To Encourage in Heart and Unite in Love

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.  Rev. 22:13

When we were first moving into our neighborhood, we were frequently asked about our goals for moving here, into a community different than the one we’ve come from.  Had we moved into a neighborhood more familiar or more commonly accepted, nobody would probably ask about our goals for moving there.  Entering into a culture that is different from one’s own somehow assumes “goals” which aren’t otherwise required or expected.  But here we are, white people from an overeducated and more affluent background, living with black people who fall all over the spectrum professionally, socially, and educationally.  And I would be a big fat liar if I said that the collision of our cultures and ways of living life didn’t expose that urge to have “goals” for some of my neighbors to conform to my way of doing things.

The biblical mandate to “train up a child in the way he should go” is of course open to all the different ways unique children are to go. Not every child will grow to be a musician or competitive athlete or doctor or electrician or serve in the hospitality industry or government.  Not every child needs to attain multiple academic degrees.  Not every child needs be trained in diplomacy or international competency.  And yet, there is such a temptation to want every other parent to train up their children just as God has directed us to train up our own.  That isn’t all bad if considered from the perspective of caring about the future success of each child.  But it quickly becomes problematic when we have narrowed down the defining terms of “success” based on our own perspective, culture and community norms.

And then the problem is that we don’t just do this with children, do we?  There are plenty of grown-ups who I’d like to change and mold more into my image than whatever image they’re after.  Suddenly I am feeling pointless and powerless as I adopt this notion that my role in the lives of my neighbors (and family and church friends and school friends, etc.) is to accomplish some goal of changing people to how I think they should be or how I think their lives would be better.  Yet God has never given me this assignment in my relationships.

for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.  Phil. 2:13

For the sake of my servant Jacob,
and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
I name you, though you do not know me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other,
besides me there is no God;
I equip you, though you do not know me,
that people may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is none besides me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create calamity,
I am the Lord, who does all these things.  Is. 45:4-7

I am not the Holy Spirit, nor have I been invited to be His relief pitcher.  I am not the Lord of anyone, in charge of redirecting anyone’s heart.  I am not the beginning or the end of anyone’s redemption story, including my own.  I am not The Rescuer.  I am not The Redeemer.  I am not Justice.  I am not Peace.  I am not Wisdom.  I am not Life.  I am not Love.  I am not Hope.

God alone is the embodiment of these things, creator and completer of all that is good, pleasing and perfect.  I have been invited to reflect Him, pointing to His presence and to Him as the source of all that is needed for abundant, satisfying and peaceful life.  I have not been invited to be the source of life that others need most.  I myself have never been changed because someone told me I need to change.  My role in the lives of those who have experienced a turn from bad habits to more life giving choices has never been the one to do it for those friends nor to carry them across them finish line.  In every instance I can think of, I was no more responsible for changes from death to life than to be a front row spectator and present for the celebration.  And that seems to be where God calls us in the lives of others.  We are invited to be move so deeply in that we feel the heart break and share in the redemption, all the while doing little more than faithfully loving as God does the working.

My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ,  in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Col. 2:2-3

To encourage in heart and unite in love…how might that change the way I interact with others, talk about people who aren’t present, hope for others, think about others and live in community with others?   Judgment and transformation could belong fully in the hands of God. May this really became my central goal: to encourage in heart and unite in love.