The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever.
1 Timothy 5:24-25 New International Version (NIV)
You know you aren’t doing enough to shine God’s light to others when you visit a new church and feel as though you must advertise to everyone you meet that you are not, in fact, a sinner who has just come in from the streets to worship. To some of the more seasoned Christians out there, this may sound extremely stupid, however; when you are new to the concept of living in Christ it is hard to shake the feeling that you are somehow wearing a label that says, “Sinner.” Something I’ve struggled with is the feeling of guilt that I have over spending so many years out of church. Now that I have come back and I’m really trying to take hold of what God has for me and to give Him all the glory, I find that I feel much like the soldiers on Nehemiah’s wall; building with one hand and warding off the enemy with the other. It’s sometimes hard for me to imagine that anyone could see God’s light in me; the girl who spent much of her mid-twenties drunk and very much enslaved to the flesh.
I have to remember though, that God has forgiven me of my sins. God has picked me up and set me on my path and He has shown me where I need to be. Once I took off the blinders and started to follow Him, everything started to fall into place. Of course it took years of struggle and even a divorce to put me where I truly needed to be. But new challenges arise with every step forward. Now, I find myself faced with the dilemma of how to best reflect the light that God is trying to pour into me. There are so many things I want to do, but which is the way I am called? What path will be the right path? Am I really hearing from Him or just hoping that I am? These questions just didn’t come up when I was still struggling to figure out just how much I needed Him.
Having been through a few Bible studies and having begun studying for a Master of Divinity has only brought me to the realization that now, after God has blessed me with His mercy and grace, it’s my turn to pour it out. The only problem here is that sometimes I’m still afraid people will think I’m some kind of nut if I step up and really try to help them. Sometimes, I feel so defeated before I start that I often don’t move from where I’m standing. And then, I spend all of my time berating myself for not having done more when I could have, followed by a period of time when I’m thinking, “Would God really have called me to do this?” Won’t these people see right through me and know that I was such a terrible person that I have absolutely no place giving them advice or help of any kind? Why should I believe that when I reach out to others they will see it for what it is meant to be; a heartfelt expression of gratitude to God for what He has changed in me?
In 1 Peter 2:12, it says, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” Indeed, we are living in times where it seems we are outnumbered by those who just do not believe. Our lives are so inundated with the pressures of the world that it can be easy to start feeling guilty for being happy in being blessed. We can begin to feel that maybe, just maybe, no one outside of our church would even understand what we are trying to do when we reach out to them. And so, we keep it to ourselves. Or we at least attempt to keep it “in the family.” We fail to reach out and be the hands and feet of Christ because we don’t want to be rejected. After all, why reach out to someone who doesn’t want or understand our help? When I worked with homeless families, I certainly felt this way more often than I should have. I saw so many people come through our shelter who were basically just crossing off a stop on what could only be thought of as their “itinerary of enablement.” The same families came, as soon as their waiting period had expired, to collect the assistance they felt they were entitled to receive. Not once did they express gratitude, nor did they give any indication that they would not be back for more. In watching this, my heart, I’m sure grew bitter. At that time, I was nowhere near Christ and I had no compassion other than that little bit that everyone comes by naturally for their fellow man. I’m surprised I was able to feel good about helping anyone back then.
Looking back on this, however; I am now compelled to seek out opportunities like those so that I can reach out to people who are in need. They may believe they need only the monetary assistance, but I know now that the best help I can be to them is to provide that assistance with an open mind and an open heart. The attitude of the helper is worth as much or more than the value of the help being given. It doesn’t mean that I condone staying in a self-destructive cycle, it means that I understand it. Romans 7:21 says that, “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.” Truer words were never spoken. Any time I feel like reaching out to someone, doubt is ever-present to hold me back. And this, is the work of the enemy.
So, how do we pour out what God has poured in? It’s not easy to reach out when we are still licking our wounds and trying to feel accepted in Christ. It may be the very thing we must do in order to be completely healed, but it won’t be easy. But we must do what we “must” do. If we feel compelled to help others, then we should not fight the urge to do so. We should not stand defeated by ego or self-loathing. We should not allow the devil to convince us that our efforts are in vain. We should not allow what others may think of us to have any impact on whether or not we choose to go forward and really put ourselves out there for one another. And we shouldn’t play it safe; helping only those whom we are certain understand our motivation to help them. We get caught up in the words of Galatians 6:10 and become stuck in a cycle of helping our brethren and we ultimately become legends within our own minds. While we may be drawn to helping our friends, family and fellow church members, the extension of our kindness should not stop with the familiar. They are not the only ones who are deserving of our mercy or of God’s grace. We may not think we feel that way, but when we examine our actions closely, we might see that our pattern is to only help those who help themselves. If I’m not mistaken, well, that’s God’s prerogative, not ours.