You are a strange bird (or, What it means to love like Jesus)

You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. – 1 Peter 2:9

We are peculiar people. We’re designed that way. Christians aren’t supposed to look like the rest of the world. We like the hard case, the loose cannon, the one in the margins, because Jesus does. He has a preference for the poor and those who struggle and because he loves, we do.

Christians are known, in fact, for the way we treat the least lovable among us. How do we love those who struggle like Jesus loves them?

Hang in there with those who struggle. Tony Campolo says, “If you want to win people to Jesus, you first have to love them.” Too often, people who follow Jesus react in fear when they are faced with someone who struggles with sexual brokenness or addiction or emotional wounds. But the Bible teaches us that perfect love casts out all fear. Jesus is our model. Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry and ate with sinners. Those who follow him will hang in there with those who struggle.

Pray for anyone who struggles with any issue that keeps them from the abundant life. There is a sense that Christians are supposed to live to avoid pain. We celebrate healing as the ultimate sign of Jesus’ presence and power, but then we pray too small. As if our own personal deliverance from a headache is the most a cosmic redeemer can muster. “Well, the world is a shambles, but at least my head feels better.” Is that the redeemer we want? Is that the redeemer of the Bible?

Why not spend your faith on bigger things?

Let your heart break in prayer over someone in your life who deals with sexual brokenness. Or start praying every day for an alcoholic or an addict. Or pray in tears for God to save every person you love who isn’t saved. Why not shake the gates of hell for someone every day for a month and see what happens? Because your headache can be handled with an aspirin, but the world is full of people who cannot change or will not change until we pray.

Be a friend. You know the old saying, right? “People don’t care what you know until they know you care.” It is a cliche because it is true. Our job is not to fill every need or ease every discomfort. That’s a formula for burn-out. What we can do is simply be a friend who listens, prays and loves … a friend who cares.

Don’t define anyone by their struggle. None of us wants to be labeled according to our sins or issues. Grace doesn’t define people by their struggles, but by the blood of Jesus. If the gospel were to boil down to one issue, it would not be someone’s sin. It would be grace. That doesn’t mean we ignore sin or normalize it, but that we are able to look more deeply at what defines people so we see them as more than their worst moment.

Practice humility. We can’t possibly know all the reasons someone struggles with a hurt, habit or hang-up. Humility requires us to assume that they suffer just as legitimately as we do. It also requires us to be honest about our own weaknesses. In their shoes, we might be just as much of a mess. Humility cautions us to wait for the Lord to move first because only the Lord can change a life.

That’s how Christians act. We are peculiar people — people who love profoundly, who hang on way past good sense, who believe that the Holy Spirit uses odd people to advance the Kingdom of God.

And when we act like Jesus, the world will call us peculiar but the Word will call us blessed.

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Is there anything left to be done (or are we sunk)?

I am not a victim.

There are plenty of things in this world I can control. Whether I want to admit it or not, I can make all kinds of things happen that will improve my life. I can will myself to exercise, diet, save money, do Bible study. Heck, I can even make myself cook every day if I want it badly enough (clearly, I don’t).

There are things I can will into existence and things I can’t. There are character flaws, sinful inclinations, health issues and broken relationships I cannot control no matter how hard I try.

In fact, sometimes trying seems to make it worse.

Followers of Jesus discovered this principle in a marketplace one day when they were asked to heal a woman’s child. They tried all the techniques shown them by Jesus himself. They put their faith on the line and called on God to act.

Nothing happened.

Try as they might, they got only frustration. Then Jesus showed up and with a gesture, accomplished the healing. Later in a private conversation, they asked him why they couldn’t make this thing happen. Jesus said, “Some things only come out by prayer and fasting.”

But they had prayed. Clearly, calling on God to heal someone is prayer, right? What did fasting add that prayer didn’t?

Fasting is the deep water of the spiritual life. There is a mystery to it that defies definition. There is a discipline to it, also. Nothing will cut through our impure motives and unhealthy agendas quicker than this spiritual discipline.

What makes fasting so effective?

Bill Bright, the man who founded Campus Crusade for Christ, says fasting is “a biblical way to truly humble yourself in the sight of God (Psalm 35:13; Ezra 8:21).” King David said, “I humble myself through fasting.” Not a prophet or king, Nehemiah was an average guy who loved the Lord and loved his people. When he heard that the wall of Jerusalem had been destroyed, he was crushed. He sat down and wept and for days he mourned, fasted, and prayed to God. He repented on behalf of a nation. It was a wake-up call for him. His people had allowed their inheritance to slip through their fingers.

In that season of fasting and prayer, Nehemiah gained a vision for rebuilding the walls, a vision that rode in on the wind of humility.

Fasting humbles us. It is an act of obedience. It is proof that discipline matters to God.

Bright says fasting “enables the Holy Spirit to reveal your true spiritual condition, resulting in brokenness, repentance, and a transformed life.” And as we begin to cut through the agendas and see truth more clearly and as we honestly begin to repent of unconfessed sin, we experience more blessings from God.

Fasting will transform your prayer life. But let me state the obvious: fasting is tough.

No healthy person likes missing a meal (in fact, if you’re someone who misses a lot of meals due to unhealthy body image issues, you probably shouldn’t fast). Combine that with the fact that fasting will put you in touch with your truest motives and it is no wonder we avoid it so religiously (pun intended).

The fact is, nine out of ten of my motives stink and painful as it can be, fasting and prayer together help me face up to that fact in a way that opens me to a higher knowing. When my motives are more pure, my worship of God is more real and my prayers are more effective.

No wonder the enemy of our souls would rather we find a reason not to fast!

As a corporate discipline, fasting can have a mighty effect on a community. Some years ago, our church entered into 21 days of fasting to prepare for the purchase of our building. I am convinced that our spiritual preparation paved the way for the success of that campaign. Since then, we’ve made an annual habit of corporate fasting. We’ll fast again as a church in January.

I wonder, though, if now might be the time to call all Christians in our country to fast and pray for a renewal of spirit and for Kingdom vision. What if, as Maxie Dunnam says, there are some things God cannot do or will not do until or unless we pray? Spiritual fathers through the ages assure us that God honors this kind of sacrifice. What if prayer is the best offense we have as we move into the final days of this election season? What if fasting is how our country moves from spiritual sloth to a great awakening?

Through fasting and prayer, the Holy Spirit can transform our lives, our families, our churches, our leaders, our communities, our country, our world. It isn’t about forcing God’s hand but finding where he is at work so we can join him. God said, “When you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you” (Jeremiah 29:13, 14). When a person sets aside something important to concentrate on the work of praying, they are demonstrating that they mean business, that they are seeking God with all their heart.

Wondering if there is anything left to be done with this anxious season? Or are we sunk? Nope. We are not victims. We are people with access to the power that raised Lazarus from the dead. Some are tired of hearing Christians say, “All I know to do is pray.” But what if that is exactly what God is waiting for? What if a torrent of prayer is not our last hope, but our best hope?

Another thing Maxie has said: “Our country is a mess. Our (UMC) denomination is a mess. We are ripe for revival!” Yes. The question is, are we hungry enough yet to see God do a new thing that we’ll miss a meal, humble ourselves and pray?

Fast and pray. Seek God’s face. And may God richly bless all of us who seek to serve Him in the world.

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