“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides.” 1 Peter 4:10-11
When I first came to the Lord back in 2009 I felt enormous pressure to share the message of Jesus. My life had changed so dramatically that the thought of someone living a single day without the hope of Christ terrified me. I felt I had a responsibility to share this message with every person I came into contact with. However, my naïve and ignorant understanding of the gospel proved that what I felt in my heart would be a more challenging task to accomplish than anticipated.
My story is much different than most for the mere fact that I didn’t have any pre-conceived notions of what Christianity actually was. I had no religious or spiritual background, no prior experience with the church and very little influence in my associations growing up. So, when I started to learn Biblical principles taught through personal development books and audios through LIFE Leadership, and surrounding myself with people who were living out these principles, it caught my attention. I started to witness and meet people who were actually married…and happy! I started to make friends with people whose passions didn’t involve partying, living for the weekends and substance abuse but loving and serving others (with no hidden agenda) and chasing after dreams.
That quick transformation from Christ-empty to Christ-full changed everything for me. Anyone who has experienced this revelation knows what I am talking about. But, with this transformation came an urgency that I had never felt before. And it’s the feeling of urgency that inspired me to write this article.
When I mentioned that early on I felt an overwhelming pressure to spread the ‘good’ news, I was not exaggerating. I went so far as to sign up for a mission trip overseas, write and send out support letters and plan time off (which I eventually never went on – a story for a different article)…learning you don’t have to cross oceans and borders to serve God. When I was teaching in public schools I felt determined to convert my students because I couldn’t live with the idea of them growing up and going through life without Jesus (like I did). I even remember a very specific conversation with one of my high school sophomores who challenged me regarding sin, eternity and salvation and her belief that there can’t possibly be a God – which was a belief that she concluded on the basis of her peers who were all professed atheists. Later learning that their belief was developed without ever hearing the Truth (just like me)… never hearing the story of Adam and Eve or how sin entered this world, let alone the story of Jesus. Of course these kids didn’t believe; most of my students came from broken homes with no Biblical or moral foundation. How can one possibly believe the Truth if they have never heard it?
I realized in those early experiences of attempting to play ‘God’ that WE (humans) cannot convert people into believing in Jesus no matter how excited we are, no matter how knowledgeable we are and no matter how deep Jesus is rooted in our hearts. Only God can ‘convert’ people. Sometimes he has to break us completely or back us into a corner and bring us to our knees in order to turn to Him; sometimes He has to put the right person or mentor in our path; sometimes He has to give us worldly ‘things’ like materialism or status and then take it all away in order for us to realize how meaningless those things are; sometimes He has to challenge us in the things we can’t control – like an illness or loss in order to put our faith and trust in Him for the things unknown.
My own experiences in attempting to analyze and understand God’s plan (which is a contradictory statement because I don’t understand and never will in this life) opened my eyes to how God might be using me to serve Him.
I started this article stating that when I first heard the Truth I felt pressured into thinking I had a responsibility (as a believer) to share this message of Truth with everyone. While this is a very true statement, it certainly isn’t realistic (if we are referring to words). In time I have learned that the message of Truth isn’t always what is spoken, but what is practiced. Most often our message of Truth is revealed in how we live our lives; in our daily interactions with people, in our attitude, in our behavior, in our choices, in our compassion, in our service, in our love and forgiveness. In fact, that’s exactly what led me to the Truth in the beginning. It was the people I started to surround myself with who lived their life as a ministry rather than trying to act like a ‘minister.’
Recently, I had an experience that helped to confirm this revelation reducing some of the pressure I have always felt in my heart. To ‘speak Truth,’ that is powerful…but to ‘live the truth,’ (no matter what the situation or circumstance)…that is how you really spread the message of Jesus. Let me elaborate:
This past Friday night was interesting but not out of the ordinary. Let’s face it, I am getting used to the attacks and finding them quite humorous (after the fact). However, this one caught me by surprise. I had gotten home late and was preparing for a moving sale the next day and was running out of time. It was raining outside, my house was a disaster and all I could think about was how much I still had to get done. I remember one of my neighbors (on the left) telling me that I could borrow some tables for my sale. So as I am walking outside in the rain, complete darkness, the neighbor on the right immediately shouts from his garage as he is smoking a cigarette (and I am standing in the rain), “So you’re moving?” To which I responded…”well, not tonight (slightly sarcastic and jokingly).” Quickly finding out he was not in a joking mood. From there he proceeds to share rude and inappropriate comments regarding my decisions (under the influence of alcohol of course) eventually raising his voice and yelling at me for 15 + minutes (His words cut deep as tears started streaming down my face). I was speechless. I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing. But I stood there and let him vent – at the expense of my emotions…without responding. Eventually I told him to ‘have a good night’ as I walked back in my house and continued my emotional meltdown – not understanding what just happened (and…never getting the tables I needed).
10 minutes later I hear a knock at my front door – around 10pm (I thought it was him). It was his wife. She came over to apologize for his behavior. While I was clearly upset (as the tears had not ceased), I did all I knew I could do which was to hug her and tell her that it was all okay and that I forgave him.
She continued to say, “NO…NO. How can you possibly forgive Him? Don’t forgive him. He needs to apologize. That was completely unacceptable and he does not deserve your forgiveness without a personal apology.”
I tried to tell her, “But Sue, I forgave him before I even walked back into the house. These tears are not from his words. These tears are just from stress. He just happened to stop me at a really bad time.”
She would not accept the forgiveness for her husband’s actions… (but it didn’t change what I felt in my heart). I’ve known this man for 7 years and I know he did not intend to hurt my feelings like she thought he did.
So, Sunday morning came (two days later) and as I pulled around toward my driveway after church he and his wife were outside. (Before Christ I would have gone around the block a few times and waited for them to go in the house in an attempt to avoid any confrontation or conflict). But this day I had no problem pulling in the driveway. I smiled out my drivers side window at them (like normal) and as I got out of my car, Brad (the neighbor) says, “I am so sorry…I am so sorry. I did not mean anything I said. I was drinking. You are wonderful. I completely understand if you don’t forgive me, but I am so sorry.” All I could think to do in order to show him I forgave him was to give him a hug and say, “No worries, I forgive you. Nothing to be sorry about”… and we both walked back into our homes and the issue was resolved.
God IS forgiveness. If we forgive, we are revealing Him. My neighbors didn’t know my beliefs. All they knew was that a very ugly situation could have gotten much worse had God not revealed Himself through me that night. That is what I mean by living the Truth. (But please don’t take this the wrong way, this is not about me or what I did. This is about what God did. He sent His son to be nailed to a cross so that WE would be forgiven. He loves us that much. If He can forgive us, in all our mess and sin (often without apologizing), what right do we have not to forgive each other).
I am learning that even in the chaos of life, God is always calm. If we really have Christ in our heart then the best way to reveal Him, is to live like Him. Not just when it feels right or comfortable. Not just when things are going well. Always. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “Be unaffected by circumstance. Do not let it control you. Do not be mastered by it. Do not let it get you down or determine your misery or joy.” This life is not easy. But, if we live it like it’s our ministry, expecting pain and struggle in the process, while continuing to serve, love and forgive, despite our circumstances, then we can never say to ourselves…I should have done more. There is nothing more we can do. The urgency we feel to ‘speak truth’ to everyone we meet is resolved in ‘living the truth.’ Continue to reveal Him through our actions and love people like He loves us; that is our ministry.