There is an old adage…
“You can’t judge a book by its cover.”
The problem is, we live in a time of sound-bite-driven and movie-trailer-style culture. We want to be able to wrap up our assessments of others into nice, neat packages, put a bow on them, and divide life into “simple” categories. We want to define others by how they fit into our agenda, without the messiness or benefit of personal relationship. We have become “experts” at the 30-Second Evaluation, without considering the years (and moments) leading up to that evaluation. We don’t often take into account the bad morning (of history of events leading up to that bad morning) before we pass judgment. We look to the surface of appearance and circumstance without considering the depth of another person’s experience, psyche, or soul.
So how do we remedy this as a society? How do we regain the decency and humanity we have lost in our social-media-driven, sit-com addicted culture? Here’s three ideas that may be a good place for you and me to start…
It sounds a little simplistic, and a bit of a throwback to the ’90’s (remember the WWJD bracelets?), but there’s a lot of truth in that little acronym. “What would Jesus do?” is a legitimate question, especially for anyone who calls himself or herself a follower of His. So, when it comes to relationships, what is the example He sets for us? How did Jesus treat those close to Him? We find in the Gospels many examples of how He responded to people in various situations.
- After Peter denied Him, He gave Him another chance without throwing His failure up in His face (John 21).
- When the woman accused of adultery was brought before Him, He offered her mercy, then with a simple question, shined a light on the hypocrisy of her accusers (John 8).
- He wept at the loss of a friend (John 11), lovingly corrected Martha over her frustration with Mary (Luke 10), and used the Truth as a defense in the light of criticism.
- He quietly dismissed Judas from the upper room and Last Supper without calling attention to his imminent betrayal.
So how does Jesus see those around you; the odd, disagreeable, quirky, and unpleasant? In the face of the misfortune of another, would Jesus break out His camera phone and put that misfortune on public display, or would He pick that person up and become an agent of healing?
ACTION STEP: Before you react to another person, make the decision to ask yourself how Jesus would respond in that situation. Better yet… ask Him.
Open your eyes.
In the “ME” culture in which we live, it’s easy to pass by and not notice the suffering of those around us. When we are surrounded on every side by voices that are telling us to “look out for #1”, we must make a conscious effort to get out from in front of the mirror, get our noses out of our smart phones, and stop staring at the ground. We must notice what is going on around us, the beauty of God’s creation, and the needs of others at the end of our reach. It’s amazing, for a society as connected and “caught on camera” as we are, that we have become as blind to the needs of others as we have. Jesus didn’t wait for someone to come into the synagogue to be healed or ministered to. He hit the streets, visited the homes of “publicans and sinners”, and made Himself available to the masses. His life was the antithesis of the self-preservation mindset we see today.
ACTION STEP: Commit a couple of times a day (for starters) that, when you go into a public place, you are going to turn off your ringer, put up your cellphone, and take notice of those around you, looking for a way to be of assistance to someone else.
One of the things that drives me crazy about politics is when, in a debate or interview, someone won’t answer a direct question. It is as though they have paid no attention to the question, and simply use their response as an opportunity to change the subject, and advance their own agenda. In the Bible, the apostle James encourages us to be “quick to listen and slow to speak…” (James 1:19). Too often, instead of really listening to what someone else is saying, we are simply working on formulating a pithy or intellectual response while they are talking. We are HEARING, but not truly LISTENING. Really listening requires undivided attention, focusing on the person who is speaking, and if they are in front of you (ie: not on the phone), observing facial expression and body language. There was a time not long ago when we were NOT connected 24/7; NOT constantly looking at Facebook and Snapchat, and NOT at the instant beck-and-call of every email or phone call. And you know what? We survived! We probably had a better quality of life, and definitely had better interpersonal relationship skills. Honestly, short of some sort of personal or dire emergency, when you are having a conversation, there should be nothing more important at that moment than the person sitting across from you with whom you are conversing.
A group of ministry friends of mine were having dinner with the pastor of a church where they were ministering; five or six men sitting in a restaurant conversing over a meal. About three-quarters of the way through the meal, the pastor looked up and exclaimed, “I just want to point out something. As we have been sitting here, the thing I have noticed is the way John (one of the guys at the table) has engaged everyone here. He has been listening to everyone, and has made it a point to draw every person here at the table into the conversation. That is a rare and wonderful ability.” In pointing out this observation about John, the pastor revealed that he, too, had been listening and observing, and had taken an interest in all of the men at the table. He was right… these days, that is a rare ability. Too often, we simply use our silence as the time in which we formulate our next opportunity to say something seemingly wise or clever.
ACTION STEP: The next time you sit down for a meeting, dinner, or just a conversation, encourage those you are with to turn off their phones, and put them in a place to the side, out of sight and mind. Whatever it is, it can wait. Commit to being a better listener.
We are made in God’s image, and it is the nature of God to want communion and fellowship with us, His creation. We all need someone to confide in, someone to talk to, and someone to listen to. It preserves our humanity. It makes us (and others) less lonely. It improves the quality of our lives and the lives of those around us.
For those of us who are believers in Christ, I am reminded of this saying…
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
So, I encourage you… saddle up, head out, go forth, and reconnect with the world around you. See others the way Jesus does, and take the time to draw them into your circle.
By drawing them into your circle, you might find them drawn into His heart.