over, let’s go on from here”), but as something much more positive.
…When we feel accepted even though disagreed with, we do not feel tolerated; we feel loved. Most of us, for most of our lives, try to earn love. We are good, or caring, or sensitive, or successful, and therefore we are loved. We feel we have earned that love. Then again, perhaps we have not. Such love may be given graciously, but since we have been “good,” there is an uneasy uncertainty whether the goodness brought about the loving. In acceptance, there is no uneasy uncertainty.
…If I please you and you love me, I am close to you. If I do not please you and you love me, I am intimate with you. Acceptance, in this case, is a fundamental condition of intimacy.
Later, in discussing what he calls “judgmentalism,” though not specifically in a biblical context, the author writes:
To judge and accuse are the responses we are taught; they are the most reflexive. They are also the most futile and self-defeating. The other responses – from disagreeing to being upset or just inquiring – never suggest that the other person is a “bad” person. They do not immediately convey the feeling that you love others less because of how they are being, what they feel or what they believe. Or that you would love them more, if they became, immediately and miraculously, what you were instructing them to be – which is exactly what judgmentalism does.
I see in the above quotes some things I can definitely apply in the context of every relationship in my life, but specifically in regard to sharing the Gospel with someone. It seems clear that the bottom line, like with most every aspect of my Christian walk, is my relationship with Jesus Christ, because the more of his heart I can make my own, the more it will simply “ooze” out of me and soak into others.
I think that often I have been too anxious for someone to believe, or maybe I was trying to do God’s part rather than just joyously sowing the good seed out of a heart bursting with love for God and man, and trusting God to do His work in the other, that which only He can do anyway. And I hope I always remember that God and the Lord Jesus are flanking me in every situation, doing their best to help me, encourage me, cover for me and make up for my shortcomings. Ditto for you. I know that they are proud of us any time we make any effort to reach out with the truth. It is the only thing that will set people free.
So, enjoy the Lord today as you go about your life, remembering that you are the only you God has, and that He is ready, willing and able to do exceeding abundantly above all you ask or think. So ask BIG, think BIG, and expect BIG. Push the envelope of your faith – to the edge, and beyond.