Several years ago, I had two individuals in one of my congregations who monopolized my time. Every week they came up to me sharing their woes, asking for advice and just wanting to talk—about anything. There were several occasions when I missed other important conversations because one of these individuals was bending my ear.
I’m ashamed to admit I got to the point where I tried to avoid these encounters. I even had others run interference for me. I’ll never forget the one Sunday I was driving home, and I told my wife it was a great day at church, I didn’t have to talk to either one of these individuals. She just looked at me and smiled—you know, one of those smiles that lets you know she’s about to say something you don’t really want to hear. I can’t recall exactly what she said, but it was one of those moments when the Holy Spirit talks to you and sounds just like your wife.
I spent time in prayer that week asking God to help me see those two individuals through his eyes. The first thing he reminded me was both of these people were as precious to him as I was. I needed to focus on who they were—beloved children of God—rather than on their behavior or how much of my time they took.
A few weeks later as I walked into church and saw one of these individuals, I saw something I’d never noticed before. I saw hurt, and fear, and an incredible desire to be acknowledged and heard. Rather than look for an escape, I looked this person in the eye and said, “Tell me about your week.” Then I listened. I didn’t try to fix anything, I simply listened. Later that same Sunday I had a chance to interact with the other person in the same way.
For a few weeks I sought them out to see how they were doing. I showed them I was interested and that I cared. When I saw them from God’s perspective, I wasn’t thinking about my time, or my desires—I was focused on them—the hurt and rejection they had experienced for a long time. They simply wanted to belong and be accepted.
Within weeks, they were no longer monopolizing my time. They still came up to me, but it was often for just a few minutes to share something that had happened. I was amazed at the transformation, which began when I started treating them like they mattered—which they do.
I’ve carried that lesson and I’ve shared it a number of times. It’s helped me in relationships in church, and in relationships in the community. This is part of the Love Venue found in healthy churches.
A big part of the Love Venue is reaching out to our communities and sharing God’s love with others. This can be intimidating, but I believe one of the best things to pray as we prepare to reach out or walk through our church community is to ask God to help us see people the way he does. Ask him to help you recognize they are his beloved children—some of whom don’t yet know they have a Father who loves them. Ask God to help you notice things, hear things, and open up when opportunities arise. Ask him to help you treat others as his children—because that’s who they are. Ask him to help you not look at others as being lost in the sense of not belonging, but more as those who don’t realize they do belong.
Ask God to help you love your community and the people in it. It’s easy to say we love the community, but communities are made of people. We should be asking God to help us love the people. And there again, it’s easy to love people from a distance; we should be asking God to help us find ways to love them in relationship. When you are in relationship you can see people the way God sees them. This takes time.
So how do we start? Walk the neighborhood around your church and keep praying as you do.
As you are walking and praying, be observant. Don’t just notice someone is present, look at them. Smile. Say hello. If they ask what you are up to, tell them you are walking the neighborhood because you want to become more familiar with it. If they ask, tell them you are with a church who wants to serve the neighborhood and the best way to serve is to get to know the people.
Over time, some will come out and start chatting. As they do, focus the chats on getting to know them. Be interested in them. Ask about their job, their family, the things they like about the neighborhood. Don’t throw your stories in unless they ask. Show interest in their story.
People desire affirmation and acceptance. They desire to be seen and heard. They desire to belong. These are the needs we help fill when we share God’s love and life with them. This is the Love Venue.
Still learning to see through his eyes,
Rick Shallenberger, Editor