The first spring we lived on Brookemoor Court, we staked out a small garden plot in a corner of the back yard and broke ground. At least we tried to break the ground. It was hard clay, and I believe that all of our tomato plants died that first summer.
The second year was not much better: a lot of hard work produced a few miniature vegetables. But we kept at it—composting and tilling—and around the fourth summer we finally had a seedbed in which healthy plants could grow.
One of the odd things Jesus says to his would-be followers is “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35 TNIV). An image of the church that I like is that a church is a seedbed in which love can grow.
This Sunday I’m going to share some ways that we break up the hard ground around our hearts so that little sprouts of love can live. I’ll use a personal checklist that I learned from Gordon Cosby. Here’s a preview of the qualities that loving people possess:
1. The ability to recognize that the real issue is always an internal one.
“The temptation is always to focus upon what is wrong ‘out there.’…The need is for a person who can ask of God what he [or she] must do to be the one through whom new life breaks. ‘What in me blocks the coming of the Holy Spirit?’…Again and again you hear a leader complaining that he [or she] is not getting the proper support.…He [or she] does not guess that [others’] changing may be bound up with his/her own changing.”
2. The capacity to absorb hostility.
“Any situation where there is hostility has the potential of being a step in a person’s spiritual trek if that person has the capacity to receive anger without lashing back. We come increasingly to know that redemption takes place at infinite cost to God and at infinite cost to the people of God….We must have the capacity to bear hate and anger and persecution because this is the cost at which a person is born into the kingdom of God. It is why Christ says, ‘Love your enemy, do good to those who wrongly use you, turn the other cheek.’ Unless there is someone to do this, there is no movement in a person’s spiritual life, there is no mission, there is no overcoming of evil with good.”
3. The capacity to accept other people where they are.
“There is a bit of the manipulator in all of us and a bit of the perfectionist. We tend to set standards for ourselves and standards for others, and to become critical if they are not met. We feel safe if we are moving toward our idea of perfection….Criticism is often the gap between expectation and what we find—a root of bitterness which springs up because we did not discover what we sought.…God is the creator. In [God’s] hands is the timetable, and we don’t have to act as though we held it.”
4. The perspective which enables us to sort the little issues from the big ones.
“Sometimes we expand the little issues out of all proportion, thinking that in doing so we are maintaining our individuality and integrity as persons. This is a loss of perspective. We let the little issues act as smoke screens which keep us from seeing the big issues and becoming involved in them.”
5. A willingness to fail and to let others fail.
“The servant-leader is willing to take risks and eager for others to take them. Behind this is the conviction that if God does a new thing through us, we must necessarily be trying that which has not been tried before and there will be no way of knowing in advance the outcome.…Our security-focused world needs people who will let come into existence that which may possibly fail. Our job is not to be successful. Our task is to provide structures in which the uniqueness of each of our people can be expressed. What we do not want is buried talents. Lack of creativity makes for unfulfilled lives and for dull Christians.”
6. A deep caring for people—not just those who are important to us, those who can give us something, but for all people.
“Because we are the church, those who touch us should know that the church cares….Our mission is to be able to say convincingly to another person, ‘I love you, and I always will.’ It is just that simple and just that difficult.”
(from Elizabeth O’Connor’s Call to Commitment, pp. 87-91).