Recently I have just wanted to be selfish for a while and let others fend for themselves. I am tired. And then the song “Lean On Me” cycles up on the iPod. That is not funny Lord. The lyrics sung by Bill Withers talks about being there for others. Life happens, John Lennon famously said, when you are making other plans. Life has been happening to us in recent months.
Sometimes in our lives
We all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there's
Lean on me, when you're not strong
And I'll be your friend
I have been thinking a lot about community. I have, to be honest, had many moments recently when I wondered if living in messy community with messy people is worth it. One of my dearest friends is Dr. Gil Herren. He used to tell me stories about working the emergency room at a Memphis hospital and how much he loved it. I could not understand how he could love seeing the pain, suffering and evil that a big city ER could produce. But as he spoke it became clear why he did it. Dr.Gil could make a difference in some people’s lives. Not all to be sure. But for some his expertise, skill and compassion might save them. Recently I have surmised that I am heading in the relational footsteps of my friend.
I find myself at least attempting to man the “ER” of a very small and sporadically effective grace hospital. I am drawn to the dysfunctional. My heart goes out to the wounded lambs. But I will tell you that I struggle with the cost of walking in honest relationship with people. It is hard. I have come to understand why legalism is so much easier than grace. Legalism allows me to assess the situation and then apply a verse or assign a task. If that person rejects that Biblical admonition or task then legalism allows me to withdraw because they are disobedient. Grace does not give me that option. Grace demands that I move toward the struggle of my brother or sister and not away in judgment. No wonder grace is a tough sell. But like my friend Gil I do it because I hope I can help a few.
Grace wears me out and lifts me up. Grace is frustrating and exhilarating. My old nature screams that people who make bad decisions over and over get what they “deserve”. They don’t “deserve” to be pursued and loved and restored. They made their bed now let them lay in it. But there is a small quiet voice in my heart that tells me that they have value. That they are loved by their Creator. And that voice asks who am I to decide who “deserves” anything?
A quote by Pastor Paul Donnan says it far better than I ever could.
Grace doesn't treat us better than we deserve. It treats us without the slightest reference to what we deserve. Grace ceases to be grace if God withdraws it upon any human failure. If Grace is in any way tied to something you do, then it is no longer a gift but a wage, and that's not grace.
And, to be selfish, the lyrics of Bill Withers tells me why it is in my own best interest to give grace willingly.
I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long
Till I'm gonna need
Somebody to lean on
Yep. It is just a matter of time until I will be begging for grace for some stupid action or word. Paul knew that was true and reminded the Galatian Church.
Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day's out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ's law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived. (Galatians 6, The Message)
Why are we so willing to receive grace and not extend it? Maybe the next lyric has a clue.
Please swallow your pride
If I have things
You need to borrow
For no one can fill
Pride. Pride causes us to cover our needs because that would show weakness. Pride tells us to wear a mask of false joy so that others won’t know our shame and sin. Our Father in Heaven designed this journey to be lived in community. God knows that we need Him and we need one another. Healthy community is not unlike two parents being the healthiest community for children. Sometimes a child needs his or her father and sometimes only the mother can touch their need. In the same way there are times when only Abba Father can comfort my soul but at other times I need the community of fellow believers to get through.
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem
That you'll understand
We all need somebody to lean on
Yes it is hard to walk with the wounded. Yes it is frustrating to watch messy people make the same mistakes over and over. Yes it is tiring to give grace to the needy. But my heart’s desire remains the same. These words to the Church at Corinth wrap it up nicely.
So we're not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace.These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There's far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can't see now will last forever. (2 Corinthians 4, The Message)