God’s desire is that all people will come to know Him. In 1 Timothy 2 Paul reminds Timothy that we are to pray and be thankful for ALL people. There is no exception list. (Admit it, we all kinda wish God had included a list of those we don’t have to love!)
1 Timothy 2:1-4: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for ALL people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved, and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
Ezekiel 33:11: “…’As I live, says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live….”
Jesus prayed for those who crucified Him. He asked God to forgive them: “for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) I often gloss over this part of the Gospel. After all, it was Jesus, He’s God. He’s in the business of forgiving. When I stop and consider the emotions He might have experienced during His arrest and crucifixion, in addition to the physical pain, and that He did it voluntarily, I realize how badly He wants us to be saved from eternal separation from Him. Picture your child in a championship ballgame. He’s on the Away Team so all but a few of the spectators are cheering for the other team. He makes an awesome play. Everyone anxiously awaits the umpire’s call. It’s in his favor. The crowd begins booing, calling him names, throwing cans, food and garbage at him. They storm the field and start kicking dirt in his face. Someone grabs his glove and hurls it across the fence. It seems the entire crowd is attacking him, including people your family ate lunch with less than an hour ago! Then someone steps forward with their video that confirms the umpire’s decision was correct. The crowd disperses still cursing, still calling your child names; no apologies, no praise for his play. He stands there, bruised and battered, blood flowing from his nose, tears streaming down his cheeks, fear in his eyes. Stop and feel that. Feel the rage, the fear, the overwhelming urge to strike out at these people, to rub your son’s achievement in their faces.
I believe the emotions we would experience in this situation are some that Jesus must have been feeling. His human makeup was what had to be sacrificed to pay our debt so He stayed there and experienced it all in a completely human way. He didn’t conveniently call on some kind of Godly power that would diminish His emotions. He didn’t choose to get even. He didn’t call on angels to change His circumstances. He forgave them. He didn’t say He forgave them while thinking to Himself, “Yeah, I’ll forgive them, but I hope they pay for what they did.” No, Jesus truly, sincerely forgave them. He forgave because He knows the price unbelievers will pay and He doesn’t want anyone to have to pay that price, not even those who were subjecting Him to this injustice and causing Him untold pain. His heart is broken for ALL those who have not found Him. Ours should be, too.
I play this scenario over in my mind as I go through the process of letting go of pain and hurt feelings. Once the emotions start welling up, I have to find ways to manage them. I start by reminding myself that the person is struggling and remembering the things I have done that hurt others, things I do every day that hurt God. Then I pray. The first parts of those prayers are usually filled with the “me” of the whole situation, how badly I’ve been treated or how I hope others are punished, much like David’s prayers against those who relentlessly pursued him. But God loves our honest prayers, so that’s OK as long as I don’t stay there. As I pray, I slowly yield to the Spirit and He redirects my thoughts to the things I need to focus on: their need for God, the struggles they might be going through, how difficult it is to obey Him in certain things, and on my own sinfulness. It always takes more than one prayer and it’s rarely a straight path; I waver back and forth from anger and hurt to forgiveness. But I keep praying when the disobedient attitude takes hold until I can adopt an attitude that allows me to show God’s love even though I still may not be feeling it. When I start wallowing in the feelings again, I go back to Him in prayer.
Ezekiel 36:26: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
While I carry a heavy burden for people who are still stumbling around in the world without Jesus, many times the last feeling I can manage is broken heartedness! I feel frustration at their arrogance and pride and their inability or unwillingness to understand God’s will, anger at how they mock Jesus and ignore what He did for them. My daughter read somewhere that we expect people still searching for God to act like those of us who have found Him. When they don’t conform to those expectations, we use it as justification to ignore them or be angry at them. It’s easy to put our negative feelings ahead of our responsibility to show God’s love. I find this true in my own life more often than I care to admit. I remind myself of what I was like before I yielded to Christ. I know that giving in to my negative feelings isn’t going to do anything to attract anyone to their Savior and that is my responsibility as a committed follower of Christ. But I am a whole new creature and still learning to yield to the Spirit.
There’s a woman at work who cannot walk and gets around on a scooter. For well over a year I focused on the fact that she drives that thing way too fast and didn’t seem to understand there are corners she can’t see around. I decided she was insensitive and reckless. She really irritated me and I thought perhaps I should report her or say something to her before she hurt somebody. One day God laid on my heart to just smile and speak to her. So I did that. She didn’t respond at first but I kept it up. Now when we see each other, she smiles, sometimes says hi. The hallways now seem wider; there aren’t THAT many people in the hallway. At some point I noticed the mirrors at each of the corners so she can see around them. One day I had to take a different route on my way home and saw her outside our building racing towards the bus stop. I realized she’s in a hurry because she’s anxious about missing her bus. Not only did my actions change my feelings towards her, once I discovered why she was in such a hurry my sin in judging her became all too apparent. I might not ever have a chance to share the Gospel with her, but had I reported her or admonished her that door would have been closed.
Another woman at work would never speak to me unless she was challenging me about my faith, even though she professed to be a Christian. She is known for stirring stuff up at work and being critical of others. I avoided her and, I’m ashamed to admit, joined in the negative conversations others would have about her. Yet there were others who seemed to really like her. I started listening to her at her desk and found she has a wonderful sense of humor and a great love for her husband. I committed to overcoming my dislike for her. I decided to buy some household decorations that she was selling so I would have something to begin talking to her about. I brought her blackberries and tomatoes from our garden. One day she came to me upset because someone had lied to her. I listened and tried to encourage her. I got some insight into why she acts out the way she does. I am more patient with her and can better sympathize with her struggles rather than feeling the disdain for her I previously felt. I get to enjoy her sense of humor and, best of all she is more receptive to my faith. I have been able to seize opportunities to share it with her, something I was not able to do before.
To say that God’s heart is broken for those who do not turn to Him might be a bit of an understatement. It’s very serious to Him therefore it should be to us. I should want to do everything I can to insure people will not spend eternity separated from God. Not only will I be a stumbling block if I allow my emotions to determine how I am going to act, but I break the sixth commandment, the one that tells us not to murder. This is an example of how the Ten Commandments go much deeper than what we read at first glance. Here’s how it plays out: when we allow our dislike for or anger at someone to keep us from showing God’s love and working to lead them to Him we demonstrate that we don’t care about their eternal soul. In our hearts we have essentially sentenced them to eternal death. Knowing that those who do not find God will spend eternity being separated from Him should break our hearts just as it breaks His.
We can’t depend on our feelings about others to determine how we are going to treat them. Demonstrating God’s love not only has the potential to change others, it will also change the way we feel about them. It’s not easy but, when we sincerely desire to obey God, we have to put forth the effort. I want to feel the urgency God feels for those still struggling to find Him. Until I get there, I will focus on showing His love through my actions; putting aside my feelings when they don’t match God’s command to love them.
1 Corinthians 13:2-7: “ …if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”