People ask a lot of questions. And that is good. As Christians, if we’re not being asked questions, there’s a problem. Either we’re not getting out and about enough, or we’re not approachable enough.
I’m not just talking about questions from people who aren’t Christians. Christians need to ask each other questions, too. But we must be careful answering questions. We don’t have all the answers. Even when we think we have an answer, we need to accept the possibility (and responsibility) of being wrong. That might not be our intent, but it’s always possible.
There is always a motivation behind the question, and it might not be obvious. Questions that might sound like interpretation are more than likely questions of application. People might ask, “What does this mean?” or “What do you think the truth is about…?” But the underlying question is often “What do I do with this?” or “How will you respond to me even if I disagree?”
You can’t know all the implications behind the question, but you can always answer with humility and respect. Speaking the truth is always important, because it is the only firm foundation for the relationship, for you, and for the other person. But speaking the truth always needs to be done in love, which involves respect, patience, kindness, and self-control.
I cancelled my annual writing retreat because my dad died. I missed being with my writing friends in our rented Branson home, but I obviously needed to be with my family. After several weeks, I started thinking about the missed retreat and, primarily, looming writing goals and the need to get away and reflect, heal, and grieve. I contacted a friend who lives several states away, and she and her husband graciously opened up their home. It was a win-win. By weekday, I’d have the house to myself (and an adorable dog) to finish Pure Submission. By evening and weekend, I’d get to hang out with two amazing friends.
On the kitchen counter was a framed sign with a simple sentence starter: “I love you because…” along with a dry-erase marker. A couple days into my trip, I walked into the kitchen when everyone had gone to work, and I saw a personalized note of encouragement. A couple days later, I erased my friend’s encouraging note and wrote a note for her; the following day, she erased part of my message and finished it with her own encouragement. She continued to write notes of encouragement to me.
They were priceless. They motivated me, gave me a sense of focus and determination, made me comfortable, and assured me I could continue writing…and healing.
Never underestimate the impact your simple words of encouragement can have on someone. Both my friend and I would probably agree that we each get the best deal in our friendship. We both feel we receive more than we give. The truth is we both give what we can with generous hearts and loving kindness. And that nearly always results in irreplaceable encouragement.
Try to give some today.
Are you a barbed-wire wrapped Christian? Even if it’s not you, I’m sure you know “that one person” who fits the description. Unless you completely agree with absolutely everything the person has to say (which I doubt is even possible), you watch them poke and wound others. Fighting takes precedent over kindness, arguing over listening, being right over engaging in a relationship to reach out to others. They are “come,” not “go” people, who focus on getting everyone to agree to and adopt their own perspectives instead of engaging people where they are and doing the messy life with them while living truth out loud.
How can you avoid being a barbed-wire Christian?
Laugh at yourself more than others. Live with high hopes and standards of civility. Instead of chronically fighting back, fight how and when God intends. Pursue and follow Jesus well, because when you do, you won’t be retaliatory. Instead, everything you do and who you are becoming will be motivated and prompted by God alone.
It was a sign at a coffee shop:
“Please be kind, and set aside your phone while ordering your coffee.”
The entire coffee shop emphasized kindness…among customers and workers, people in general, and the world. The sign went along with the theme, and I wondered, “Was is really necessary?”
Then I remembered being in line at a restaurant behind someone on her phone. She was trying to get orders from other people. We were in Subway, so she stayed on her phone the entire time she went through the line in order to relay each step of the order from the bread to the meat and cheese to toasting and heating options, toppings and condiments, cookies, chips, and drinks. The workers struggled to determine when she was speaking to them and when she was speaking to the people on the other end of the phone conversation. She had multiple sandwiches to order, so she walked back and forth, asked clarifying questions, gave instructions, corrected the instructions when someone changed his or her mind, and so on. It was a long process, and it wasn’t very respectful for everyone else in the restaurant, including the people trying to serve her from behind the counter.
It was unkind.
So perhaps it is necessary for people to post reminders for people to show kindness and define what kindness looks like.
Sadly, we have forgotten. Or in some cases, we’ve never learned.
It’s not just about setting aside your phone. It’s about using a kindness filter with everything you say and do. Consider others.
Kindness always sets something aside, and much of the time, it’s yourself.
One of the things I appreciated most when recently speaking north of Toronto was the excellent tea. In most places I travel (and live), when I ask for a cup of hot tea, I get a cup of hot water with a tea bag. I don’t get tea; I get potential tea.
Tea needs to steep. That’s how the flavor floods the water so it is bold and consistent. Dipping a tea bag in water that cools with every passing second doesn’t have the same effect. Steeping requires heat and time.
There is a lot in our lives that needs to be steeped with heat and time, yet we prefer to dip. We cautiously, repeatedly dip and are satisfied with the results because we see some change. We don’t worry about the potential, better results we could get with a different process, because we rationalize contentment with our smaller efforts. We don’t want to endure the heat, and we certainly don’t want to wait across much time.
The topic of the weekend at the conference was joy, and we talked about how we can’t expect to truly experience the fullness of the joy God intends by just dipping into it every now and then. We need to steep in it, so that its flavor truly permeates us.
Isn’t that the case with so much of what God provides and wants for us?
What would happen if we steeped in His love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? His mercy, grace, forgiveness, generosity, wisdom, power, justice, and compassion?
Steep or dip? It’s your choice.
Jesus extends his kindness by doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Consider his healing of the lepers in Luke 17.
While Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, he was going through the area between Samaria and Galilee. As he came into a small town, ten men who had a skin disease met him there. They did not come close to Jesus but called to him, “Jesus! Master! Have mercy on us!”
When Jesus saw the men, he said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”
As the ten men were going, they were healed. When one of them saw that he was healed, he went back to Jesus, praising God in a loud voice. Then he bowed down at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. (And this man was a Samaritan.) Jesus said, “Weren’t ten men healed? Where are the other nine? Is this Samaritan the only one who came back to thank God?” Then Jesus said to him, “Stand up and go on your way. You were healed because you believed.” (verses 11-19)
These men couldn’t heal themselves. They needed someone to help them, but they faced barriers of isolation. They needed someone to reach across the boundaries and into their deepest needs in order to move beyond where they were into a life full of hope. They needed Jesus.
Jesus didn’t have to help that day. He had plenty of other things he could have been doing—very good things, such as teaching his disciples and followers or correcting the many wrongs being done in the name of God by religious authorities of the day. But Jesus doesn’t stay in the “safe” zone of an inner circle of friends and family or even church family. His kindness wasn’t dependent on a specific heritage. His kindness was dependent on need—and it still is.
In some way, you need Jesus right now. He knows your needs better than you know them. You might take your perceived needs to him and wonder why he’s withholding his kindness from you, but he’s not. His response is always kind, so however he responds in every circumstance to every plea comes out of his kindness.
Let him move in your life—even when you don’t comprehend exactly what that means or looks like. Jesus is kind…to you.
I waited for you today. I had hoped to meet you in the quiet corner of the coffee shop you frequent nearly every day. I enjoy sitting across from you, listening to your heart. Hearing you share about your daily life thrills me. I’m honored when you share with me. I want to walk through life with you. I’ll listen to the details and never trivialize them. I’ll listen to your dreams no matter how silly or out-of-reach they might seem. I’ll help broaden your perspective to see the big picture.
I just want to sit with you. I even treasure our silence. It’s the time we spend together that I value.
I waited, hoping you’d slip into the empty chair across the table from me.
I know you’re busy. Even on the days when your schedule goes smoothly, it’s difficult for you to fit anything extra. To be honest, I wish I wasn’t “extra.” Perhaps you don’t understand how invested I am in your life. I want you to know I support you. I love you, and because of that love, I will always approach you with compassion, patience, kindness…and yes, accountability. You might not always like what I say to you, because my love for you is bold enough to confront you when you need to be confronted. I care too much about you to let you continue with faulty thinking or unhealthy behavior – no matter how extensively you’ve rationalized it.
You probably get mad at me sometimes. Other times you might be frustrated. On those days, you avoid spending time with me. On the days you don’t push open the doors and purposefully walk toward me and sit to share time with me, I miss you no matter what your reason is. When I look at the empty chair across from me, I am sad. I watch people coming and going; many of them are walking by themselves, connecting with no one but the person handling the requested exchange of money and goods. I listened to people placing their orders with specific instructions and becoming disgruntled when the end products aren’t exactly as expected. Every now and then, I catch someone’s glance and exchange a quick smile.
But I long for substantial connection, where someone is open to my investment into them.
That’s what I want for you.
I miss you.
I’m waiting for you.
I hope you’ll join me to spend time and share life with me soon. The empty chair and my longing heart are waiting.