Acts of love and devotion can create opportunities for us to witness about the one who gives us strength—Jesus.
Steven J. Pagels
Ann wasn’t just a member of my congregation. She was a woman I had come to deeply respect and admire. She had grown up in a loving Christian home, but that didn’t prevent her from experiencing some significant setbacks in her life. When she was just a child, her mother suffered a stroke, and from that day on Ann became the matriarch of the family. To make a difficult situation even more so, her father died suddenly and unexpectedly when she was in high school.
Instead of complaining about her lot in life, Ann went into the workforce after graduation. She poured herself into everything she did, and in time her hard work was rewarded. Ann eventually became a business executive, and she enjoyed the perks that went along with the job.
Being devoted in love
But no matter how successful Ann became, she never forgot where she came from, and she never forgot her family.
When her mother could no longer live on her own, Ann brought her to live with her in her own home. That arrangement lasted for several years until it became necessary to find a place where she could receive around-the-clock care. Even though Ann was forced to relinquish her role as her mother’s caretaker, she remained a devoted daughter and visited the nursing home after work almost every night.
You don’t have to be a Christian to do what Ann did. Lots of people, including lots of people who don’t believe in Jesus, take care of their aging parents. They will say, “You do it for family.” But that’s not why Ann did what she did. As much as Ann loved her mother, she loved her Savior even more. And it gave her great comfort to know that Jesus loved her more than anything.
A few years later Ann’s mother passed away, and in a perfect world that would have finally given Ann more time for herself and her own life. But we do not live in a perfect world, and it wasn’t long before Ann’s husband took the place of her mother. His decline was a long and slow process, but even as he grew weaker Ann’s resolve grew stronger. She remained devoted to her husband in sickness and in health until the Lord called him home.
Ann never asked me the question, so I will ask it for her. Why? Why is life so full of heartache and headaches? Why didn’t God give Ann a break after her mother died? Maybe you ask similar questions. Why would God allow me to suffer or expect me to give up so much to help another person who is suffering? Why does God seem to be asking me not just to go the extra mile but to run a full-length marathon?
The Lord may not always give us the answers we are looking for, but he does give us promises. He promises he will never leave us or forsake us. He promises he will make every situation in our lives work out for our eternal good. He promises that the challenges we face will stretch us, and, when we turn to his Word, he will strengthen our faith.
In addition to all of God’s promises, the obstacles in our lives also present us with opportunities to share our faith. In fact, some of the most difficult situations give us some of the best opportunities to be salt in the world.
Being salt in the world
A story like Ann’s can lead us down two very different paths. We can be inspired to follow her example, or we can become depressed because we know we will never be able to follow her example. If you are leaning toward the latter, you need to know something about Ann. As much as she loved her family and as much as she was devoted to others, Ann wasn’t perfect. There were times when she became frustrated. There were days when she was tempted to give up. Instead of being some kind of superwoman, Ann was a sinful human being who sought refuge in the loving arms of her Savior.
Jesus gives rest to weary souls. Jesus assures sinners burdened by guilt that they are forgiven. Jesus gives us the peace we could never go out and get on our own. And by his perfect life our Lord also gives us a perfect example to follow. No one was more devoted to others than Jesus. Nobody ever put the needs of others before their own like Jesus. And at no time was that selfless love on greater display than on Good Friday.
The Lord of heaven and earth had been sentenced to death. Even though he was innocent, even though he could have called down angels to rescue him at any moment, Jesus willingly went the way of the cross. And even though he was suffering in ways that we can’t even imagine, he remained focused on the needs of others. He asked his Father to forgive his enemies. He assured a dying criminal that they would be reunited in heaven. He wanted to make sure that his mother would be taken care of after he was gone.
In Jesus’ sinless mind, the pain and persecution he endured were never reasons to withdraw from the world. Instead they created opportunities for him to reach out. It is a radically different and liberating way to look at life. The daily challenges we face are more than problems that need to be solved. Our struggles may lead to conversations, and those conversations may give us opportunities to witness, to be salt in the world.
Think about Ann’s struggles but now look at them the way Jesus did. Imagine all the people Ann encountered every week—her family, friends, coworkers, even the staff at the nursing home. They knew how much was on her plate. They could see how she was holding up. And if anyone ever asked Ann how she was doing, if anyone asked her how she did it, she could tell them. She could tell them about the source of her strength—Jesus.
When you look down at your own plate, when you consider the sacrifices God is asking you to make in your life, when you see the faces of all the people the Lord has called you to love and serve, you can ask the question. In fact, as a follower of Jesus who wants to follow his example, you should ask the question. Why? Why has God brought this situation into my life? What is Jesus telling me? What doors is the Holy Spirit opening for me? How can my acts of love and devotion create opportunities for me to witness, to be salt in the world?
Steven Pagels is pastor at St. Matthew’s, Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.
This is the second article in a 12 part series about Christian love in action and how we can be salt in this world.
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Author: Steven J. Pagels
Volume 104, Number 7
Issue: July 2017
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