The Lost Art Of Sympathy

If you’ve been following my blog for even a small amount of time, you likely know a couple things about me.

I love Jesus and I love musicals.

I especially love how Biblical messages often show up in the storylines of musicals.

Yesterday I was driving from Wichita Falls back to my home in Vernon. I was listening to the Phantom of the Opera, which is a classic.

The final number, Down Once More, gets me emotional every time. This song humanizes the phantom. This song gives you sympathy for the phantom. The viewer doesn’t condone the murderous actions of the phantom, but you are able to briefly look past them and see the pain, the hurt, the brokenness that the phantom carried with him throughout his life.

As I got a lump in my throat from the final lyrics, I realized something.

We’ve lost that.

We’ve lost the art of sympathy.

Especially as Christians.

Anger and outrage, aggression and rudeness, boisterousness and vitriol. These are the fruits of the modern Christian.

We’ve stopped being willing to listen.

We only yell.

I urge you to ask the Lord to give you sympathy. Ask the Lord to give you the desire to understand where people are coming from, even if you disagree with them 100%.

Jesus was meek and gentle. He was not the macho American man. He absolutely spoke up and spoke out. But He did so to critique and convict the people of God and to draw them to Him. We’ve gotten a skewed view of his anger in the Gospels when we make them about condemnation as opposed to conviction. Those who didn’t turn, absolutely they stood condemned. But the call was to lead them to change.

Praise God for those who are calling the American church to change, to act, to move.

Let us do so in a way that leads to repentance, not hardened hearts.

Let us do so in a way that leads to conviction, not condemnation.

My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. – James 1:19-21

This passage is a hard one for me to live out. I want to give my opinions. I want to criticize. I want to condemn. But human anger in me doesn’t produce anything good.

There is a place for righteous anger. That is super clear in Scripture. Where injustice is taking place, there is a Spirit-driven anger. But only that anger can produce so much change in the hearts of men. We must strive to differentiate between the two.

Evil is prevalent. We’ve all seen it firsthand as of late. Moral filth is prevalent. We must actively rid ourselves of sin through the power of the Spirit, and then get into Scripture. Scripture must inform us. Scripture must lead us. Scripture must guide us.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lack diligence in zeal; be fervent in the Spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. . . Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. – Romans 12:9-12, 16-18

This passage has informed so much of my behavior these last few months.

Politics.

Covid-19.

The church and social justice.

If you go back and read my posts on social media, I’ve sought to listen. To learn. I am not wise. I don’t have the answers. I want to be a man who loves well. Who lives in harmony. Who lives at peace.

You can absolutely condemn the horrid sin of racism, mourning with those who mourn, in a way that brings peace and harmony, in a way that doesn’t condemn every police officer around the country. You can absolutely look at violent riots and condemn sin in a way that brings peace and harmony, in a way that doesn’t condemn every protestor around the country.

We’ve lost the ability to sympathize. To try and understand.

I try and live in such a way where I condemn sin but welcome and love all, praying that God leads every one of us to repentance.

I have had to confess publicly from the pulpit at my church that there is racism in my heart. That’s me condemning sin. I am grateful for a community protest that I attended in Vernon that did just what that passage in Romans described. Racism was condemned but police across the board were not. Violent rioters were condemned but protestors across the board were not.

Brother and sister in Christ, listen.

Brother and sister in Christ, sympathize.

Enough with the arguments.

Statistics.

Opinions.

Listen.

Learn.

Disagree in love.

Condemn sin.

But love the sinner.

I have learned over the past few months that personal conversations are hugely important. I have sat across from people who disagreed with me on politics, and we left loving one another. I have sat across from people who have said all manner of things regarding Covid-19, and we left loving one another. I have sat across from people who disagree with me regarding Jesus and social justice (I have another post coming soonish), and we have left loving one another.

Before you condemn, reach out.

Before you condemn, have a conversation.

Before you condemn, pray.

Before you condemn, sympathize.

Let us as the people of God live in such a way that we condemn sin but welcome and love all. Those aren’t mutually exclusive.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

 

 

*the above photo is not my property*

Was It The Spirit?

I often ask in prayer that God would open my eyes to the powerful works He is doing in my community. I often ask that I would be able to discern where the Spirit of God is moving. I often ask that God would allow me to see the power of the Spirit at work through me.

These are prayers I believe God loves to answer.

There are things in my life that have happened that can’t be explained without the Lord’s involvement. The moments when I’ve been lonely and have been reminded through a song on the radio that God is with me. The moments when I’ve been fighting to move forward in my faith and a friend on the other side of the country has called me at just the right time. The moments when the same theme has exploded off the page in times of personal devotion and study of God’s Word. The moments when I have counseled a fellow believer and knew what to say to encourage and strengthen their soul.

These may seem like ordinary moments in ordinary days, mere coincidences; but to me, they are clear experiences of the Spirit of God at work in my life.

This very topic has come up in my life a lot this past week. Through conversations at Pizza Hut with a friend and personal study at home, I have thought a lot about the work of the Spirit. When it comes to the work of the Holy Spirit in our communities, I’ve come to be reminded of this truth:

What God does, lasts.

For, “all people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you. – 1 Peter 1:24-25

Anything less than a true movement of God in an individual, family, or community will ultimately be shown for what it is, a fraud.

Now let me just be transparent. I’m a skeptic. I’m a doubter. When we see the perceived movements of God at youth camps or my church’s Disciple Nows, I get pumped, but there’s also a nagging doubt. Was this really the Lord, or was it just the emotional pull of that dope bass line? I mean, we’ve all been there. We have responded to the emotions of a moment and we have all made audacious goals. I can’t tell you how many times at Super Summer I made audacious goals to read the Bible in a month or pray an hour every morning. I was moved in the moment. It didn’t last though.

Now I’m not saying that those desires to get into God’s Word and prayer were not from God. The Scriptures make clear that He draws us deeper into relationship with Him. What I’m saying is that my heartfelt proclamations of change most oftentimes boiled down to one thing:

Boredom.

That’s it.

I was bored by my average, run-of-the-mill, ordinary, Christian walk. I was bored and pained by fighting the battle against the same sins day after day, month after month. So summer camps and other mountaintop experiences gave me the chance to try and start out on a new path, one not beset with the harsh realities of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

And I believe that if we were to take down our walls for a moment of brutal honesty, most “movements of God” were nothing more than us trying to manufacture change in an instant.

So, by all means, I pray for revival. I pray that God shows up in amazing and mighty ways in Vernon, TX. I pray that He shows up in amazing and mighty ways all over the world. When a movement of God seems to be hitting a community though, I tend to wait. I wait to see if it lasts.

Consider Gamaliel in the book of Acts. In Chapter five, he tells people to leave the Christians alone. For if it is a man-made movement, it will not last. If it is from God, then there is nothing they can do to stop it.

Or consider how In 2 Kings, we see some of the craziest examples of God’s Spirit at work in the world. Like in the first chapter there is fire falling from heaven to show that the Lord is living. I’ve been reading 2 Kings as part of my personal devotion time, and I have been praying that God would remind me that His Spirit is in me, and that God would do great things in and through me. As I came to chapter two though, I was reminded again of the truth.

Check this out.

The people of the city said to Elisha, “Look, our lord, this town is well situated, as you can see, but the water is bad and the land is unproductive.” “Bring me a new bowl, he said, “and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. Then he went out to the spring and threw salt into it, saying, “This is what the LORD says: ‘I have healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make this land unproductive.’ And the water has remained pure to this day, according to the word Elisha had spoken. – 2 Kings 2:19-22

Think about this. Elisha, a prophet of God, comes to a town that had bad water. Elisha says with boldness, “This is what the Lord says: I have healed this water.” Now that’s an audacious claim. Elisha is speaking on behalf of God! A man speaking on behalf of God! Now, I get nervous when people claim to speak on God’s behalf. There is a difference in our modern era between re-proclaiming what God has said in His Word, and actually claiming to be a conduit from God. Yet Elisha says that the Lord said He wouldheal the water.

Do you want to know how I know that the Lord truly did move?

Look at that bold part of the passage.

At the time 2 Kings was written, the water was pure. What God did, lasted. That’s how you can tell when God moves. Did the fruit last? Is the water still pure?

It breaks my heart to acknowledge that through the years many students who I have seen make bold audacious claims of allegiance to God have no desire to follow Him anymore. I believe that seeds were planted. But like the parable, thorns came and choked the sprouts.

So when I hear lots of emotional excitement about some supposed movement of the Lord, I wait to see the fruit. I wait to see it in my own life, and in our communities.

Let me again be clear. I pray, I plead, I beg for God to move. I just have a different opinion than most on how that will happen. For me, there’s no bells and whistles. We combat sin, speak the truth of God’s Word, and invest relationally. There’s often no hype associated with it. Sometimes I wish there were. Yet when I see a student, over time grow increasingly more and more in love with Jesus and less and less captive to besetting sins, it’s in those moments that my eyes are opened to seeing God move. Yes, He can save my entire community in an instant if He so wished, but it’s in the day to day ‘coincidences’ that I see Him at work.

I see the fruit.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

Prayer & Community

The themes kept appearing incessantly throughout the week. They came from my own lips in the midst of Bible studies, and they came from the lips of local church planters of many different backgrounds and ministries. They showed up in D-Now teachings and Skype conversations. It was as if God was divinely orchestrating the entire week so that I would be able to undoubtedly grasp that without these two things, I could not successfully stay afloat in ministry in Phoenix.

Prayer and community.

I’m sitting in my apartment on an immensely rainy day, and these two things have not left my mind. For the past nine days I’ve had the privilege to host a team of nine students from my Alma mater, Oklahoma Baptist University. In the midst of walking with them this week and simply doing my best to paint a picture of what ministry in the West is like, the importance of prayer and community kept reverberating through my mind and heart. There is so much power in both of those practices and having the team here affirmed how beautifully refreshing practicing them can be to the heart of a Christian.

obu
So thankful for this team from OBU and the work they did in the city this past week!

There’s two ways of going about life on a normal week.

The first way of going about life is isolation. Yes, I may go to church with brothers and sisters in Christ, I may live with one of my closest friends, I may do fun activities and engage in conversation with my peers. Yet I can still be tremendously isolated by my failure to share what my deep-seated questions and pains may be at that time. I’ve looked my roommate in the eyes when he’s leaving the house, all of me wanting to scream out my need for prayer and encouragement, but my desire to stay comfortable and not admit weakness keeps me silent. I have the sovereign Lord of all willing to listen to my humble cries for help yet I can in my isolated state keep laboring through the darkness unwilling to seek the light of Christ through the practice of prayer.

That way of life is dark, depressing, and ultimately not how God designed us to live. But there is another way to go about everyday life in a missional mindset. That way of life is saturated with prayer and community.

A life saturated with prayer and community is the blessed life. Community is what the church is all about. It can definitely happen through functional and organized church events. Yet most of my growth and support in the context of community has happened on a random Tuesday when my friends ask me how I’m doing and I say “not so great”. For goodness sake, we were designed to need each other and we shortchange what God has given us through His church if we don’t place ourselves in the vulnerable position of community.

Prayer is too often my last resort. How silly and prideful of me. Prayer should be our first step of faith when faced with any circumstance. Prayer doesn’t have to be in a specific posture or location. Prayer is reliance on God, and prayer has transformational power. I’ve seen it change the hearts of others, I’ve seen it change the circumstances that I’m in. But more often than not, the transformational power of prayer happens in my own heart. When I praise God for all that He is, confess my sins and shortcomings, and give thanks for all the blessings He’s given me this day, I can’t help but have a heart that is changed and more in love with God.

I’ve been reading some of the short letters at the end of the New Testament and I’ve found encouragement to keep striving to implement both of these practices. There are many verses that combine both practices: deep community and prayerful posture.

Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. – 3 John 2

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; – Jude 20-22

John practiced praying for his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. He prayed not only for their spiritual health, but also their physical health. As followers of Christ we are to pray in the spirit, building each other up in our holy faith. We as followers of Christ are to also have mercy on those who doubt.

That final verse has been the most beneficial and impactful to me in regards to living in Christian community. I’ll honestly say that I’m not entirely sure the exact context of “have mercy on those who doubt”. Yet I imagine it has implications on how Christians should treat each other.

I’ve been following Christ since I was seven. Despite this, I doubt.

In certain seasons of my life I struggle with doubt in regards to certain things. Not necessarily in regards to mental doubt, but emotional doubt. I used to have a lot of fear in regards to confessing my struggles in doubt to my brothers in Christ. Yet it has been so true in my life that when I confess my anxieties and faith struggles that the mercy of my brothers drives me to remembering the promises of Scripture. We all need community to encourage us in our faith. We all get down and discouraged, we all need affirmation of the truths of God’s Word. We all need to be shown mercy and grace.

If we as followers of Christ are going to stand for Him in the coming days, we must be a people of prayer. If we as followers of Christ are going to stand for Him in the coming days, we need to be in a community of brothers or sisters in Christ who daily point us to Him.

Prayer and community.

I can’t exist without them.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

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