July 2, 2007

Quit Making Excuses

Christians have spiritual gifts from God to help us minister to one another and to those outside the church. While we have varying views on what the gifts are, we agree that God gives them to us and every Christian has at least one.

I’ve taught classes on this topic, and usually narrow the focus to what are called ‘motivational gifts’ from the list of gifts in Romans 12. These are less about what a person does and more about who we are, what motivates us, how we think problems should be solved. For instance, a teacher is a person who loves to gather information and pass it on. They want people to think right and if they do, they will act right. This gift produces make good teachers, but also excellent research workers, librarians and so on.

Another example is those gifted in exhortation. They want to see people making progress. With an eye toward the future, they will prod and encourage others to move ahead.

Every person has all seven of the gifts listed in Romans 12, yet some are more dominant than others. Taking the survey at GIFT TEST is a good way to find out which rise to the top and which are lacking. That short quiz, and others I’ve taken, show me that I’m strong in teaching but low in mercy and compassion. People who know me sometimes kindly say, “oh, but you are compassionate” yet most of them agree that this is not my strength.

I tend to be far less concerned about the way a person is feeling and more interested in the way they think. In my mind, if someone is thinking right, their feelings will fall into line. A friend who is strong in compassion tells me that no one can think right unless they are feeling good. We agree that in some situations, her perspective is the one needed, and in other cases, mine works better to help an upset person get back on track.

In other words, both gifts are needed. The key is knowing what to do in each situation. Case in point this morning is the familiar story of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10:29-37.

A man “fell among thieves” on the road to Jericho, was wounded and left half dead. A priest went by, perhaps a man gifted in prophetic ability or maybe even administration (I’m guessing), but moved to the other side of the road and kept going.

A Levite also came along, looked at the man in the ditch, then passed by as well. Who knows what his gifts were, but he didn’t stop to help, perhaps because the man in the ditch was not one of the elite members of that culture, as he supposed of himself? Again, I’m guessing.

The next person to come by was from Samaria and despised by most Jews. In fact, it was dangerous for him to be traveling this road, not only because of thieves, but because of the hostility of other travelers in this Jewish part of the world. The victim in the ditch was likely even one who normally hated people from Samaria.

Verse 33 and following says, “But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion . . . he went to him . . . bandaged his wounds, pouring in oil and wine . . . set him on his own animal, brought him to an in, and took care of him.”

Compassion and showing mercy may be spiritual gifts, but they are also part of what it means to be made in the image of God. Compassion moves people to action. Compassion feels the pain of those in pain and does what is needed to alleviate the pain and restore the hurting person to normal. Compassion costs something.

The story conveys the suggestion that this Samaritan had a busy schedule, but he took time to bind the man’s wounds and get him to a safe place. He paid for a room at the inn and gave the innkeeper enough money to continue the man’s care. He was willing to return and repay any other costs incurred. He dropped everything for a little while because he had compassion.

I wonder what I would have done. I joke that I’m lousy at hospital visits because I tend to want to take every sick person a book, but in the case of the man in the ditch, I might have struggled with fear. Would I be safe to take care of a total stranger? What would I do if he was faking it and lying in prey? Maybe he would be someone who hates the people of God? Then what? Or what if this was more than I could handle? What if my good intentions were harmful, not helpful?

People with compassion don’t worry about themselves. They just do it. When I read this story today, that is the first thing that popped into my mind. The next time I see someone in need, just do it. Help them. Feel for them. Quit thinking about yourself all the time.

Some people say I have the capacity for compassion even if the gift tests test score this motivational gift at the bottom of my list. My own theology also says because God made me in His image, I can show mercy just as He does. Not only that, Jesus commands I be compassionate and merciful toward others. Certainly there are opportunities. The world around me is filled with many hurting and needy people.

And I just ran out of excuses.


The Koala Bear Writer said...

Some great thoughts on this parable. Too often many of us are more like the priest or the Levite. I struggle with not helping hitchhikers or the homeless that I see around, and wonder if I should be more of a Good Samaritan. Like you say, that may not be my gift, but I can reflect Jesus' mercy and love to the world.

LC said...

These days, the difficult part is knowing if a person is truly needy! So many choose to make a living off of Good Samaritans, instead of taking their place in contributing to society.

Sigh. Life requires obedience, but also a huge dose of discernment to know what we are to do when someone holds out their hand. Unless I see "blood" it is often so easy to look the other way.