And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen. Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven.
DEUTERONOMY 10:12-14, 17-22 (ESV)
You never truly know something until you can teach it to someone else. That saying was everywhere my first year teaching. During the summer preparation weeks, it was a hopeful quote passed on among teachers. After a couple months into that first year, it echoed in my head like a ticking bomb. How was I going to prepare these students for next year if this was truly the standard?
I taught sixth grade English at a local private school, and I walked into that first week of classes bright-eyed and energetic. Introductions went well. Most of the students seemed to be doing a good job of finding their way around a new campus. My opening lesson was easy enough, and as the first paper approached, I was confident that I had ushered in a new standard for middle school education.
It took about five papers graded for this bubble to burst. I think by the tenth paper I had run out of red ink. It was pretty apparent that my lessons were useless. These kids had to go back to the basics, and I had to pivot fast if we were ever going to get on track. Simply rolling out my lesson plans as drawn up would have actually set them back under a towering pile of marked-up failed assignments. Over the weekend after that first paper I scrapped a lot of the plans I had assembled, and I realized I was missing out on a critical piece of good teaching. You have to think like a student.
Most of my work had been drawn with teacher blinders on, and I hadn’t considered more effective approaches to lesson planning. I needed a big dose of empathy. So I added in a ton of interactive assignments and pushed hard to foster creativity and ownership in the work the students were doing. When we all returned from Christmas break, the ship had steadied itself. The students’ confusion and frustration had weighed so heavily on me, but now their excitement and engagement became fresh wind in my sails. Compassion had greatly improved my teaching, and the memory of my own days as a frustrated student opened my eyes to the needs of my classes. Remembering who I was inspired humility and a change in approach I needed to truly serve my students. I survived that year, and by God’s grace, so did they.
Evangelism operates in a similar way for believers. We know that relationship is at the heart of Christianity, first with God and next with people. The Lord reveals His holiness to us and calls us to model it and proclaim it in a broken world (Leviticus 11:44-45). Our holiness as ambassadors draws others to its source, but being set apart does not mean being sent away. We have to carry this holiness to people like us who are dead without it. Pride will always block the flow of holiness in our lives. This is why we have to remember the work God did and does for us. We have to remind ourselves that we need this hope each and every day. Jesus even taught us to pray with this in mind, with words that flow out of our history (Matthew 6:9-13). We were once orphans and widows and foreigners without God. We had no family, no love, and no home. But now we speak the language of new life. “Our father,” “kingdom come” – Jesus has rescued us from hopelessness to give sonship and intimacy and union with God. Remembering our past makes the Gospel fresh and compassion deep.
You can always tell Christians who suffer from memory loss. Their evangelism has no empathy. They make plans to speak the Gospel with no patience or understanding. Theirs is a word dumped on the heads of foreigners, even though hope came to us in the washing of feet and the carrying of a cross. For these believers every mission field eventually dries up. This is because without knowing our history, we could never present God’s holiness, serve with His love, and come with His care to foreigners of the Kingdom. It is humility that moves us to fear, to follow, and to obey the Lord. The world needs the hope of the Gospel. We don’t have to be prideful or fearful when we carry this light to the people God sets before us. History is on our side.
Jesus, your love for me is beyond comprehension, but I want to appreciate it as best I can. Remind me today of the darkness that drowned me before the cross, so I might see and treasure my relationship with you. Humble me again today as you were humbled for me. Let the Gospel you proclaimed be the light in my heart and the words on my lips. Open my eyes today to people who need to be served and loved and invited into your Kingdom. Let my history be a common language between us. AMEN.
How often do you encounter the fatherless, the unloved, or the homeless? The implication in the Deuteronomy passage above is that followers of God will regularly encounter people outside the Kingdom. Depending on the environments we frequent, sharing the Gospel could require changing our routines, expanding our bubbles, or at least opening our eyes. Consider today how you might bring the holiness and love of the Lord to an unbeliever you live near, work beside, or see often.