There is a certain priest at church that, from time to time, delivers a dramatic sermon about “Christians against the world.” Hearing about how the non-Christian world is a terrible place full of skeptical people that need to be changed makes me feel a bit uncomfortable sometimes because it implies that Christians are some kind of superior race incompatible with the rest of this planet.
Valuing a Person’s Heart
For me, it doesn’t matter so much whether or not the outer world is a wonderful place; it matters what the inner world is like inside each of our hearts. This especially applies to friends and family.
I’m thinking in particular of some family members or friends who aren’t specifically Christian but are still such wonderful people. I would never view them as “separate” or as something I should fix.
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In all those passages in the Bible where Jesus goes around healing others, something that always draws my attention is how willingly he does it without asking anything in return—not even that they think as he does. He acts with full acceptance toward others, even if He isn’t accepting of their sins. It’s as if He is saying, “What can I do for you?” rather than “I can’t help you unless…”
Jesus’s acts speak for themselves.
Quality vs. Quantity
Our priest also often talks about going out and saving the world. This can lead us to ask ourselves: What do I prioritize—the quantity of hearts or quality of hearts? The outside world or the inside world of those close to me?
It’s a personal question, but we all face it at times. And not necessarily in drastic ways like, Should I move to a non-Christian country and preach the Bible? but in our day-to-day lives.
We can prioritize people’s hearts when we go to work and do our jobs well, when we go into a store and say hello to the cashier with a smile, or when we do something kind for a stranger. These small actions can be just as valuable for another person’s soul.
It may be conventional wisdom that quantity (of people and things) matters more, but quality can be just as important. Think about how kids spend more time in school than at home with their own families. Does that lessen the quality of the time they spend at home?
Does it Benefit You or Others?
Consider the college student who has to choose between studying for exams or being there for a friend. It’s considered more appropriate to say, “I have to study so I can’t hang out” than to sacrifice academic success to support someone else (though both have their place).
Productivity is more valued than introspection in general. Advocating for humanitarian causes is also highly respected. You might not get any “likes” for hanging out with your sad friend on the weekend, but you will certainly look good if you join an organization dedicated to helping strangers.
Helping the homeless or picking up trash on the beach might also leave you feeling really good about yourself, whereas that sad friend might leave you feeling a bit down. In these situations, we should ask ourselves, Which one needs me more right now?
How to Love Individuals
We all have social instincts, and fitting in makes us feel really good. Doing things that make us feel accepted and look good on the outside is easy. No one wants to do things that are boring or feel like a drag. When we have to help someone in a selfless way, it may come at a cost to us.
Every time I have to be there for a family member or friend when I am feeling lazy or tired hurts more than when I go out and help pick up trash at the beach. Who wants to do chores for an elderly relative every Saturday, for example? It’s much more glamorous to campaign for an accepted political cause or volunteer at a pet adoption event.
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All of these are valuable. But sometimes individuals need us just as much.
I sometimes wonder what this says about my own heart. In truth, I love my family more than anything, but sometimes my human nature makes me prioritize myself instead. God seems to know this about us, as He says:
“So I let them follow their own stubborn desires, living according to their own ideas.”Psalm 81:12