“Father, please use me in some way to be testimony for You right now to whomever I might meet in here today. Just help me to represent You well, so that even without knowing my name they might see evidence that I belong to You!” I whispered as I got ready to walk into the fitness center where I had been working out regularly for some time. I longed so much to be able to be a witness to someone, but time after time I walked out without ever having a chance to talk to anyone. “Lord, I want so much to be a witness for Christ, but it’s so hard to have a chance to talk to anyone, even though I see these same people on a daily basis here! Why does it seem so hard for me to connect with people, when others seem to be able to do so much more naturally?”
As I continued praying daily about this, I realized more and more that my greatest desire is just to be like Jesus to the people that I meet, but as a girl living in 21st century America, sometimes I struggle so much to know what Jesus would do in my place? How do I connect what I know about His life with my own reality day by day? What does it look like for me to become like Him to the people I interact with?
In Sunday School about this same time, my Pastor had been doing a series on growing in sanctification, and one Sunday his study on Paul’s desire to be conformed to Christ’s death really hit home with me (Phil. 3:10). The more I desire to be satisfied in Christ and become more like Him, the more I must become conformed to His death, and this means a willingness to humble myself as He did and to actually die to myself, so that I can serve others (Philippians 2:5-8)! Matthew 20:28 tells us that Jesus Himself “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” If I am to live like Him, I must be willing to put self to death in order to be a servant to others and to love others. In addition, Jesus told His disciples in John 13:35 that “by this all people will know that You are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
So I began to ask myself, what would it look like for me to love those people that I see on a daily basis, even strangers, and how can I put self to death in order to reach out to others around me and show the love of Christ to them? One thing that God began to impress upon my heart was that it might just be something as simple as making eye contact with people and smiling at them. So I started making it a point to do that as often as possible, with people I saw at the gym and even people I passed while out on walks or at the grocery store. It wasn’t much, but it was a step towards learning to notice people around me and show love the way Jesus would do. Even just a smile can go a long way towards encouraging someone, while at the same time communicating a heart of joy that comes from delighting in Christ, which can lead to opportunities to share with them the source of our joy! Why is it that so often our faces reflect so little joy, and we walk right past people without even so much as a glance in their direction, as if they were completely invisible! I know that we live in a culture where people keep largely to themselves, and personal space is guarded carefully, but I think most people appreciate friendliness more than we realize, and it can be a great way to show our distinctiveness as Christians!
As I continued to pray for opportunities to be used of God to minister to people I meet in my day to day, I decided that loving others might take me out of my comfort zone sometimes, but that I needed to look for opportunities not just to smile and be friendly, but to talk to people. If you know me at all, you know this is not natural for me, especially with strangers, but I decided that part of dying to myself in order to love others might be pushing myself out of what is comfortable and looking for ways to start conversations with people. I started trying to say hi to people that I came in contact with, especially at the gym, where I see the same faces every day and have at least one thing in common with everyone in there – a commitment to exercise! Then one day God gave me an opportunity to have a real conversation with a lady that I had seen many times before in there but had never actually talked to. We were working out next to each other, and I decided to take a risk and try to start a conversation, so I just asked her if she had a regular routine that she did every time she came in to work out. I discovered that she was very friendly, and we got to talking for several minutes! It wasn’t much, but it was a start, and who knows how God might use even that simple gesture of friendship? She would not have thought it unusual or rude had I not spoken to her at that time, but I couldn’t let the opportunity pass by, even though talking to strangers has never been comfortable for me! I realized again that we have opportunities all the time to choose to put self to death, as my pastor had been talking about, but how often do we instead choose what is most comfortable and pleasing to self, and in so doing miss out on opportunities to be a blessing to others!
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35