Over the summer, I visited Chicago with a group of friends. It was my first time visiting a truly big city in many years, and let me tell you—even for an extrovert, it was tiring after three days! But I went into it with a prayer that God would use the experience to teach me something new. What He showed me was that as much as I want to see people the way Jesus does…I really don’t.
I feel like a big city with its ever-changing faces is the perfect place to grow a culture of misunderstanding. Or, to put it in a kinder way, it’s the perfect opportunity for God to make us aware of our own prejudices. Throughout our stay, we crossed paths over and over with people I found myself making assumptions about. The way they would look at me or my friends, whisper among a group, or even their very posture as we passed by sent me jumping to conclusions about what they were thinking, how they were judging us, and even wondering if they meant us harm. None of this, by the way, felt like revelation from God. Just my humanity getting in the way of seeing people how Christ sees them.
Throughout that stay, I found myself thinking about how the penchant for this kind of reactive judgement is not limited to big-city visits. It happens all the time, often in subtler, sneakier ways, so that we’re not necessarily aware we’re doing it. But consider how long it might take you to assign motives to someone’s actions when you first hear about something they said or did. Is your first instinct reactive, or considerate? Are you swiftly convinced you know what the other person is thinking or exactly what they meant, or do you allow for the possibility of a misunderstanding and pursue the truth with them?
I can tell you for sure that in my own head, I tend toward the former. When I’m counseling my friends, I tend toward the latter. But I’d rather be slow to judgement and quick to assume the better of someone to avoid hardening my heart and damaging a relationship.
All in all, this experience caused a shift in my prayer: I’m asking God to help me to slow down, to not assume I know what someone is thinking or feeling or what they’ll do or say to me. This volatile tendency puts up barriers between people, because in our heads we already have the individual all figured out. But how can you effectively minister to someone if you have this determination of who and what they are before you’ve even scratched the surface with them?
We may not even be aware of all the ways in which our understanding is blinded, all the subtleties of how we size up and separate those around us and create barriers that stanch our effective witnessing for Christ. But God can reveal those blind spots to us—and what’s more, He is perhaps the only One who can truly help us break down those walls so that they no longer hinder us from spreading His Word, His love, and the glorious good news about His Son to a world that so desperately needs it.
Whatever other conclusions we draw in the spur of the moment about others, that is certainly the one truth universal to all people: they desperately need Jesus.
Let’s start by seeing that need, and meeting it with our words, our actions, and the love of Christ in us.