Years ago, when I was a youth pastor in San Diego, my wife and I visited the juvenile detention center weekly. One day I got a call about a young man who needed someone to talk to. The teenager had a history of abuse by his dad, and the social worker asked if I would come and encourage him.
I met with the young man one-on-one in his cell, hoping I could connect with him and help him. Our encounter started with him glaring at me and announcing that he hated black people like me. After about fifteen minutes of talking he started cursing me out, yelling at me, calling me the N word over and over again. When it was clear nothing could be gained by staying, I walked out and could hear him yelling until I was out of the facility.
Before driving away, I sat in my car, thinking and praying for this hurting teenager. I knew the boy didn't have anything against me as much as he felt enraged by his circumstances and the pain he could not hide. When he was yelling at me I didn't take it personally because I knew the verbal assault was his way of crying out for help. That kid needed God desperately and I believe he wanted God.
His screams were a plea for his own dad to stop hurting him – to love, accept and validate him. I heard in his screams a yearning for freedom and for someone to be his friend.
Code for 'I Need Help'
I also know that while I was in that cell, Jesus was pleading with him through me. This kid was made in the image of God, just like you and me, but it was apparent that he had lived with someone who stifled the development of God's image in him.
There are going to be people in your life who will attack you, hate you, and persecute you. You have to understand that sometimes those actions are code for "I need help." You must be willing to allow Jesus to love them through you, on Jesus' terms. If you retaliate and fight back, you'll lose (and they'll lose, too).
Remember, the very people who crucified Jesus were the people He was praying for. Even when they were nailing Jesus to the cross, He prayed for them with these words: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."
No Conditions on Serving
Do you want God to use you to be a blessing to someone else – to be the miracle in someone else's life? If that is truly the case, you can't come to God with conditions. You have to allow God to use you to be a blessing to someone who doesn't like you, someone who has the potential to hurt you. You have to let God use you according to His plan, not yours.
I believe too many American Christians think they're doing their duty to share the gospel by sending money overseas - while they ignore the people right in front of them. There are people you can encourage, inspire, mentor and minister to, very likely right at your Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner tables. The people in your house, in your neighborhood, at your workplace . . . . They need Jesus just as much as people in India and Africa.
Be prepared to answer God's call for you to serve wherever that may be. Jesus washed the feet of all His disciples, including Judas' (John 13). That example of servant leadership tells us that God does not want us to place conditions on how we will serve. He wants us to be open to serving whomever He wants, wherever He wants. God has a plan to bring pervasive hope to the world; that plan is me and you.