The local church here in Pretoria is currently busy with a theme called Faith for Tough Times.
One of the first things I thought when I saw the phrase "faith for tough times" is that perhaps one of the greatest, and most important, acts of faith during tough times is to avoid closing oneself off from God and from others.
Maybe it's related to the whole "fight, flight, or freeze" thing. But often, when hard things come, we humans close off. We close off relationships when someone hurts us. We stop investing in organizations, family, or church when we a group or leader fails us. We stop tithing or giving offerings in times of broad economic or personal financial crisis.
It's natural, and intuitive. But I'd like to suggest that it's counterproductive.
A dear friend of mine said something crazy to me in 1993. He'd just been betrayed, profoundly and painfully, by one of his closest associates. The individual had quietly conspired with about a third of my friend's contacts, luring them away to start a competing venture. It was a costly, difficult, and painful time. As the dust was beginning to settle, we were chatting late one night in a parking lot and I asked him what he was going to do.
"I'm going to trust again. Eventually, I'm going to get burned again. But, Mike, I'd rather get burned a hundred times and still love people than close myself off."
I've never forgotten this. I was pretty young in 1993 (and pretty stupid, but that's another story for another day...), and I've always been grateful to have heard this message of forgiveness, trust, and living richly before I ever went through anything difficult myself. What a response! It's easy to be cynical. It doesn't take a lot of courage to believe the worst in others.
But this: this took courage. My friend wasn't planning (or advocating) blind trust in folks with proven poor character. He was resolving to continue to build relationships, allow others to share in his life's work and passion, and to continue to live richly towards others, even when at times he gets "burned".
Counter-intuitive. Counter-cultural. Brave.
I took a decision that night in that parking lot, and I'd like to invite you to join me in the decision. The decision?
I will live richly towards others, regardless of what offenses are committed against me.
I've chosen to love and trust the people God's allowed me to have in my life. I don't "check the wind" to determine whether or not to love and invest in others. As another friend of mine says, "I love you, and there's nothing you can do about it!"
The Message paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 6 paints a beautiful picture of living richly towards others, in good times and in tough times. Check it out:
People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly . . . in hard times, tough times, bad times; when we’re beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love; when we’re telling the truth, and when God’s showing his power; when we’re doing our best setting things right; when we’re praised, and when we’re blamed; slandered, and honored; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God; terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead; beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on handouts, yet enriching many; having nothing, having it all.
He's described a few good times and a lot of hard times. Now, dig his response:
Dear, dear Corinthians, I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. I’m speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively!
Christ's life inside of us is so magnificently, expansively, great! He is greater than every offense, every betrayal, every economic downturn, every "you-name-it"!
And that's why--He's why--my family and I have decided to always live richly towards God and towards others. Won't you join us?