“My heart is swollen…” I first heard that statement on a TV show depicting the life of Christ. It seems to paint the right picture of my current heart condition. With everything going on in this world, one catastrophe after another, one heart ache after another, one community failing after another. My heart is swollen. With fear. With pride. With indignation. With frustration. With sadness. With a longing for healing and unity.
Right now, our nation is confronting yet another moment of injustice. Some would argue that this is not merely a moment, but the tip of the iceberg of a daily onslaught of hate. I would fully agree. What happened to a man named George Floyd is something that happens every day in America. It’s a problem that happens in every community and has seemingly touched every family. Yet, where our opinions diverge is in the depths of that problem. I believe it’s more than a racist cop. I believe it’s more than a faulty system. I believe it’s more than an “American” problem. I believe it’s a human problem. Or maybe its best understood as an inhuman problem.
When we watch the news, we see pain, frustration, anger, righteous anger! We see hatred and violence, people killing people in anger. We see violence being portrayed as an answer to violence. I watched a video of a shop owner wielding a machete, attempting to defend his business against rioters. He ventured too far into the crowd and was stomped to death by the rioters. His mangled body lay in a bloody pool. I saw evil manifest. Not justice. Not righteous anger. Evil. Pure evil. An evil born in the human heart, fed by lies from the hands of the father of lies, himself. The same evil that possessed a police officer to murder another human in such a casual manner. It still sickens me to this moment. Hate is being spoken as a means to fight hate.
Thankfully this isn’t everywhere, even if that’s all the media want us to see.
As we who follow Christ seek our place in this struggle, we must first ask ourselves “How should we as followers of Jesus Christ be in this time?”We need to know what to do, what to say, who to lock arms with, who to shout down. What to lift up as an answer, and what to fight against as part of the problem. To answer this, the Scriptures must be our first visit.
A people who listen
Before we speak, before we act, before we develop our opinions, we must be a people who open our ears and listen. Let’s do that now as we take in the words of our brother and Apostle James. “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James1:19-20ESV)
When I read this a question immediately comes to mind: “To what voice should we listen?” If I stop and listen to every voice that seeks an audience in the midst of this fight I will undoubtedly come away confused, angry and even more disheartened and frustrated than before I started listening. We are being told by many community leaders that right now our white voices are not important and we need to shut up and listen to the black community. Yet when I do, I hear different ideas, different points of view, many of which clash. I hear you shouting “Black Lives Matter!” and I believe they do! Then I see young teens in the crime ravaged neighborhoods shouting that they don’t believe that mantra because no one gets upset when black people kill black people! Who should I follow? Who should I give attention to?
Well, at the outset, neither. I must first listen to the voice of God. I find His voice becomes the loudest when I shut out the other voices. When I put my phone down, turn off the 24-hour news cycle and rest my mind, listening for God’s voice. In so doing, His voice becomes clearer. But not immediately.
Because the world’s influence is so strong, and the pull of darkness much stronger than the pull of Holy Spirit, I must wash myself and make myself pure of mind and heart. This comes by the washing of the Word of God. As I feed on the words written in the Scriptures, my mind is purified from the voices of the world that have steady fed me lies. As we eat of the abundance of truth, we wash away the effects of the lies. It’s in this that we find a voice of hope speaking gently from the Throne of Grace.
Some would say the time for prayer is over; it’s time for action! I would tell that person, “You have no idea what prayer really is!” Prayer is the place where action must start! Prayer is the place where action is birthed. Prayer is the place we anchor the motives of our heart to the heart of God. Prayer is the most powerful action we can take. Prayer, when properly applied to our lives will help lead us in the darkest moments. Jesus prayed and the out flow of those prayers not only flipped a few tables in the temple, but also fed thousands who wanted to use and abuse Him (cf. Jn 2:13-22, Jn 6:1-14). What if He wasn’t a man of prayer, only a man of action? I honestly can’t answer that question. If Jesus wasn’t driven by prayer, He wouldn’t be the Messiah, our Savior and Lord. He’d just be another empty voice shouting in the crowds of history.
Without prayer, our actions will be more injustice than the injustice we seek to fight. Without prayer, our actions will be more hate-filled, than the hate that’s attacked us. Without prayer, we will fail to listen to others.
After hearing from God, we must then listen to othersand count them better than ourselves (cf. Philippians 2:3). How can we act when we don’t know how to act? How can we speak when we don’t know what’s being said? How can we win if we don’t know what the enemy is doing in, through and to others?
We must listen. After we have inclined our ears to the Truth of God, we must then incline them to the suffering of our brothers and sisters. Until we are willing to hear what they have to say, we won’t know how we should help. We won’t know what we should say. We won’t know whose signs are speaking to the issue at hand. We will simply see a moment to enter into the flesh.
But if we listen, we’ll position ourselves to speak rightly. Then our anger will be fueled by truth and justice, rather than by a useless anger of the flesh. For such anger will not accomplish what God, our Creator, desires to accomplish. We who follow Jesus must be a listening people.
We must be a people of the Spirit
In all of this we can still miss the mark. We can hear God and the crowds and still respond in the flesh. If we walk in the flesh, we will respond in the flesh! The Apostle Paul encourages us in this:
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians5:16-24ESV)
This list that Paul gives that he calls “the fruits of the flesh” will categorically, without condition, cause absolute destruction in our lives. When we are driven by the flesh, we are driven by a desire to gratify ourselves. Usually, to the detriment of those around us. We will seek momentary pleasures at the cost of eternal joy.
Such fruits will produce the things contrary to what will heal the deep wounds that ravage our communities. When we are driven by fits of anger, jealousy, rivalries, dissensions and divisions, there is no other outcome but total unrest, anxiety, hatred, fear, and prolonged pain. Such emotions will lead us to full-on self and societal destruction. Such fruits will feed not the love of God in us but the love of self. Such love will reap only destruction, both mortally and eternally.
But those who are of the Spirit will produce a life that will bring forth life around them. As one who has walked in the flesh quite a bit, I know its depths of pain and hold a greater appreciation for the contrast between the two lives. When I walked in the flesh, I walked in death. Yet when I chose Jesus as the one I would worship, I found a spring of life. He planted this spring within my soul and allowed it to bubble up with fresh, reviving waters (cf. Jn. 4:14).
We who follow Jesus will become a spring of life. We’ll walk with love. We’ll become beacons of joy and harbors of peace. Our hearts will fill with the fresh waters of patience, kindness and goodness directed towards our environment and those who occupy it. His Hands and Heart become ours, empowered by faithfulness, seeking to be gentle and of self-control.
Yes, we who follow Christ, who are in Him, we have crucified the flesh to walk in the Spirit! We have embraced death to walk in true life. We have let loose the temporary shelters of our pleasure to grab hold of eternal dwellings of His Spirit! We have been set free of the bonds of slavery to this world so that we may fully love!
“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galatians5:13-14ESV)
May we who follow Christ be a people full of wisdom and love. May we be careful who we allow to lead us in the storms. May we be a people cautious of the shouting voices in the crowds. There among them are wolves sent in by Satan to devour with deception. A deception that will lead us into walking in the flesh. But if we walk in the Spirit, then His truth will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus!