Grace with Enemies

graceIf you love only the people who love you, you will get no reward. Even the tax collectors do that. And if you are nice only to your friends, you are no better than other people. Even those who don’t know God are nice to their friends. (Matthew 5:46-47)

Ponder It.

  • How do you define “enemy”?
  • What enemies have you had throughout your life?
  • Who would God say your enemies are?

Receive It. God gives us sufficient grace to extend to enemies. Enemies is an interested term. Sometimes we struggle to identify who our enemies are. We can’t imagine anyone really being an enemy; after all, doesn’t God call us to love everyone and hate no one, and if we slap on the label of enemy, isn’t that a non-Christian thing to do? The quick answer? No. Enemies are real, and they are biblical. We have enemies. God himself has enemies. Refusing to acknowledge we have enemies is like sticking our heads in the sand. Even when we identify our enemies, we can make critical errors in judgment. We often identify our enemies as someone who has done something to us that we don’t like. Getting our label of enemy is a burden the person brought upon herself because of what she did. It was her choice…or so we say as we blame. But blaming someone doesn’t make someone an enemy. Assuming someone’s motives doesn’t make someone an enemy. None of us have ever seen a motive, so we’re wise not to spend much time trying to mind-read what another’s motives are. Plus, enemies really aren’t for us to define. We’re not the center of reality and the crux of all justice. If we base the definition of enemy on ourselves, we’ll err. It’s God who determines the reality of our enemies. If we are for God, our enemies are his enemies. Our enemies are those who are against him, and we can’t actually tell who that is all the time. We can make assumptions, but he has a better perspective. He sees people’s motives and knows their hearts. He knows the outcome. And he knows how he wants us to respond. When we let God determine our enemies, we also need to follow his lead in our responses. He knows the boundaries we need and the commitments he wants. He knows when we’re to stand up, sit down, speak up, shut up, and pray. Trust him.

Live It. Pray for an enemy today. Don’t be content with a quick obligatory prayer. As you wholeheartedly pray for an enemy, God will begin to work in and through you in surprising ways.

Know Your Motives

b913de86ea782de3ed8af7c5eb37ce6aWe can’t see others’ motives, but we certainly respond out of our assumptions of them. We’re certain we can tell if someone is angry, irritated, frustrated, indifferent, or excited. Of course, we get clues from their behavior, but because we all have individual personalities, guessing motives can become a dangerous game.

To be honest, we can struggle to know our own motives. We can think (or rationalize) we’re responding out of pure concern for someone when we’re actually responding in jealousy or nosiness. We can think (or rationalize) we’re responding out of justified anger in a situation when we’re actually responding in unjustified retaliation or frustration to a person with whom we have an underlying, ongoing issue.

If our distorted views, preferences, and baggage can get in the way of the accuracy of our motive assessments, how can we get a better perspective, know ourselves better, and respond to people and situations in appropriate, authentic ways?

We need to see ourselves, including our motives, the way God sees us.

That means we have to invite God to challenge us and change us. It’s not an easy process, at least not for us. For him, it’s not difficult at all. He knows us. He created us. He fills us with himself, the Holy Spirit. But do we really yield fully to him? Not without intention.

I recently committed to a 30-day complaint fast. One of my friends asked if it meant I wasn’t receiving complaints. Not quite!

At first, God worked through the complaints I was verbalizing. I don’t consider myself much of a complainer, but my life is definitely not void of complaints. As soon as one would slip through my lips, I’d sigh. I asked several people to help me stay accountable, and they didn’t hesitate to do so. Plus, I tried to write down as many infractions as I could. Curbing my verbal complaints didn’t seem too uncomfortable. I began to think the fast wouldn’t be quite as difficult as I thought it might be.

As with any fast, the goal wasn’t just to abstain from something to show self-control. The point was to draw closer to God. Instead of focusing on a complaint, which usually indicates a space between myself and my expectations of something or space between myself and someone else, I turned my focus to the space between me and God. And as the fast continued, the space lessened…and I felt his presence with a fresh conviction. He moved from challenging my verbal complaints to my attitude of complaint. He connected what I wanted to say with the attitude that spurred it. He confronted me with some attitudes not consistent with his will. It became a bit more uncomfortable, but at the same time, I enjoyed learning about attitudes that could impact my relationships with God and others.

Then he took it a step deeper. He began to prune my heart. It’s not something I could rationally connect, as I could my attitudes and spoken words. I didn’t understand everything he was pruning from my heart, but when anything rooted in a complaint at all would begin to surface, I felt a spiritual tug. As I yielded to him, I trusted him to get rid of whatever it was that a complaint might be rooted within. I didn’t have to completely understand. I didn’t have to know the why or how; I was content to know the Who.

We can’t always know the why or how, but we can always know the Who.

We don’t need all the information. We don’t need to understand everything. When we think we do, we simply distort the reality and accuracy, such as in the case of our motives. When we know and trust God, we know enough. We need to actively and consistently yield to him so that he continues to reveal himself to us and prune and grow us.

It’s worth the “ouch.” God has pure motives.

Trust the Lord with all your heart,and don’t depend on your own understanding.Remember the Lord in all you do,and he will give you success.Don’t depend on your own wisdom.Respect the Lord and refuse to do wrong. (Proverbs 3:5-7)

Curiosity or Fault-Finding

discernThe Pharisees and Sadducees approached, and as a test, asked Him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them: “When evening comes you say, ‘It will be good weather because the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘Today will be stormy because the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to read the appearance of the sky, but you can’t read the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” Then He left them and went away. (Matthew 16:1-4)

We need to be able to discern when people approach us with authentic curiosity and when they are only testing to find fault.

But notice how Jesus called them out. Here were people who were ready to recognize signs in nature, but look past the truth of Jesus right in front of them. That’s often the case today. People are willing to accept certain prophecies and signs and ideas that line up with their beliefs but can’t see truth in front of them. I suppose we’re all like that a bit. Our filters can get mixed up and clogged.

Hence, the need for discernment, which is sort of like keeping our filters clean and ready to sift through everything that comes our way.

 

The Motive Behind Requests

motivesGod said to Solomon, “Since this was in your heart, and you have not requested riches, wealth, or glory, or for the life of those who hate you, and you have not even requested long life, but you have requested for yourself wisdom and knowledge that you may judge My people over whom I have made you king, wisdom and knowledge are given to you. (2 Chronicles 1:11-12a, emphasis added)

“That you may.” It’s a short but important phrase. It’s the motive behind what we request, and our motive matters to God.

If we ask for the wrong reasons, we don’t truly need what we request. Or if we truly need what we request but have the wrong motives, the timing might be wrong for us to receive it. And sometimes, despite our motives, we still receive our requests. However, we’re unable to use what we receive as well as we would if our motives were pure and well-intended.

Even when our motives are good, we might not receive what we request. Not everyone has the same capability to use something God gives, such as wisdom and knowledge. God knows to what measure we should receive it. He also knows how we will use or abuse the gifts He gives us.

Regardless of what we receive and how that compares to others, we need to encourage each other as we seek God and spur one another forward in following Him well even though that process and timing looks different for many. Yet with pure motives, it always leads to a closer relationship with God, even when it’s not exactly what we expect.

Hope and Grace

faith-grace-hope-800x265Am I a person of hope and grace?

Are you?

My first reaction is, “Of course!” After all, I have hope, and God’s given me grace. I firmly believe and live in and because of both. But that doesn’t really make me a person of either.

The way I live does. What I think. My attitudes about and interactions with others. My humility to let God define what grace and hope in my life is and looks like. My willingness to live with grace and hope with others.

So, am I a person of hope and grace?

I’m a work in process. I don’t always get it right, either in what I do or what I think I should do. My motives aren’t always based on His way of doing things. I don’t always let Him define what grace and hope is. Sometimes I try to take the reins myself. And as soon as I do, I’m no longer living with His grace and hope.

But I will keep yielding and keep trying and keep growing.

Early Morning Word

I woke up early just outside Tiberias. The sun was about to rise over the Sea of Galilee. It had been a late night, but my heart needed more rest than my body, so I pulled out my notes to look up the Scriptures we’d focus on during the day ahead.

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I began in Matthew 5, pausing at each people or characteristic Jesus declares as blessed: poor in spirit, those who mourn, the gentle, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and those who are persecuted. I continued to read verse 13: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled on by men.”

Because of a situation just a few hours before, my eyes and heart were opened wide to a message God wanted to make very clear to me. We can’t demand or even expect respect. And when we give it, we need to be mindful of our motives. We need to keep our expectations in check. We respect others because of who God is, not because of who they are and not because of who we are. We don’t know others’ hearts, experiences, or needs. God does. We sometimes conditionally extend respect, assuming if we respect them, they will (or should) respect us. I don’t know that we always know that’s the attitude we have, but it’s something we must be vigilant against.

I had tried to help someone else grow, but the morning light opened my eyes to apply the lesson to myself, too. “Never lose your saltiness. Never waste your influence. Love abundantly. Serve generously. Humble yourself continually. Never decide and define where you are. Let God.”

I’m glad He woke me up early and set my heart right before my feet hit the floor.

Compassion

How have you shown compassion to someone you didn’t know? It doesn’t have to be huge. Have you helped someone carry groceries? Paid for someone’s lunch when her debit card was declined? Listened to someone’s struggles while sitting on a plane or in a doctor’s office?

Compassion is sincere. To share a burden or to sympathize with someone isn’t motivated by guilt or obligation. It’s a tug into action, rooted in love, consideration and kindness.

When do you avert your eyes from a need? Who do you pass by? Consider any groups of people or situations you consistently avoid.

Need help? Consider the following:

  • Roadside beggars
  • Veterans
  • Drug addicts
  • Foreign missions
  • Homeless
  • Poor
  • Single moms
  • Door-to-door solicitors
  • Hitchhikers
  • Donation solicitor

What are some reasons for avoiding people?

There are certainly some safety issues we must consider. If you’re walking alone in the mall parking lot and are pursued by a man asking to use your phone to call for help, you should immediately move toward a populated area.

But I wonder how often we rationalize not showing compassion because of an exception, not a rule. How often do we assume we know someone’s motives, and we don’t want to be taken advantage of, so we pass by?

Jesus answered, “As a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, some robbers attacked him. They tore off his clothes, beat him, and left him lying there, almost dead. It happened that a priest was going down that road. When he saw the man, he walked by on the other side. Next, a Levite came there, and after he went over and looked at the man, he walked by on the other side of the road. Then a Samaritan traveling down the road came to where the hurt man was. When he saw the man, he felt very sorry for him. The Samaritan went to him, poured olive oil and wine on his wounds, and bandaged them. Then he put the hurt man on his own donkey and took him to an inn where he cared for him. The next day, the Samaritan brought out two coins, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of this man. If you spend more money on him, I will pay it back to you when I come again.’”

Then Jesus said, “Which one of these three men do you think was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by the robbers?”

The expert on the law answered, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Jesus said to him, “Then go and do what he did.” Luke 10:30-37

Consider this happening in today’s world. Picture the roadside where you might see this man and what your reaction might be when you encounter him? What are your assumptions, and how do they determine your response?

What happens when we assume we know someone’s past, motives, etc.?

Isn’t it funny, when the other fellow takes a long time to do something, he’s slow. When I take a long time to do something, I’m thorough. When the other fellow doesn’t do it, he’s lazy. When I don’t do it, I’m busy. When the other fellow does it without being told, he’s overstepping his bounds. When I go ahead and do it without being told, that’s initiative. When the other fellow states his opinion strongly, he’s bullheaded. When I state my opinion strongly, I’m firm. When the other fellow overlooks a few rules of etiquette, he’s rude. Tom Knight, quoted by Charles McHarry, New York Daily News

Brothers and sisters, do not tell evil lies about each other. If you speak against your fellow believers or judge them, you are judging and speaking against the law they follow. And when you are judging the law, you are no longer a follower of the law. You have become a judge. James 4:11

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(Compassion is the second in a series of five blog posts circulating in blogosphere this month. All five blogs posts are adapted from the Pure Purpose Bible study. If you’re a blogger interested in future blog tours, contact Susan at susanhlawrence@yahoo.com)