I talk about loving people, a lot. Not because I'm super good at it, but because I believe it was the most important commandment from Jesus. He spoke of it often, and called us to love everyone, no matter what. But just because Jesus said so, doesn't make it easy. I fail at this often. Not that I am intentionally mean, but I do not always go out of my way to show love. I do not always make the most loving decision. Sometimes I am selfish. Sometimes I am tired, and I just don't want to do that extra thing, when deep inside, I know it's something I should. Sometimes I become resentful of those I feel may be using me, or those who are not always loving toward me. Humans are a complicated species, and there are a lot of emotions wrapped up in the decisions we make each day. And the truth is, we are often so far in our own heads, that we miss opportunities to show love and kindness.
I have often used driving in traffic as an example of this. There is something about being behind that wheel, and surrounded by tons of metal, that makes us bold, self-righteous, and entiled in our anger, and selfish in our choices. I mean, no one else on the road could possibly have anything more important to do than we do, right? We drive with blinders on, not that we don't see that guy trying to get over into our lane at the last minute, but we are convinced that our journey is more important than his.
Am I wrong?
This driving in traffic scenario is much like our lives. We get so wrapped up in our own journey, our own goals, that we don't make room for anyone trying to reach theirs. Cut throat competition opens between corporations. Doing things out of character to get ahead of competitors, becomes normal, and we excuse it by telling ourselves that they did it first. Maybe, sometimes, that's true, but should it matter?
The Bible says it should not. If Jesus was clear about anything, it was love. As imperfect humans, we often withhold our love and forgiveness, like children with a grudge, unable to see someone else's story, or value someone else's journey.
But Philippians 2:4 goes on to say, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.
Can you imagine what this world might look like, if we all strived to put this into practice? If everyone was earnestly looking out for the interest of others, everyone's needs could be met.
Life is messy. Life is chaotic and busy, but in this traffic jam of life, if we took our blinders off for just a minute, and acknowledged that blinker, maybe we could slow down for a minute, and show our neighbor that we value their journey as much as our own.
When I think about people in our nation's history, who truly lived out their faith, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is the first to come to mind. He believed firmly in nonviolence and in love. He spoke of it often, and he lived it out in his every day life.
Today, as we honor him, I have one very simple message to share. It is a message of love. It is a message of peace. It is a message that the world seems to have forgotten.
When people are wrong, love them. When people are right, love them. When people are arrogant, self-righteous, stubborn, unkind, love them. Jesus shows us this throughout all of the New Testament. His stories, assembled together, are like a how-to book for loving people. He loves people through mistakes and through hardships. He even loves people he knows are going to betray him. As he took his final breath, he even prayed for those who killed him.
Nothing is simpler, and yet nothing seems quite as difficult for us imperfect humans, especially in these tumultuous times. Martin Luther King Jr. got it though. He understood this. He knew that hatred plus hatred would never equal love. He knew God's Word and he believed it, and you couldn't convince him that evil should be repayed with evil.
I have a toddler who proves this point for me almost every day. The louder she objects, the angrier I get. The angrier and louder I get, the louder she objects. However, if I stop and hug her in the middle of her fits of anger, it calms the storm. It doesn't happen right away, but confusion often sets in; wait, you're supposed to be angry with me...not hugging me. What's happening? And then I often have a better chance at getting to the root of the problem. But our anger will often just ricochet, back and forth off of each other, picking up speed, without bothering to look for solutions. Love doesn't ricochet; it soaks. Love doesn't bounce off, quickly searching for a way to defend itself. Love stops to get absorbed. It doesn't have an agenda. It doesn't have an argument to win. It just lands on a person and says, hey, I'm here if you need me. How and when the love gets absorbed just depends on how thick their skin is. But no where in the Bible does it say to give up.
Do everything, everything, in love.
Last week I talked about personal growth during this month, which is arguably the most self-centered month of the year. I do not necessarily mean that in a negative light, but January is a time of year when people are trying to better themselves. They are shifting the focus from the selfless giving of December, to pay time and attention to their own needs, most often involving physical health. Today, I'd like to share with you a less conventional way of shifting the focus to your own growth.
What if, while we are shifting that focus onto ourselves, we shifted our prayer lives a bit? I don't know about you, but the majority of the time, I am more likely to pray for others, than for myself. Sometimes there's guilt involved in asking for something for ourselves, but then there are also many times in our lives when we are faced with difficult people or circumstances. If our first instinct is to pray about them at all, our most common prayer is that God would take those difficulties away from us, or that God would change those people who are making our lives more difficult. I would argue that during times when we should be focused on our own behavior and decisions, is often a time when we deflect onto others.
Here's what I mean by that; what if, instead of praying for God to change other people, or change the difficult circumstances, we prayed, sincerely, that God would change our own hearts toward them? In the world, we often tell people to 'be the change you wish to see.' This can be reflected in our prayer lives too. It doesn't have to be either or, of course. Continue to pray for those challenging people in your lives as well, but often, when we shift the focus a bit, we can see more clearly how they need prayer. It might not be at all about how they are effecting your life, but rather about their own personal struggles that are causing them pain and difficulty. While God changes your heart toward them, suddenly it's easier to understand and love them, than to only see how their behavior effects your life.
We cannot take responsibility for other people's actions, nor should we, but we can hold ourselves accountable for our own reactions. I would challenge us all to shift our prayer focus to our own behaviors, our own decisions, and how we react to difficulties.
Some practical ways to apply this might be:
God hears all prayers, but I believe such prayers like these, with a genuine heart, are answered more readily. They show that we are seeking not just a magical genie in the sky to take care of all our problems, but rather to actively be more like Christ ourselves, and to be used by Him. Prayer is an area in which I have always struggled, but one of my goals this year is to revitalize and refocus my prayer life.
Remember, like I said last week, we are maker empowered. He is within us, and we should seek Him for ourselves, and watch how He can transform each of us!
New year, new me.
That's what they say, right? This is a phrase that almost always refers to a persons outward appearance. Sure, there is the occasional new year's resolution that involves the changing of behavior, actions, or habits (often still for the sake of losing weight), but most often, people focus on their physical health around this time. That is why there are so many fitness and diet ads, and so many gym membership discounts this time of year.
Physical health is a wonderful goal. We should all seek to be healthier for the sake of ourselves and our families.
But what I am talking about today, is a spiritual health; an awareness really, that what you have in you is greater than anything of this world. But you have to believe that.
There is a time for difficult conversations and convictions, but today, I want to uplift and encourage you in such a way, that you believe everything you set out to do is attainable through Christ!
I have spent way too much time and energy putting myself down, believing I'm either incapable, or undeserving. I often need to be remdinded of Who lives in me!
When people are in need of strength, they will often quote from Philippians 4:13; I can do all this through him who gives me strength. It is a wonderful verse, and no less true than 1 John 4:4. However, it is used so frequently, that perhaps some of us have forgotten just who it is that gives us that strength. Or, maybe it's just lost meaning as one of those way over quoted Bible verses.
Whatever the case may be, I want you to remember today that you are empowered by your maker. If you are making any changes this year, let this be the year that you know your value, know that which is in you, and seek His glory in all that you do.
As Christians in this world, we are told to be humble, and not to be vain. We are told to think of others above ourselves. We are taught, in this world, to be modest, almost to the point of self-deprecation. What we have forgotten, is that we may boast freely on the Lord! Boast upon Him who lives in you, for you are fearfully and wonderfully made and His works are wonderful. (Psalm 139:14) YOU are Maker Empowered, my friend!
As always, pray. Pray about what God would lead you to. If you are uncertain, pray and ask Him what gifts He has given you to use. Mostly, pray that you would learn to love yourself as He that is within you, loves you. No one knows you better. No one loves you more.
As a wife, mom of 4, and business owner, finding time to spend in the Word, can be difficult, so I get it! Come join me each Monday for a simple message of hope, faith, and encouragement amidst some honest mommy moments.
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