Have you ever been with somebody who was praying and in his/her prayer they said something that made you open your eyes and go like…
Yeah…I have. I was with a group of friends about nine years ago during a prayer meeting and my friend Paul prayed, “God you are the kindest person I know…” My eyes flew open, I made a face similar to the picture above and thought to myself, “Is he really serious right now?”
I was at a point in my life when I was really questioning my faith. I was struggling with some big questions about who God was and mainly asking the question: is God good? Truth be told, I didn’t really believe so. How could a good God allow so much bad in a world that He supposedly loved and created? People, Christians and skeptics alike, have been asking this question for ages.Sometimes you will meet Christians who will dismiss the question and give a really pat answer like, “Everything happens for a reason…” which to me isn’t helpful, satisfying and teaches me nothing about who God is. Though I do understand why people say it… My guess is that for those people it can offer some sort of relief from the greater tension. Instead of having to confront the question, it is a way out.
However, I entered the tension full force and lived in a state of extreme discontentment with God for about three years. It felt like every day I would wake up and be in a constant argument with God.
“Who are you?”
“I don’t like you?”
“Why do you do things like…?”
“Why do you allow things like…?”
“How could I ever trust you?”
“Who are you?”
Those were my prayers over and over again. I talked to pastors, counselors, my friends, professors and nothing helped. If anything, I felt the distance between God and me growing. There were times when I was literally sick to my stomach because these questions and struggles were too much to comprehend or handle. Until one day, I was sitting on the floor in my room alone, and I told God, “I don’t really know that I can trust you. I don’t know that I really like you, but I’m here. I’m here, I’m in the corner, I’m not coming over there (to you), but I’m here.”
That weird little prayer began the three year journey that would change my life. As I said above, I began praying really honest prayers and I would wait and I would listen. Eventually my friends started a prayer group and after six months of telling them I would not come to it, I showed up.
That’s when I heard Paul pray his prayer, “God you are the kindest person I know…” And that’s also when I started wondering what kind of drugs Paul was using. (Juuuuuust kidding.) However, for whatever reason, his prayer that night changed the course of my prayers and really my life. It was like a cloud was being lifted and despite the entire struggle I was in the middle of I began thinking, “Could God really be kind? How can somebody know this?” So, after that night, I began to pray one prayer over and over again, “God, show me who you are.”
I literally prayed that prayer for about a year straight. “God show me who you are.” The amazing aspect of this story is that God did indeed show up. I think all along He was showing me who He was. I think it was an important three years for me as a pastor and person to go through and I think, despite it feeling like the lowest point in my life, it was a necessary faith building experience. However, God also very much showed me who He was.
One random night, during a time of prayer, I was surrounded by such an overwhelming presence that I could not move. Every ounce of darkness that hovered over me, every ounce of fear, every question I had immediately disappeared and as I lay paralyzed on the floor I experienced the brightest light, greatest joy, most peace I have ever felt in my entire life. It was so incredible and amazing that these words I am writing do not do it justice and I remember saying one thing, “God, if this is who you are, what have I been so afraid of?”
I felt like I understood Paul’s prayer. I had had an experience with the living God and indeed, He was the kindest person (though obviously not really a person) I knew.
It’s been nine years now and life has moved on. I’ve never had an experience like that again…and I don’t know if I ever will. But I was brought back to it this week as I was doing some reading for our church. Our church is currently in the middle of reading a book together. As part of this study, each day, we read through and answer a list of questions. This week there was a list of Bible verses we were supposed to look up and answer questions about and the one thing that continued to stand out to me as I read each verse was how compassionate Jesus was.
I think this hit me because our church has been on a journey to figure out what does it really look like to follow Jesus? Anybody can call themselves Christians, and plenty do, but if I am really going to be somebody who follows Christ or follows Jesus, how does that change and impact my life? This week, I felt like God was challenging me on my current levels of compassion.
Though I had asked the question nine years ago if God was truly a kind God, I am now asking the question about myself? Am I a kind person? More than that, am I a compassionate person? I know God, through what I have experienced, is a compassionate God. I read in the Bible things like:
- Jesus performed miracles, despite not wanting to, because people asked him. (John 2)
- Jesus met with people late at night and talked with them because they showed up wanting to talk. (John 3)
- Jesus hung out with aliens and outcasts and whores and people that others just would not associate with and offered them redemption and hope because they crossed his path. (John 4, John 8)
- Jesus healed people who showed up unannounced and at inconvenient times because they asked him to. (John 4, Luke 5)
- Jesus noticed when people walked by him and were sad. (Luke 7)
And I think, Jesus was such a compassionate person.
Stories like these go on and on. I used to think that Jesus just went around looking for all the good he could do and then did it, but really, people actually sought Jesus out and interrupted him…a lot.That says something.
Jesus was the type of person others came to for hope.
Jesus was the type of person who could be trusted to handle what the people brought.
In these interruptions, Jesus continually displayed compassion and kindness. He stopped and listened to people, he stopped and offered healing to people, he stopped and talked to people that others would not give the time of day. He fed people, he stood up for people, he noticed people and called them by name. He gave second chances. Jesus was such a compassionate person.
If I am serious about following Jesus I must ask myself the question: am I a compassionate person? Do I allow myself to be interrupted throughout the day? Do I see people for who they are, created and loved beings made by the hand of God? Am I offering the same type of compassion that Jesus offered? Can people know the kindness of God through the life I lead?
It’s easy to call myself a Christian. It’s a lot a harder to live like Jesus lived. It’s a lot harder still to submit myself to God and allow him to change me into the type of person he is.
This is the prayer I am praying for myself this morning:
God, may I know you more greatly. May I continue to experience your amazing compassion in my life. Change the parts in me that do not line up with who you are. Help me to see those whom you see. Let me be quick to offer your kindness to each person despite inconvenience, uncomfortability, prejudices and time. Let my life be a testament to who you are and your great love. And please let my baby come soon because I’m tired of being so big and pregnant. In Jesus name, Amen.