Ministry is a funny thing. We serve others because we care. Our deepest desire is that people would experience love and freedom. We desire for them to be filled with hope and their lives to be marked by peace. Obviously our desire is rooted in relationship with Jesus. It is out of a life that’s being transformed by Him that we serve others. At the same time, often the longer we are in ministry the easier it is for us to see the shortcomings in others. It becomes easier for us to see clearly the barriers to belief or life transformation in the lives of those we serve. We often find ourselves locked in to the “problems” that plague the church and hinder her from being all that God has called her to be. If we’re not careful though, our ability to discern these things can lead us to a place of pride. With great ease we quickly move to right answer and right action rather than actually caring for those we serve.
Out of “love” we say things like…”if they would only…” or “why can’t they just…” or even, “they need to understand…” I’ve said these words. I’ve thought these thoughts. And even though I can rationalize them as care for others, I often find that my bigger issue is that they’re not doing the things that I want them to do. Or perhaps they’re not believing the things I think they should believe. This is often just a guise for control. When we use the cover of ministry to control actions or belief, we’re actually not loving people at all.
Ministry is messy. People are messy. The longer I walk with Jesus the more I realize that my job is not to change behaviors or even thinking…it’s simply to love my neighbor. God actually takes care of the rest…in his time, in his way. How can I love well when I more concerned with getting them to do the right thing, when we know actions are nothing more than outpouring of a person’s heart? If I care for someone’s heart well and actually allow God to do the changing of things, it often leads to real transformation. When I only see the sin or distorted belief and push towards change of behavior or belief, well, that often leads to a fight. That’s probably because behavior modification rarely leads us anywhere.
To actually care for a person’s heart we must be filled with compassion. Compassion allows us to live with the tension of what is and what should be without needing to force anything. The only way we can actually live lives of compassion is if we ourselves have experienced compassion. This is probably why Jesus tells us to love our neighbor AFTER we learn to love God. That’s because the only way we can be people of compassion is if we have first received it from God himself.
When we show compassion to others, when we choose to love rather than control, when we sit patiently with people, we are actually pointing them to life in the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is a kingdom in which we can trust God will act. Life in the kingdom is a life of compassion, a life of patience, a life of long suffering, and a life of trusting in the slow, intentional work of God to bring about transformation. This is where real change happens. When I push – I often push away from the kingdom. I am reminded of how Jesus interacted with the woman at the well in John 4. He didn’t start with “you are a terrible human being who sleeps around and makes terrible choices.” That probably would have shut down the conversation rather quickly. Instead, Jesus actually leads with compassion and care. The change in her heart naturally follows.
May I be a person who simply points people to life in the kingdom. May I show compassion when I’m tempted to show someone the “right answer.” May I resist the urge to simply jump to right thinking and instead care for someone’s heart by trusting God to do the changing. To be clear this doesn’t mean we don’t ever preach repentance or point people towards their need for change. But as I reflect on the life of Jesus I see over and over again examples of his compassion and care. The people whom he went to battle with, the Pharisees, were those who should have known better and claimed faith. As someone who claims faith, I must repent of having all the right answers and the right way of bringing about change in a person’s life lest I become like those Jesus condemns. May we in the church practice restraint and patience and a desire to love rather than control.