It sometimes seems, that the more I read scripture, and the more time I spend in church, the more visible the distance becomes between what we are called to be, and how we really are together. If everyone who considers themselves a part of a Christian community, and I include myself in this, were to follow the example and teaching of Jesus, and live up to the expectations of the biblical authors then church would be a radically different place both to how it is now, and to the world around us.
From my own experience, when I first met Jesus I had been a part of a church for a number of years, and during this time I was not a good person. As a young person, I was very focused on my own life and priorities, I took little notice of other people, and for me, authority and boundaries were things to be crossed at every opportunity. But at the age of 17, I met Jesus and this changed everything for me. I became a ‘work in progress’ as he began to change my heart, the way I think, and the way I act towards others.
So, I guess, if different church communities are made up of other ‘works in progress’ like me, then this may be why, that as gatherings of people, we fall short of the ideal we read about in the pages of the Bible. But then what about the fact that as Christians we also believe that God has sent us a helper, in the form of His Spirit, to live within us and to give us spiritual gifts? These, we know, take the form of fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control, and which we exhibit in our relationships and interactions with other people. So if this is true, I wonder why it is, that I, and many others I have met, demonstrate these virtues in such a limited way? Surely if every Christian has the Spirit of Jesus living in them, then church communities would be filled with joy-filled, loving individuals, who are patient, kind and good, always gentle with each other, and who demonstrate self-control in all things. Surely all believers would have their Father’s heart.
How amazing it would be if Christian communities were known for demonstrating all God’s qualities at all times. The vulnerable would find kind, strong yet gentle people willing to welcome and support them. Those walking in off the street would experience a warmth of welcome and an acceptance found nowhere else. Those who have never met Jesus would see his Father’s heart alive in the words, thoughts, and actions of the community of believers who follow him. Perhaps we too would experience the amazing things that happened in the early church, which we read of in the book of Acts. If every Christian had their Father’s heart, the world would be an amazingly different place.
A closer reading of the Bible, and the letters written by Paul, James, Peter, John, and Jesus himself to the early gatherings of believers in different places in the ancient world, reveals that though there were many who shared their Father’s heart, there were others who still behaved very poorly towards each other and often in ways no different to the world around them. The human condition is complex and we know that many of us fall a long way short of how we could or should be.
Does this mean that we should hang our heads in despair? That we should accept that as ‘works in progress’ we will inevitably form communities that are flawed and damaged by our own limitations and hurts. Does this mean that we should accept the reality that actually, Christian communities are little different to those who do not claim to have Jesus at their centre, and it has always been this way? Should we reluctantly accept that though God’s Spirit has the power to change us both as individuals and to bring us together in radical new ways corporately, that the best we will ever experience or see are only the first stages of a process destined to take a lifetime?
As I considered these thoughts I began to realise that my perceptions were restricted by the limitations of my own capacity to see people for who they really are. I do know some folk who actually do embody their Father’s heart. But what of the rest of us? And then I realised, that to see the Father’s heart within someone, requires the Son’s eyes.
The glasses of my own perception limit my view of other people, but Jesus has the capacity to see right through us, into our very core. He knows our hearts and our wills, our motivations and our limitations. The Son’s eyes see our yesterdays and tomorrows, where we have come from, and all that we can become now that his Spirit is at work within us.
I know that my ‘old self’ has the capacity to surface at any time, especially in those moments of stress and turmoil when I am under pressure and outside of my safe place. I know that as a ‘work in progress’ I am better than I used to be, and that one day, my Father’s heart will beat inside my own chest. But until then I must do my best to love him and allow him to make me more like him, and that a part of this is asking him to make my eyes more like His son’s eyes. Eyes that can see the best in those around me, eyes that look for the good among all the other stuff, and that help me to love all I see as only the Son is able to.
Perhaps if we all tried this together, then we might see the Father’s heart growing within each other and in each other’s faces we would also see the Son’s eyes.
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