So far, Mark Labberton’s book has declared that the heart is central to a Christian life. If a person is to change and help another [a neighbor], it will require a change of heart for most of us.
Social influences have an impact on all of us; for example, the latest news about Amazon founder Jeff Bezos who recently got the title “richest man on the earth.” The most recent tally has his net worth at 108 billion dollars. We are constantly bombarded by commercials that tempt us to improve our lives by buying luxury products we cannot afford. Just plunk down 80 K for that bright orange Corvette and everything will be ok. I don’t know how many episodes of HGTV I have seen where a young couple decides to go to the bank and borrow a half-million dollars for their “starter” home.
Society provides endless examples of pressure to consume. We see others with ostentatious displays of wealth and we feel we must strive for some level of luxury beyond what we currently have.
Does society provide examples of the need to help our neighbors?
Maybe not so much…
Growing up, I was a super picky eater. I was always a scrawny kid. There were more things I hated to eat than things I liked to eat. My poor desperate mother was beside herself trying to get me to eat anything. At times it appeared I was wasting away. Like so many mothers, she employed that time-worn strategy of guilt. Probably every mom has told their kid “eat your broccoli; think about those starving kids in China.” I remember thinking to myself “Well please take it and ship it to those starving kids; I don’t want it.”
If we succumb to societal pressure to be greedy and self-centered, a counteracting force to combat that is not guilt. Pastor Labberton encourages us to examine our lives and if we see someone who has a need, help them [it’s the Christian thing to do]. However, if we are not geared that way, he does not intend to make us feel compelled to help others due to guilt. “When guilt is the primary outcome sought, it can come close to killing our hearts than transforming them.” Labberton realizes that transformation of the heart is the only way one can learn the ways of the loving neighbor.
Sadly, most of us like stability. This may sound strange but if I have a stingy, selfish nature and I have had it for a long time, I probably want to cling to that because I am so used to my “lifestyle.” To suddenly become generous, helpful and centered on the needs of others will require a major change of heart. In essence, our hearts become hardened due to the habit of living life a certain way. One can turn to Genesis to read the story of one of the most hardened hearts in Biblical history, that Pharaoh who just would not let Moses and the Israelites go. We tend to be like Pharaoh; when we want to change, it is too hard. We revert back to our old ways despite our best intentions.
What is needed?
Pastor Labberton says it takes power, grace and wisdom of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
It takes self-examination.
It takes time.
It takes forgiveness of others and forgiveness of the self, because attempting to change will be fraught with difficulty. Like any change, there will be more failed efforts than successful efforts. People around you will see your failure and sometimes they will judge. Some of your peers will not want to see change because they have developed habits of seeing your normal behavior and they don’t want to deal with the “new you.” Some may see an unselfish, generous friend as a challenge. They don’t want to compete with a “goody two shoes.” The most difficult task is self-forgiveness, for you may be upset that your efforts are falling short.
Romans 3 offers the hope that you need, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. But we know God has extended His grace to us through His Son Jesus Christ. We are justified through our faith in Jesus. We can overcome our sin with God’s help. Yes, our hearts can be changed through the grace of God.
We don’t need to have guilt as our change agent. Maybe you are not where you think you are supposed to be right now. But where you are today may not be where you will be in the future. The Bible is full of people of limited ability and God used them to do wonderful work. He can do that for you.
And He can do that for me.