Wednesday, August 22, 2012

You Schmooze, You Lose

Upon coming to know Christ, we are told in God's Word (in verses such as, Acts 2:38; Acts 5:32; Romans 5:5; Romans 8), that we not only gain salvation by trusting in the debt Jesus paid for our past, present, and future sins, but we also immediately gain personal access and connection to Him (the deity of God and Christ) through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  In layman's terms, once we accept Christ, God actually gives us the other 1/3 of His being--His Spirit--to live in our hearts and lives in order that we have his guidance, protection, and power.  This is what Jesus was talking about when after his death and resurrection, He told the disciples that He would never be apart from them (and they were thinking, "What are ya talkin' about?  You're leaving us!").  But He meant that His Spirit would be always present with them. Upon coming to know Christ, and gaining the indwelling of His Holy Spirit, He blesses us with yet another awesome gift--a spiritual gift or gifts.  The Bible speaks to the fact that all believers are given special "gifts" with which to work for Christ and spread further the cause of Christ.  These gifts are discussed in detail in Scriptures such as, 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4. After taking a class on spiritual gifts, and having several people who know me well fill out a questionnaire regarding what they believe my gifts are, I discovered that my spiritual gifts are: teaching, encouragement, mercy, and intercession (prayer).  Now these gifts aren't a person's "talents"--there are other abilities God gives us besides spiritual gifts (singing would be an outside gift of mine, but not a "spiritual" gift).  Even unbelievers have these (obviously).  Outside talents are equally usable to God--He very much wants us to use those for Him, as well.

But back to spiritual gifts.  When you have the gift of encouragement, (and especially when it is coupled with mercy), you have to be extremely careful how you use these gifts so as not to bring undue harm upon yourself.  God has been instructing me recently (quite fiercely, in fact), to be somewhat guarded about my use of these gifts for Him.  In Matthew 7:6 Jesus says, "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces."  Another passage that God keeps bringing to my mind is that of Proverbs 23:6-8 which says, "Do not eat the food of a begrudging host, do not crave his delicacies; for he is the kind of person who is always thinking about the cost. 'Eat and drink,' he says to you, but his heart is not with you.  You will vomit up the little you have eaten and will have wasted your compliments."  I have also thought about the many verses in the Bible that state that, "God is not a respecter of persons" (James 2; Acts 10; Romans 2:11).  God shows no favoritism--we are all equally important and worth dying for to Him (He doesn't look upon people differently for their abilities or position, and nor should we).  God looks upon the heart--not the ability or position of a person.   In pondering all these verses, God has made it very clear to me that in my quest of loving people and showing them love through my spiritual gift of encouragement, I need to be cautious not to, "throw my pearls before swine."  In other words, there are people who will take clear advantage of this, even when your motive is truly pure.  There are people who we may think deserve our praise and encouragement, but they really don't--nor do they need it (they probably need humility more than anything)! They will twist it, use it for their purposes and benefit, and leave you in their wake.  God wants us to love others and be a vessel of His love to others in order that they might know Him.  But He doesn't want us lending our hearts to others (our heart belongs to Him), or using our spiritual gifts on people who are a waste of our time or who will smite us in return for our love and desire to foster a genuine relationship with them.  We will end up looking back upon it with much regret and needless pain after they "turn and tear us to pieces."

If you've never experienced this in your life, then count yourself blessed--immensely.  Perhaps you haven't because you are more prudent, cautious, and wise than I.  Or perhaps you do not possess the gift of encouragement, so you're already more protected from the pitfalls of this situation (and every spiritual gift has its blessings and curses--they all have pitfalls from which you must guard yourself).  The lesson here is simple.  In any situation where we are outside the body of Christ (or the church), and we are utilizing our spiritual gifts naturally, willingly, and joyfully, we better be going to God first for wisdom, asking Him for prudence and clear vision on how to proceed in the situation or relationship (and when He gives us the "red flags," we better listen).  We also must prepare ourselves from the start that loving others doesn't ever mean it will be reciprocated (and to some degree, that shouldn't be our motive for love anyway--certainly not our primary one.  True love is selfless and seeks the benefit of the other person).  This requires balance though.  We are to love others selflessly, but not wastefully or to our own demise.  When we love people with a reckless abandon, God values this, but He doesn't want us to set ourselves up for being "torn apart."  Even Jesus didn't put Himself in a position with the scribes and pharisees (who were constantly trying to defame him) where He would let them hinder His ministry and life's purposes by wasting His time trying to earn their love, respect, and approval.  He even told them to their faces that He didn't come to die for people like them who thought their "laws" were going to save them.  He went so far as to call them, "vipers!" So even Jesus didn't kiss the hineys of everyone--even those in positions where you'd think He might have "schmoozed" a little to save Himself the trouble of having them on His case all the time (or to gain acceptance and approval by powerful, supposedly intelligent people who claimed to be "Godly").  Jesus knew to Whom He belonged, and His identity was unshakable.  He didn't need anyone's approval.

It is also easy to "love on" people who we are naturally smitten with due to their abilities and their apparent generosity to us.  But even this situation demands our prudence and caution.  We have to realize that it is God that gave the talent or gift to that person, and it is God who has provided us with any opportunity handed to us through that person.  We have to place the glory and the credit where it is actually due--to God.  This will help to shield us from thinking too highly of another human and expecting, wanting, or needing more than we should from them out of our "over the top" love and respect for them.  It will also help to guard our hearts and keep from putting ourselves in positions where we will be trampled or taken for granted.  Though we are called to love our fellow humans, they are HUMAN.  They are flawed individuals, just as we are.  So we have to be cautious when we have a serious need to feel accepted by others who we love and respect so much.  We also should never have to "schmooze" anyone for their love and respect in return--if we feel we do, that is an enormous red flag right there.  Anytime we have to try too hard to win favor, we usually never end up earning the other person's love and respect genuinely anyway (because if love and respect are unbalanced in the relationship, look out).  In fact, there's a good chance they may not fully understand our love outside of the terms under which the world has taught them.  They also may not be capable of valuing it or giving it back in return--selfless love is a rare trait these days, and I believe only those who have the power of the Holy Spirit can truly operate out of selfless love.  Obviously, we should NEVER schmooze just to get what we want from someone (in essence, "lie" to the person about how we truly feel about them because they have something we want or need).  I know personally, I've never schmoozed anyone who I didn't honestly value to a ridiculous level, so I'm not sure how that would ever really be an issue for anyone (I'm not sure how or why anyone would want or need anything from someone about whom they thought negatively).  But you get my point.  At least if you truly loved someone and got burned, you realize you are still capable yourself of genuine love without reciprocation, and that is worth something, I guess (though there are many lessons there).  I believe God will work that undesirable situation for good eventually--either for you or for that person, perhaps both.  He promises that though all things in life are not "good," that, "all things work together for good to them who love Him and are called according to His purposes," (Roman 8:28).  That is a promise from a God Who doesn't break His promises (and it just happens to be my favorite verse of all time, as well). 

When we think we are in dire need to gain someone's respect, love, approval, or acceptance in return, the Bible says we are accepted already in Christ.  We don't need their respect, love, or acceptance.  We have God's love, grace, and acceptance, and we shouldn't and don't need anything else (2 Cor. 12:9).  So my lesson is this--prudence and caution are extremely necessary (dire, is a better word) when using the gift of encouragement.  Even though rooted in honesty and from the heart, showering people with compliments and love must be done in wisdom and with the understanding that my heart is fragile thing--only God deserves to own it and only God deserves my utter praise.