One of the areas I'm very aware of is this: Sometimes my passion turns into frustration. If something is not as I think it should be, I get frustrated. This happens most often with how I wish the world and the church could be in relation to the gospel, and I am left unnerved and sometimes paralyzed with frustration and my inability to change things.
Most often, I'm frustrated because other people don't help make the change happen, and therein lies the frustration. The changes need to start with me.
Today in passing I had a conversation about a person in our church who is socially awkward and has very few social skills. This person knows, and it affects his ability or inability to serve in various capacities. I got frustrated, because too often when we meet people like this, we cast them off as awkward or difficult, and we fail to press into those relationships and walk with them through the awkward mess to help them to overcome it. In this case, thankfully, there are some people here on staff who are willing to let him serve and to press in. But that isn't always the case.
I fear that too often we want the easy call to ministry. It can be easy to minister to those who are similar to us, but what about to those who are unlovely? Those whose lives are messy and filthy? The ones who can barely hold a conversation because they're so strange? The ones with whom we have nothing in common?
I'm as guilty as anyone.
I'm not always willing to get messy. I'd rather stay on the surface and do the little things I can to help make change happen. But change often requires digging deeper. I need to dig deeper, to work harder, to press in.
I'm involved with a ministry here in Louisville called Scarlet Hope through which we dig into the messy lives of strippers. None of their lives are simple. Their past, their hurt, their pain, their addictions - it's like a tangled web of Christmas lights that have been knotted for years and years, and only half the strand is working. It just isn't easy to figure out. It takes work.
Too often people I know will say things like, "I think it's so great what you do by going into the clubs." or "I could never do what you all do!" I certainly hope that isn't the case for Christians. If God calls you to dig into the mess of someone's life, I certainly hope that just because you see the dirt on the outside you don't cast them off as if they're untouchable. And I deserve no praise for simply going into the clubs, because that's not the hard part. The hard part is following through, sharing the gospel, and then walking with these girls through the mess as they untangle their painful lives and begin a new life in Jesus Christ. I admit, I'm not always quick to jump into that part, because it's messy and it requires a lot of time.
It reminds me of the story when Jesus healed the leper in Mark 1:40-45. In that day no one would touch the lepers. Even their own families couldn't come near them, because they were untouchable. The lepers were forced to live in communities with one another, without any physical touch, and they had to yell out around them "Unclean!" so no one would come near. We all know how the story goes: Jesus actually touched the man and he was healed. Could you imagine if Jesus had never gone near him? What if Jesus had just healed him from afar? What if Jesus chose not to heal him at all?
I fear that this is how some Christians live. They see someone who is living a life much different from their own, and they want nothing to do with it. Or they choose to just help from afar. "A stripper hangs out in places inappropriate for Christians to be." "Awkward people are just too hard to have a conversation with." "People with physical disabilities or special needs require too much work."
But I'm convinced that Jesus would never have hung out only with the popular crowd. In fact, I'm not sure he ever did. He chose the lowly, the untouchables, the unlovely, the messy.
Bethany Dillon's song "You Are On Our Side" says these words:
You sit at the table with the wounded and the poorI love those words, because they tell of the character of Jesus.
You laugh and tell stories with the thief and the whore
When you could just be silent and leave us here to die,
But still you sent your Son for us--
You are on our side.
Today I read on Francis Chan's blog how he threw a banquet, as Jesus told people to in Luke 14, not inviting his friends or brothers or relatives or rich neighbors, or anyone who could repay him in return, but a banquet for the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and those who could not repay him. I love the ways that he and his wife went about this--making the guests feel incredibly special, and I loved the ways they went the extra mile. And I was struck when Francis wrote this: "We do this for donors, why not the least of these?" Isn't that so unbelievably true? Churches, businesses, organizations--we all treat donors like kings, because we know they can repay us with million dollar charitable gifts, but why don't we do this for the least of these?
And again, I'm caught in frustration. My passion for the gospel to take action in my life is met with frustration, because I'm not sure how to change my own life first. Am I really diving into the mess of people's lives in order to help them see Jesus? Or am I just helping from afar? Am I pressing in?
I have no resolve for this. It's simply what I'm working through today, among many other mental wrestling matches with God. I'm going to ask the Holy Spirit to begin showing me where to dive in and where to begin the change in myself. If my passion for the gospel leads to only frustration with the world around me, but not a holy frustration within my own heart to inspire change, then I cannot expect the world around me to change one bit.