Others around us often send messages by their appearance. One came to me at work recently. A young man came in wearing black shoes, black socks, black shorts and a black shirt with this message in four inch letters: “MY HEART IS FILLED WITH HATE.”
How would you have responded to this? Coming the day after the mass killings in Aurora, Colorado, the young man’s disturbing message set my co-workers on edge. As for me, I was baffled. What would cause someone to wear a message like that, not just in public, but at all?
Please understand; I am no hero. I am just as much a chicken as the next person. But I really wanted to know what was inside this person. I sensed no danger, since our plant manager introduced him. More importantly, I felt that God was nudging me to talk to him.
Our culture is becoming darker, more aggressive and more hostile. It is easy to react by slipping into the shadows of silence and retreating to “safety” with familiar friends at church. But we cannot keep retreating forever, and that is not where the Master is leading us. He mingled freely with edgy sinners of His day (Luke 15:1), and taught us that the Father is exuberantly joyful when one of them repents. He invites us to share in that joy.
How can we convert retreat into advance? First, we must use our unique resource by meditating on Scripture, which assures us that God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of love, power and a sound mind (II Timothy 1:7). We should ponder our awesome Jehovah God, Who graciously received us without reserve (Romans 15:7). As we meditate on these truths, God deposits in our hearts a rich resource of grace that enables us to receive others.
As Christ-followers, we also have a unique perspective. We understand that every person has intrinsic dignity because God makes every person in His image (Genesis 1:27). Knowing this, we ought to be the least prejudiced of all people. The Scriptures also teach us that God’s image in each of us has been broken by our sinfulness, so we have the most realistic view of human nature. With this understanding we can humbly and truthfully speak to the brokenness of others.
We can apply these truths by becoming excellent listeners. This begins by learning to not listen to our fears and the anxieties about the differences that separate us. We should change our focus to listening carefully for a point of connection. People around us are sending messages that, though sometimes unpleasant, give us clues to what that connection might be.
Some messages come through body language which, in the case of my young friend at work, was literal. His body language included unusual texts tattooed in various places, and his shirt. At break time I invited him to sit down and talk. It turned out that the message on his shirt is from a song by one of his favorite alternative rock bands, A Day to Remember. I asked about his tattooed messages. Some seemed to contradict each other, so I asked him to explain. Then I simply listened to everything he said.
On the surface we could hardly have been more different. But while listening I discovered a meaningful connection. This thoughtful young man loves and lives for his music. He has his own alternative rock band in his country and writes the songs that they perform. He said that it is very important to him that others understand what is inside that he is communicating.
I too am a writer and want others to understand what I am communicating. When I told him that because of this I understood how he felt, a bond was formed between us that bridged the gap of age, geography, appearance, musical taste, language and belief.
My young friend has returned home, but at my request he is writing and translating for me the words to his songs. I want to know why young people, especially my new friend, appreciate alternative rock, which often carries confusing, negative and harsh emotions and messages. I want to know not only what he thinks, but how he thinks and why. I am asking the Holy Spirit to explain to me how the words of Jesus speak to his conflict, anger and longing for peace. Then I want to introduce him to Jesus.
When our minds are directed by God’s Word, we will see the needs of those around us. We will become aware of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, Who will make us bold.
These opportunities do not come by accident or talent. God constantly brings them across our paths. It is up to us to listen and connect.