We have three normal reactions to people who are hurting or who have done something we don’t agree with. I call them normal because they are patterns of response we typically fall into when confronted with a challenge in someone’s life.
The first reaction is to retreat from them. Retreat means to pull back or get away from. We often do that because we simply don’t know what to do for the person, or we may fear helping them will involve too much time or effort.
The second reaction is to reprove the person. Reprove means to correct or reprimand. It is almost impossible to refrain from telling someone, “You should have known better” when they have done something foolish or wrong and has resulted in them getting in trouble. Correcting them requires nothing of us except for judgment, which is so easy to make and deliver. Other phrases used in reprimanding are, “What were you thinking of?” “I told you not to do that.” “You have it coming.” All of these judgments may be true, but they are likely not helpful.
The third reaction is to refer them. We may refer them to a counselor, preacher or some other person who has some expertise with the sin or problem they are struggling with. (From Larry Crabb, Connecting, 25).
Retreat, reprove, or refer, are three relatively easy and normal approaches to handling problem-laden relationships. Sometimes they are appropriate. But, more often they are ways for us to avoid the more time-consuming and laborious task of entering into someone’s life and helping them.
How do we help people who are struggling with tough issues? How do we impact them with the compassion of Jesus?
Jesus is the best example of how to enter into the life of hurting souls and connect with them. Jesus didn’t retreat, reprove or refer people to avoid their ailments; he entered deeply into their lives and problems.
“The Son of Man came neither eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’” Matt. 11:19. Jesus entered so deeply into the lives of others that he became associated with their behaviors and lifestyles. We might question if that is a wise course of action today. Do we want our preachers, elders, deacons, and Sunday School teachers confused with the cast of people Jesus was confused with? We might also ask, Do we love as Jesus loved?
Two, look eagerly for the goodness in someone’s heart, and look for the passions that drive their choices. You may be able to use these insights to steer their decisions into healthier directions.
Three, expose the sin and pain in someone’s heart to the grace and kindness of the savior. Exposing sin doesn’t mean we call people out on everything they do, or correct every misstep we perceive they make, or announce eternal judgment over them. It means that as we visit, talk, and gain the confidence of people, we can discuss the tough and sensitive issues that plague their hearts. (Connecting, 21).
I believe that is exactly what Jesus did. When he was sitting with the tax collectors and sinners he became one with them, identified with them, and entered their lives. He didn’t enter their lives to participate in the sin and dysfunction with them; he entered to shine the light of God’s grace and mercy into their darkest corners, and they loved him for it. Lives were transformed then, and are today, when people bearing the love of Christ care.