The Things that Aren’t Ours

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Have you ever wanted to do “more” to share hope with those around you…but you weren’t sure where to start? Here are some of the “secrets” I’ve learned about moving toward others.

It’s happened to me more than once.

…and probably more times than I realize.

As I go about my day, God will often set me in the middle of an opportunity. I wish I would pray for these opportunities more, but whether I remember to ask for them or not, God is faithful to send me tangible reminders of His intimate care for our lives.

In these moments, girls tell me, “Shelbie, that is exactly what I needed to hear” or “I don’t know how you knew what to say!”

And I tell them, “I didn’t know.”

When I feel an “opportunity” coming on, my conversation with God usually has a quick upspike as I plead for help for the next words. “Help, Lord!” or “Please help me know what to say” are some of my go-to “arrow prayers” when God places someone in front of me who needs a special sort of encouragement. These are desperate, wisdom-seeking prayers. And they are so often answered, with impeccable timing.

It’s true. I have no idea what to say. My personality tends to be tactful and wary of offense, and this approach seems to put people at ease. My mom jokes that I could tell one of my music students how much trouble they were in, and they would still walk away with a smile on their face.

When people start baring their souls to me, I try to listen, ask probing questions, and point them back to their only hope, which is Jesus.

Amazingly, God sometimes uses imperfect channels like you and me to spread His love. 

Here are a few things I’ve learned about finding and embracing God-given opportunities:

1. Be an Approachable Seeker 

Depending on how desperate they are, people may not come to us for help. Moving toward others as Christ moved toward me is a challenge and can nudge me (or downright catapult me!) out of my comfort zone.

Look around.

This is hard, at least for me. It can take a lot of effort to take my gaze off myself and lift my eyes to those around me. Not only that, but it can be just as much of a challenge to actually see needs. As humans, we can be good at covering up just how in-need we are at any given moment. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been shocked at the pain and emptiness hidden behind smiles and polite conversation

Ask for eyes to see the need, to see what other people are missing. And then, go to that place of need. Dare to ask.

“A person’s thoughts are like water in a deep well, but someone with insight can draw them out.” –  Proverbs 20:5, GNT

2. Arrow Prayers

I love the Nehemiah-style “arrow prayers” that I referred to above. When Nehemiah heard about the ruins of Jerusalem and  then spoke to the king, he demonstrated the short, desperate prayers that I turn to often in a challenging conversation.

“Well, what should be done?” the king asked.

With a quick prayer to the God of heaven, I replied, “If it please Your Majesty and if you look upon me with your royal favor, send me to Judah to rebuild the city of my fathers!”

 – Nehemiah 2:4, TLB –

Whether you have to walk across the room to engage that hurting girl or whether she appears in front of you asking for advice, an arrow prayer is in order. Help is needed right away, for both her and you, and—thankfully—it is only a whisper away. God is faithful. I’ve been amazed time and time again.

“The Lord is close to everyone who calls out to him, to all who call out to him sincerely.”
 – Psalm 145:18, CEB –

3. Strive for “Liminal Space.”

Liminal space comes from the Latin word limen, meaning threshold. Basically, liminal space is an attitude of setting aside your own opinions for a moment in order to understand someone else. It is “willing suspension of disbelief.”

Liminal space allows me to step into someone else’s shoes. While fully recognizing the sinfulness of sin, I can try to understand why someone made a decision or feels a certain way. Even if their reasons are inadequate or misinformed, I can set aside myself for a moment and truly listen. Liminal space can take me a long way in a conversation.

Relational liminal space is not a call for Christians to set aside their convictions, but it is a call for us to set aside harsh criticism to make room for compassion.

A situation will often call for you to speak Biblical truth, but first, listen. Seek understanding. Because, at the end of the day, what is liminal space, really?

It is dealing with grace.

“Try to help those who argue against you. Be merciful to those who doubt. Save some by snatching them as from the very flames of hell itself. And as for others, help them to find the Lord by being kind to them, but be careful that you yourselves aren’t pulled along into their sins. Hate every trace of their sin while being merciful to them as sinners.”
 – Jude 22-23, TLB –

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4. Be Ready

How do I prepare for these spontaneous moments of ministry?

Well, I do prepare…and I don’t.

Moments of opportunity have no script, but…

The more I fill myself with Scripture, the more truth is in my heart, ready to be drawn out at a moments notice.

The more I look out for others more than myself, the more I see opportunities to speak truth and comfort into the lives of others.

The more ready I am to drop my plans and embrace God’s leading, the better my attitude will be when unexpected situations come up.

Actually, spontaneous ministry is fueled by moment-by-moment faithfulness. Every moment that I love Jesus, every choice I make because I want to glorify Him, and every time I deny my sinful self, I lay a paving stone for others to use to walk toward me.

Moments of ministry spring out of consistency. Not perfection–no, not perfection! I know I am a far cry from all that my Savior calls me to.

But that is the beauty of it.

He can use me — a flawed, redeemed, growing girl — to live out His truth and, sometimes, to speak it into others’ lives.

5. These Things Are Not Ours

At the end of a conversation, when someone asks, “How did you know?” the answer is always, “I didn’t know. But God did.”

With matchless skill and wisdom, God places His children in just the right places at the just the right times…and then His Spirit gives wisdom.

These things–these answers we give to others–are not ours.

It is not our intelligence, our intuition, our skill with language, that wins over hearts or gives encouragement to a weary soul.

These things aren’t ours at all. They are too wonderful.

Jesus alone receives the glory for a “word fitly spoken.”

But, as His co-heirs, we are swept up as well in the swells of His glory. His joys become ours. His loves become ours. His thoughts, slowly, become ours, because “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16).

When God puts someone in my path, it is pretty much my favorite thing ever…

To think!

I get a part in the grand drama of history.

My God allows me the joy of joining Him in the dance.


“But even though we were dead in our sins God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, gave us life together with Christ—it is, remember, by grace and not by achievement that you are saved—and has lifted us right out of the old life to take our place with him in Christ in the Heavens. Thus he shows for all time the tremendous generosity of the grace and kindness he has expressed towards us in Christ Jesus. It was nothing you could or did achieve—it was God’s gift to you. No one can pride himself upon earning the love of God. The fact is that what we are we owe to the hand of God upon us. We are born afresh in Christ, and born to do those good deeds which God planned for us to do.

Do not lose sight of the fact that you were born “Gentiles”, known by those whose bodies were circumcised as “the uncircumcised”. You were without Christ, you were utter strangers to God’s chosen community, the Jews, and you had no knowledge of, or right to, the promised agreements. You had nothing to look forward to and no God to whom you could turn. But now, through the blood of Christ, you who were once outside the pale are with us inside the circle of God’s love and purpose.

For Christ is our living peace.”

 – Ephesians 2:4-14a, Philips –

 

Love Beyond Flannelgraphs

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“Jesus replied, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way.

A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’ “

Luke 10:30-35, CEB


The parable of the Good Samaritan is a well-worn path for me. Those horrible “religious” Jews ran away from the problem; the good “unclean” outcast stayed to love. I can almost see my childhood’s flannel board now: the resolute Samaritan, and the man lying pale and bandaged across the back of a compliant donkey.

This story is nearly as reminiscent of Sunday school as John 3:16 and goldfish crackers.

I’m not sure whom I always identified with in the story. Maybe the Samaritan, because of course I would stop to help, right? Or perhaps I always focused on the robbed Jew, the man lying splayed on the rocky soil. Poor guy. Yeah, I’d want someone to help me too.

But I don’t think I ever once identified with the Jews that did not stop. Reading Gary Inrig’s The Parables recently, I came upon this passage:

“We should not make the mistake of thinking these are ‘bad’ men. No, not bad, but busy. For them, and too often, for me, people in need are problems, interruptions, nuisances. They intrude awkwardly on my privacy. They deflect me from my duty. They distract me from my responsibility. They keep me from my pleasures. I agree that they need help, and I hope that someone does help. But not me, not now, not here. I have a different agenda.” – p. 37

Oh. Oh, I see. To my shame, I see I am the priest that crossed to the other side, the Levite who skirts around, every time I do not stop for my neighbor.

“And who IS my neighbor?”

This time I take the part of the questioning teacher, the student of God’s law whose query prompted Jesus’ parable. “Ahem. Teacher. So we’re supposed to love God and our neighbor. But who is my neighbor?” I’m sure he felt very smug, thinking, Yes, let’s clarify. Because of course there are limits to love.

Or, to rephrase….

“Isn’t there someone I don’t have to love? This sounds pretty involved. Where can I draw the line? When do I not have to stop and take pity? When can I cut back on this love business? I mean…really, you can’t expect me to love everyone all the time, can you?”

And Jesus answers with a powerful story that we have reduced to a flannelgraph lesson promoting the moral standards of the nice Samaritan--an impotent, sanitized repackaging of a radical love:

And here seems to be the thrust of the story: When a need appears on the path, Love stops.

To the best of its ability, Love lends a hand.

“The Lord is deliberately and carefully shocking his audience. His hero is a despised Samaritan, a man who does not pass by, whatever the pillars of jewish religious society might do. However, it is not his nationality that sets him apart, but his compassion. He doesn’t see anything the other two didn’t, but he feels something they didn’t. ‘He took pity on him.’ All of the normal hostility between Jew and Samaritan is swept away as he allows what he sees to affect his emotions and actions. Strikingly the word translated here ‘pity’ is used elsewhere in the gospels ply of the Lord Jesus. He, above all others, is the model of compassion.” – The Parables, p. 38

In his book, Mr. Inrig points out, “The central question is not ‘who is my neighbor?’ but ‘what is my duty?’ Again our need is not to define ‘neighbor’ but to become the kind of person who cannot pass by on the other side…Am I concerned about calculating the limits of love or about caring for hurting people? The theologian is thinking about his responsibility; the Lord wants us to seize the opportunity. The theologian is thinking about himself; the Lord directs us to the sufferer” (p. 40-41).

In Christian communities, debates still rage. How do we help the needy? Are there people that we have a higher obligation to love and care for than others? How do we help people if they won’t better themselves? Should we give money to that homeless guy that makes minimum wage with only a  scrawled cardboard sign and a grocery cart? How do we balance safety with radical love?

Certainly, wisdom should come into play. The focus of the story is not mindless care–the focus is deliberate love. If loving someone means not giving them certain things, or not enabling them to continue in a particular lifestyle, that is not less loving than binding up a bleeding man’s wounds. And, certainly, there are Biblical priorities–God, then biological and church family, and then those outside the faith.

But–at least for me–the problem is not in the exceptions or the complications.

The problem is in the application.

” This is how we know love: Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. But if a person has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need and that person doesn’t care—how can the love of God remain in him?

Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth.”

– 1 John 3:16-18, CEB –

A man who doesn’t show practical love for his family by doing his best to provide for them is betraying his faith (1 Timothy. 5:8). A Christian who does not have compassion on his fellow heirs in Christ is demonstrating a dearth of love. A man who passes by is showing that he really doesn’t understand the kind of grace that throws away convenience, propriety, reputation, comfort, and possessions just to stop and do something.

We quibble over terms.

Christ came in and acted.

We, of all people, were surely not His neighbors: More inferior to his Divinity than an amoeba is to a great blue whale. More adversarial to his kind advances than a Jew would be to a helpful leper. A cosmos, in a sense, separated us from Him–a world gone amuck, millions of sins piled like stones between the life of God and the life of man.

And us, unaware of it, ran straight into the den of robbers and gave ourselves over to the beatings of the sin we chose, until we lay bloody on the roadside. Utterly hopeless. Utterly undesirable.

But He had compassion. Desiring us! What love is this? He stopped. And, at the cost of His life, bound up our wounds.

It was certainly our sickness that he carried,
    and our sufferings that he bore,
    but we thought him afflicted,
    struck down by God and tormented.
He was pierced because of our rebellions
    and crushed because of our crimes.
    He bore the punishment that made us whole;
    by his wounds we are healed.
 Like sheep we had all wandered away,
    each going its own way,
    but the Lord let fall on him all our crimes.

– Isaiah 53: 4-6 –

We can make wonderful excuses. We can say we’re too busy. We can say that we don’t owe them anything.

Jesus could have done that too.

But He went out into the highways instead.

With such a Savior, how can we hold back for one more minute? Today, my neighbor is the person in front of me–my roommate, my boss at the office, my brother, the cashier at Wal-Mart, the lady walking her dachshund down the neighborhood sidewalk.

How can I not love them? How can I just pass by?


“What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.”

– Augustine –