Waiting for the prodigal.
Sandie, in a prayer request letter, gave us the ultimate challenge as representatives of the Gospel of Welcome. She wrote: “What role are we playing in the lives of those around us – from our closest loved ones to the merest acquaintance? Do we bring them closer to the love of God, or are we leaving them swinging helplessly in the winds of life?”
I can tell Sandie is intense, can’t you? And thank God she is, because she has offered us something truly valuable to focus on: Bringing everyone around us closer to the love of God. That is a Gospel of Welcome mandate. It is grace turned outward. God has not poured His grace out on us simply to have us apply it to ourselves and be content. He has poured His grace out on us that we might extend that grace to everyone around us, as Sandie says, “from our closest loved ones to the merest acquaintance.”
How do we do that? We do it in 101 different ways, but here are a few things to focus on.
First: Don’t judge; empathize. As our Grace Turned Outward video suggests, we put ourselves in other people’s shoes and try to imagine what they see, hear and feel. We empathize with them. Instead of judging them, we try and understand them.
Indeed, the situation that brought Sandie to this conclusion was the case that has gotten a lot of attention lately on the Internet about the woman with brain cancer who moved to Oregon so she could legally take her life rather than continue to suffer. The decision to empathize in the situation rather than judge can rule in our hearts, even if we believe what someone is doing is wrong.
Think about it this way. Two people might believe what this woman did was wrong, but take entirely different approaches to dealing with her. (By the way, I’m not suggesting that she was wrong – that’s another discussion for another time – I am only taking a point of view for the sake of making another point.) One might simply judge her for doing what they think is the wrong thing. The other might try to get into her shoes and imagine how bad her life must be in order to bring her to this decision. Which one is bringing the love of God to this woman? If you were the woman dying, which one for these people would you want around you?
Second: Don’t convict; convince. We remember how God’s grace first came to us – how it dawned on us that we were loved and forgiven in spite of ourselves – and give that same love and forgiveness to the next person, whether or not they know Jesus. It is not our job to convict people of sin; the Holy Spirit does that, and He doesn’t need our help. It is our job to convince them of God’s love and forgiveness by showing them the same.
Third: Don’t tell; show. For decades, the emphasis among evangelical Christians has been on the message of the gospel. Everything with non-Christians was always focused on one event: that moment when you share the gospel with someone to try to get them to pray with you and receive Christ. That’s what it’s all been about. Nothing about how we treat people, whether or not we love them, or whether we identify with them as sinners. Nothing. The only thing that counts is sharing the gospel. And once you’ve done that, you’re pretty much done with that person, especially if they refuse the gospel. Might as well send them on to Sodom and Gomorrah.
There will come a time for telling – it may be you or it may be someone else who does it – but that is just a moment in time. The rest of the time is all about showing, and showing is what Sandie refers to when she asks, “Do we bring them closer to the love of God, or are we leaving them swinging helplessly in the winds of life?”
You bring someone closer to the love of God by loving them with the love of God. The same way God loves us, unconditionally, no questions asked. When it comes to show and tell, this love “shows” much better than it “tells.” Showing love creates an environment for the telling, so that when it’s time to tell, it’s no big deal. It’s telling someone about what they have already experienced.
Since we started with Sandie, I thought it would be appropriate to end with her.
“In a few weeks we will celebrate Thanksgiving. We need to determine now, and for the rest of our lives, that we will live those lives so that people will give thanks for knowing you and me. We need to bring the life and light of Christ wherever we go. We must freely extend the grace that was so freely given to you and me. We can’t be late in loving, because eventually … it will be too late.”
In the meantime, why don’t you write and tell us how you bring people around you closer to the love of God. Let’s encourage one another with some stories of grace turned outward.
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The Gospel of Welcome and being in the Catch community have sort of turned my life around, but it is the Prayer Warriors of the Catch community that have truly affected my life. I thank and praise God daily for the people who don’t know me but are praying for me. Also I thank God daily for John and Marti and their willingness to do what God is telling them not hanging on to conventional wisdom, as others do. They don’t play it safe, they follow God’s leading.