The celebration of Christ’s resurrection last Sunday was incredible. It gave people a chance to pause and think about the implications of a living God – one that we can have relationship with today. I understand the emphasis on this one particular day; it’s a way of honoring Jesus during Passover when these historical events actually took place. I find great value and significance in celebrating the way we do, but one thing I am concerned about is the day after. How many people immediately go back to their daily routines the day after celebrating Christ’s resurrection on Easter, or the day after we celebrate his birth on Christmas? After these holidays the significance of Christ in their lives begins to slip away just a little with each passing day. Although I’m specifically referring to our thoughts towards Jesus in the wake of Easter, my main question for this week is actually aimed at the people around us, the ones we do life with: do we use, exploit, or take advantage of them in any way? Just like we should never take for granted Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection, but should celebrate it daily, we should also take the same approach with the people in our lives.
Last week I spoke about utilizing the resources that are available to us, and I also mentioned that some of the most valuable ones are people – not material things or money. What I failed to declare is that although people can indeed be resources, there is a line that cannot be crossed in exploiting or utilizing them for personal gain. I fear this is something we do more than we care to admit or even realize.
A simple test can reveal if you have a tendency to do this in your relationships; just look at your relationship with God. Your prayer life is a great place to start. Do you spend more time asking Him for things or thanking Him for who He is? This same question can be applied to the people in your life. Do you spend more time asking them for things or thanking them for who they are? If your focus is on the latter, it can be a game-changer in helping those around you reach their full potential. I’ve heard it said that, “A person who feels appreciated will always do more than expected.” I have been in both environments – one where the people I worked with only wanted me around for what I could contribute towards their own goals, and the other where I was valued for who I was and the unique ideas I brought to the collective table. The contrast in how I felt in these atmospheres was staggering, and I’m certain each of you watching, listening, or reading have experienced the same thing, because we are in the midst of an epidemic of selfishness and personal gain at any cost.
People are indeed resources, but we have to examine the fundamental way in which we view them. Are they an asset for our community at large or just us personally? This line of questioning should begin with God and then be aimed at your close, personal circle, such as your spouse and kids, working your way out to additional family, friends, and co-workers. I have thought and prayed and examined the Scripture, and I can’t find one place in which Jesus looked at his disciples for what they could do for him. He poured into them, and was raising them up to be ambassadors of his love and servants to their communities. Even at some of Jesus’ most difficult times when he was requesting that they pray, or when he needed them to go look for food, it was always for the benefit of others – not for him personally (see Matthew 26:41, Matthew 14:16-18). There can be a fine line between drawing people’s God-given talents out of them for the advancement of everyone, versus personal benefit; and Jesus never crossed it.
The closest relationship I have on earth is with my wife. For some who are not married, it may be with a child or a best friend. I feel it is my responsibility, and often times my greatest challenge, to create an environment for her to flourish. It is so easy for us to fall into the trap of looking at our loved ones for what they can give us. However, this takes the joy and variety out of the relationship. If I constantly pushed and suggested ways of doing things to her that only benefited me, pretty soon what God uniquely placed in her would begin to wither, growing instead only that which resembled me. This is so dangerous to do with the people around us because we will soon create a monoculture – a crop where all the variation is gone. This is fine as long as all of life’s pressures only come from one direction, one in which your way of doing things can withstand. But that’s not reality! We need variety and each person’s gifts to flourish so a family or community can be vibrant and resilient to whatever comes its way.
There are many times that I don’t have the answers and Kayla does, or her perspective is just what is needed in a certain situation. That must be allowed to grow and develop for the benefit of our entire family, or anyone else that her life touches. That is the essence of the body of Christ – many parts with different forms and functions working together (1 Corinthians 12:1). Some of the very best leaders that I’ve worked with and observed have the ability to orchestrate many different people, along with their unique perspectives, towards a common goal. I’m not suggesting that a chosen leader, such as the head of an organization, can’t lay out a directive on their own, but if their personal gain is the only motive, those working alongside will ultimately suffer. This can very easily be identified because the need to control increases and variety decreases. It’s one of the most crushing things for me to watch as a person’s spirit weakens because it’s not allowed to speak up.
As a leader myself, I am constantly on alert, so I don’t exploit those that have graciously agreed to walk with me. Ultimately, their ability to grow and do things beyond what I could even imagine, is the only true test of how I’ve been able to lead. Do the people around you feel as though they can accomplish anything with you as their advocate? Or do you rarely hear them voice their own ideas or thoughts around you? The answers may indicate whether or not you’re a user or lover of people.
It may sound totally obvious, but Christ was a lover of people - especially when it came to his disciples that he was leading and training. They were constantly asking him for clarity when they didn’t understand things, and he wasn’t threatened by some of their crazy ideas or misconceptions. He simply allowed them to grow. None of them were exactly like him, but all carried his message of love. The book of Acts is one of the most inspiring accounts in the Bible as we get to see Jesus’ disciples, flaws and all, go boldly into the world and grow into their full potential that Christ was preparing them for.
In Acts chapter 2, we witness Peter standing up in front of a huge crowd for the very first time on his own. He spoke God’s message with confidence, and thousands put their faith in Christ at the conclusion (Acts 2:14-41). It was a truly amazing accomplishment, especially for someone who had denied even knowing Christ just over a month earlier (Matthew 26:69-75). To fully understand how significant this was, we have to turn to a conversation that took place even earlier between Jesus and his students, including Peter.
“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’” Matthew 16:13-19
What’s important to see here is that Jesus didn’t say, “Peter, I’m going to utilize you while I’m on earth for my personal gain. Your talents and abilities are something I need in order to build my kingdom before I go. Once I’m gone, good luck, and I hope life turns out well for you.”
Jesus knew Peter’s flaws and his tendency to succumb to fear, but he believed in him anyway! He told Peter in this passage that he was to become a foundational pillar in the establishment of the church because of what God had already spoken and placed inside of him. Jesus wasn’t interested in getting something from Peter, or making sure he was all polished up and perfect. Instead, Jesus was focused on drawing out of Peter the leadership qualities he saw in him, in preparation for the future – after Jesus was gone! This proves that Jesus had no selfish ambitions, because he wouldn’t even be with Peter physically during his crowning moments.
In the same way that I want to remember Christ and his resurrection every day of my life, not just on Easter, I want to remember how he loved people - he believed in them and didn’t use them. If we take these truths and apply them to the people that surround us today, it will make us all better people and our communities better too. Crops consisting of a variety of species have a natural ability to resist pests, nourish the soil, and flourish for generations! Monocultures have no such abilities. It’s a fact that God provides people as resources for us, but the way we view them is the critical part. He provided Peter as a resource for the church, but who has He provided for you? As you answer, just remember they were never placed in your life as a stepping stone to get you places, but always as a rock with strength to share with everyone.