An Oasis in a Spiritual Desert
- Monday, June 29, 2009
It's really as simple (and as difficult) as that.
Does it still work today? Or has hospitality gone out of style? In 1986 I traveled to Haiti for the first time. I spent a week in Pignon, a small town tucked away in the north central region of the country. It's about as far away from modern America as you can get and still be on the same planet. I went there at the invitation of my friend Caleb Lucien. On that first trip I met Caleb's father, Sidoine Lucien, the founding pastor of Jerusalem Baptist Church. The poverty in Haiti is overwhelming. Most Americans are rich compared to the richest person in the church in Pignon. What's more, Pastor Sidoine and his wife have personally taken in over 50 orphans over the years and raised them to become productive and godly men and women. Many of the leaders started out as Pastor Lucien's orphans.
On my first visit I saw Pastor Sidoine take food off his table to feed hungry children. A man and a boy who suddenly showed up were given a place to stay. For years his wife cooked meals for 50 people. One day I asked Pastor Lucien how they could do so much with so little. He smiled for a moment and then in halting English he said, "When I help others, God helps me." I've never heard a better statement of the Christian ethic of giving. Hospitality is not just a theory with the Christians of Pignon; it's a way of life.
We go even deeper with the next answer. True Christian love always involves...3. Gracious Forgiveness
"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse" (v. 14). This is easier said than done. After all, when someone curses us, the last thing we want to do is bless them in return. I find this to be especially true when I feel that someone I love has been mistreated. I'm more willing to forgive a personal offense and less willing to forgive those who hurt someone I love. I suppose most of us feel the same way. Nevertheless, the Word of the Lord remains. We are to bless those who curse us even when we would rather "give them a piece of our mind." In short, we are being asked to do the opposite of our natural inclinations. It requires a supernatural virtue to respond with grace when we (or our loved ones) have been trashed.
It's not enough to simply "grin and bear it" (though that is noble in itself) nor are we simply to bite our tongue to keep from cursing ourselves. I remember hearing one man talk about "sub-vocal cursing," the idea being that many of us curse at our enemies, only we do it where no one can hear us. I'll grant you that it's better not to curse people to their face, but cursing under the covers is hardly any better. And Paul is not saying, "Curse them for a while, and then you feel better start blessing them." He's saying, "Bless them all the time, all the way, every day."
How exactly are we to do to this? Certainly it must start in the heart. F. B. Meyer, British Bible teacher of the early 1900s, used to pray this way. When he felt himself getting angry or irritable, he asked the Lord for the quality he most needed at that moment:
Your patience, Lord Jesus.
Your kindness, Lord Jesus.
Your love, Lord Jesus.
Your courage, Lord Jesus.
Your wisdom, Lord Jesus.
Your longsuffering, Lord Jesus.
Your compassion, Lord Jesus.
These "arrow prayers" go straight from our heart to the heart of God. And we may believe that when we pray like this, God will hear us and he will answer and give to us what we need in the moment of great temptation.
If we return anger for anger,
Hatred for hatred,
Bitterness for bitterness,
Slander for slander,
If all we do is return the evil done to us, how are we any different from those who attack us? If we raise our voices to answer theirs, how will that help the situation? Harsh words are no recommendation for our faith. A cursing Christian is a walking, talking contradiction. How will they ever believe us if our message is, "God loves you, but we hate your guts"?
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