Those of you who know me also know that I tend to wander into some really unusual conversations, often with strangers, but just as often with people I see on a regular basis, but who might not be part of my friendship circle.
I don’t know if I have one of those faces that says ‘tell me all your deepest secrets’, or if I just happen to be in the right place, at the right time, when people need to unload. Either way, I’ve heard my fair share of confessionals over the years and, as a result, have had numerous opportunities to decide how I will respond to people who are wrestling with everyday hurts, fears, joys, struggles, illnesses, regrets, and triumphs.
Though I am ashamed of it, I will admit there was a time when I would hear someone share their deep needs with me, and all I could think about was how I was going to end the dreary conversation. I would promise to pray about a situation, and then promptly forget to do so. I would wonder why that person was involving me in their problems, and whether or not they had anyone else to talk to.
I have always been empathetic. I feel the pain of others. For the longest time I thought this was a liability, and it was one of the reasons I dreaded these types of conversations. I may not have been invested in the lives of those others, but I would certainly hold on to their pain, for a little while at least. It wasn’t until a few years ago that something changed in the way I viewed these interruptions in my day.
About 11 years ago, I began to consciously seek after God more fully. I had been a Christian for most of my life by that point, but I was still living, in a very real sense, as an ‘almost Christian’. God was important to me, but more out of a sense of duty than joy, my relationship with him more fear than love.
The whole story is too long for this post, so suffice it to say that, as I began to inquire into his desires for my life, God began to change my heart. Slowly, sometimes painfully, God showed me glimpses of who I was, and, against that, who he had created me to be.
As I began to face the hard truth about myself, God did something amazing. He began to break my heart for his people, and suddenly those interruptions from people unloading on me and that despised empathy that forced me to identify with their pain became opportunities to share the love of God and a mere glimpse of the empathy God has for those who are living apart from his grace.
The Priesthood of All Believers
The Bible has a lot to say about what our relationships with others should look like. I think most people would agree that it is better to live at peace with neighbors, to help one another when the need arises, and to work together to achieve common goals. Those things are all well and good, but they are not the Biblical notion of what relationships should look like.
Jesus modeled for us a new way, the way of holy-love. This love doesn’t just seek to help others or to live at peace; it seeks to sacrifice for others and become peace-making.
This love commands us to lay down our lives for others, just as Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.
This type of love sees the fear, the pain, and the regret that so many carry and offers up to the one suffering the grace and mercy and peace of Christ.
This type of love sees the joys and the triumphs of the everyday, and rejoices with the one rejoicing, because this is a glimpse of the hope that can be found only through the cross.
This type of love does not close itself off to pain, but welcomes it, because it is in the painful moments of life that we are most often given the opportunity to become mediators of God’s mercy. It is in these times that we have the best opportunity to become the royal priesthood of God.
1 Peter 2:9-10 says this:
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, the whole order of things has been remade. The kingdom of God has begun to break into this world, and when we believe in Jesus (read: believe who he is and do what he says), we become active participants in the work of God.
But what does this work look like? It takes many forms, for sure, but the most consistent way that God has shown me that I can be a part of his Kingdom work is when I minister to others in the everyday.
When I stumble into the awkward conversations that I inevitably do, when people I barely know begin to confess their pain to me, when I see that a friend or family member is hurting, these are the moments when I can best ‘declare the praises of him to who called me out of darkness into his wonderful light.’
When we come to realize that ‘once we had not received mercy, but now we have received mercy,’ and when we recognize that we have become God’s ‘special possession’, all of these happenstance, everyday moments become instead, for us, divine appointments. These circumstances become a tremendous opportunity to minister in the everyday.
And so now, when people share with me, I pray for them immediately. I pray for them, knowing that they have a Heavenly Father who cares about their needs, who loves them so much that he sacrificed his own Son, so that they might have eternal life with him.
When possible, I walk with them in their darkness. This sometimes means getting my hands dirty, because God calls us to do more than pray, he also calls us to action.
When I see the ‘odd man out’, I approach with arms open, extending the grace that I have received, knowing full well that I might receive scorn or condemnation in return, but also knowing that anywhere I go, Jesus has already been and carried my load.
And though I sometimes fail, I try to remember that I am part of a royal priesthood, a special possession of God, having been invited by my Father into his household, to assist him with his Kingdom work.
Do you know that he has invited you too? I encourage you today to live into the grace that you have received and pass it on to others in the name of our Great High Priest, the suffering servant, Jesus Christ.