In light of the recent events that happened last Thursday night in Dallas, my post is going to be a little different from the norm, but I do hope you read it and get something positive from it. It’s based on an amazing sermon I heard this past Sunday at my church. It really answered the question of how to respond when bad things happen. So, while much of this post is not specific to religion, there is some Christian truth embedded throughout.
Bad things happen every day all around us, but when it happens in your community, it seems to have a greater power. It hits closer to home.
During these times, we struggle to know what to do and how to respond. What do we do from here? How do we pray, for what do we pray?
How can we be a part of the change that our community and nation so desperately needs? One of the things my pastor said that so profoundly stood out to me is “If you want to make a difference, you have to be different”.
You can’t make a difference being just like everybody else. This is not a religious truth; it’s a life truth. If you want to make a difference in your community, your neighborhood, your business, you have to be different. You have to think and act differently than everyone else.
This is such a difficult truth to recognize living in a world that encourages us to be the same and fit in with everyone else.
In the case of acts of hate and persecution, it means responding with love rather than retaliating with hate. Love is the antidote for everything that ails the world, including terrible acts of violence.
If you are a religious or spiritual person and you believe in God, then chances are, you believe that we live in God’s kingdom. This world is His creation. We are His creation. You may also believe that we live by His power and for His glory. In fact, this is exactly how the Lord’s prayer ends – “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever”.
I believe, as many of you do, that God is the king of this world and of my life. The ultimate authority over the world and over my life is not me; it’s God. The reason is because God knows things I don’t know, and He sees things that I don’t see. Therefore, God is more fit to be the authority of my life than I am.
I believe the world is organized and orchestrated in a particular way, and God gives us the knowledge and wisdom to know how best to live in this world. And the bible walks through what this way of life looks like. And you know what the primary theme is? LOVE. In fact, the underlying message of most religions centers around love.
The sermon focused on Matthew 5-8 because it describes the best way to live in this world. Matthew 5:43-44 states, “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend and hate your enemy’. I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer.”
Wow that is powerful. Love your enemies and pray for those who are persecuting you. Respond out of love rather than hate. React with unity, not division.
What would it look like if we began to pray for our enemies? What if we started to pray not just for the great, evil forces that we know about, but we also begin to pray for the small enemies in our lives. What if we prayed for those people who we feel are causing the most trouble in our lives, whether it’s a work colleague, a family member, a friend, or an acquaintance?
As I’m writing this, I’m realizing how resistant I am to actually do this. It’s so hard; yet so crucial. If you want to make a difference, you have to be different.
We are also called to love God and love others. Matthew 22.37-40 states, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself.” We are all children of God, brothers and sisters, regardless of color, race, gender, or social status.
I see people close to me respond so negatively when tragic events happen and they begin expressing hateful, angry comments against a specific group of people, and it just breaks my heart. They start blaming an entire people group (race, religion, etc.) for the acts of a few people, and their reaction is filled with hate.
But then I realize that I do the same thing sometimes too. When someone personally attacks me or hurts someone close to me, I respond with hate and anger towards that person. Usually not outwardly, but it starts to manifest inwardly. And those feelings tend to linger, causing me much distress for several days. I have a tough time with forgiveness, and I’m certainly not praying for that person.
The thought of loving my enemies feels almost impossible, and praying for them seems out of the question. But that’s what we’re called to do, and the only way we can do that is by God’s power. We’re simply too weak to do it on our own.
When we live by God’s power, we can do things we could have never done on our own. He can do things greater than we could ever ask for or imagine.
When you look back historically at the people who’ve made the biggest impact on our country, they are men and women who are called to do what they were doing by God’s power and were empowered to do what they were doing by God’s power.
My pastor gave the example of Jackie Robinson who broke the color barrier in major league baseball during a time of much racial division. He was invited into Branch Rickey’s office not because he was the best baseball player, but because he was a good baseball player and because Branch had heard Jackie was very strong in his faith.
In that first meeting, they didn’t just talk about baseball, they talked about how it was going to be almost impossible for Jackie to do this. The only way he was going to be able to do it was if God was working in him and enabling him to love his enemies and pray for the people who were persecuting him.
Before every game, Jackie would pray that he would have the courage not to strike back against those who were physically and verbally persecuting him. I can’t imagine being in his position. I don’t think he could have done that by his own power. I don’t think anyone could endure that by their own power. And Jackie made a profound and positive impact in the world of baseball and our nation.
If you want to make a difference perhaps it’s best to evaluate your progress from a different lens. Don’t evaluate how you’re doing based upon how the people around you are reacting. Rather, evaluate how you’re doing as a change agent based on Matthew 5-7. Are you living in His kingdom, by his principles? Are you living by your power, or are you letting His power work through you? Are you living for yourself for something bigger than you – for His glory?
If you’re living according to these 3 principles, you’re making a difference whether you see it or not. I don’t know about you, but I have some work to do. I understand none of us are perfect, but we can certainly take steps and make changes to live a life of love and service toward others. Be the positive change that you want to see in this world. What does that look like for you?