Have felt so tired for the last couple of weeks of term that I’ve not had time to write. I’m planning on getting the next five posts out before 31st January, and will post them up on my Facebook and Twitter account so keep your eyes peeled for more. Please let me know what you think!
Actions speak louder than words.
I don’t know about you, but it’s frustrating when people say they will do something, but don’t. It happens in the public sphere. It happens at work quite a lot. It happens in church. It happens with friends and acquaintances.
This hypocrisy doesn’t stop at me. If I’m overwhelmed by a statistic, for a couple of days, I can’t stop going on and on about it to anyone who will listen. And then a week passes, and it’s completely forgotten. I forget to buy Fairtrade bananas. I forget about the thousands of people younger than me who are trafficked in this country. I block out what happens in the news.
I used to say a lot to brothers and sisters, ‘I’ll pray for you’. Now, I try not to do that, because I know that I’ll probably forget. Where possible, I try and pray for them there and then after they’ve told me about something. And when I proclaim I love others more than I used to, I conveniently forget that actually I don’t love people a lot of the time. There are times in the week when I’m unkind and impatient towards them. Even if it’s just pavement rage, tube rage, bus rage, queue rage, phone rage, Facebook rage…
It’s easy to focus on people’s behaviour and actions, because that’s what we see, and what can be visibly rectified. We’re used to being told to change the way we act. Charities do it by telling us to change our giving habits. Schools did it by rebuking us when we broke the rules. If anyone sees us break the law in this country, whether they know or care for us, one misdemeanour is enough to bring about some serious consequences. Magazines, television programmes, celebrities and Youtubers constantly give us top tips on how to become better versions of ourselves. And even preachers and pastors often tell us to change the way we live. We are naturally legalistic and action-focused.
Throughout the scheme, I was very aware that there were students who were happy to meet up with me, who said they were Christians but didn’t go to church or CU or a small group. And there were students I met once at church and whom I never saw at church again. It was baffling. What they said didn’t match up with their actions. If they really loved Jesus, why didn’t they get stuck into church? If they really cared about the non-Christians in their lives, why didn’t they take full advantage of their university Christian Union, one of the missionary arms of the church?
As it’s not natural for me to be confrontational with other adults, I didn’t berate them (at least, not to my memory). But I remember pleading with them, opening Ephesians 4 with them, and asking what was holding them back. And after we parted ways, I felt so frustrated at how spiritually short-sighted they were, and that I was powerless to help them.
It didn’t occur to me until towards the end of the scheme, that my attitude towards tackling change wasn’t right. Throughout the year, we had sessions on worldviews, and student workers would frequently talk about how they were really important.
I assumed a worldview was a world faith, but I gradually learnt that it just means what someone thinks about the world, life and God. It varies from person to person. And even within different types of people groups, there is great diversity. So if someone calls themselves a Christian, it doesn’t automatically mean that they think church is important. It doesn’t mean they automatically value the Bible as God’s word. Sometimes, it doesn’t even mean that they understand the good news in the first place.
And when it comes to knowing God’s truth, it is God’s word working in us which changes our attitudes. There’s a bit in the first section of Colossians, which explains this really well:
‘9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks[d] to the Father, who has qualified you[e] to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.’ (Colossians 1:3-12)
Here’s a very basic diagram illustrating my understanding of how a worldview affects someone’s behaviour i.e. how one is filled with knowledge of God’s will, and how that knowledge causes them to be more godly (Colossians 1:9-10).
It starts with God’s word being taught. God is actively at work through His word, and what we hear goes into our heads. Then God’s power is at work within us – sometimes on a head level, so we can be struck by a sermon immediately afterwards, but not think about it much after that. And sometimes on a heart level. It’s like there are buttons in our souls where, if pressed, our understanding can be utterly changed.
And by dwelling on God’s word, hearing God speak to us changes our attitudes – it aligns our hearts with His heart. And this means that God changes the way we act, feel and speak. And as we look back over the years, we can see God’s word at work in our lives, bearing fruit – real lasting change in godliness.
The right approach to change
With those students, I should have taken time to understand their worldview. I often came to those one-to-ones full of assumptions about what they told me based on my own experience of church and university life. I wasn’t even aware that I was doing this. And though there is nothing I can do about it now, and God loves to use us in our weaknesses, it makes me wish I had gone about it in a more mindful way. Instead of focusing on their actions (or lack of), it should have been a process of examining their thought processes. Asking those questions which I thought I couldn’t ask, and constantly thinking – what does this unique individual think of God, and the Bible and life, and what can I use in God’s word to guide them to the truth?
As one heavily involved in church since understanding the gospel, it can be so easy to dismiss people I see who attend but don’t get involved as selfish, ignorant and disobedient to God’s word. I know that there are other Christians who do the same thing, especially ones in the generation above, who get grumpy about people not serving on rotas and the like. I need to constantly remind myself that the reason why people don’t get involved in church often runs deeper than being ‘too busy’. It stems from spiritual misunderstandings and perhaps real difficulties, which needs to be addressed sensitively, perhaps over coffee or a cup of tea , with an open Bible.
Equally, just because I regularly go to church, have got stuck into a small group and persevere to pray and read my Bible every day, I definitely don’t always have the right attitude. Very often I catch myself thinking that I’m doing it because I have to, and not because I’m pursuing a relationship with the loving and patient God who made me. Often I’m like Martha, Jesus’s friend, who is so preoccupied with serving that she doesn’t see her relationship with the Lord as the most important thing which should spur on her serving. (Luke 10:38-42)
Let’s not be too quick to judge, to write people off, to only focus on attendees who are keen and hungry for more – let’s not stop loving those on the fringes. We must constantly pray for them, be aware of them in meetings, invite them to things outside church, introduce them to other believers, befriend them, bear with them. Let’s always remember to look beyond what we can observe, and care more about what God is capable of within all people.