Every one of us is in the business of being ambassadors for Jesus to someone who doesn’t know Him as well as we do: younger siblings, perhaps, or a struggling friend. I don’t know about you, but every time I try to be an ambassador, I learn at least as much as I teach. Take my younger sisters, for instance. They have let me know in no uncertain terms that when they are hurting, they want a listening ear! In fact, the older I get, the more I suspect that a very large part of being an ambassador involves shutting my mouth. It means leaving the comfortable bubble of my own thoughts and opening my heart to the hurts and confusions of others.
Not that identifying with other people is anything new: it’s exactly what Jesus did when He was here in this land, and He had no air-conditioned bus like I had when I first toured Israel. No, He walked, even when it was 108 degree weather in the hot, humid Galilee, where it rains dust when the weather blows in from the desert. He had no hotel-packed lunch: no spicy chicken, cookies, water, or fresh cucumbers and tomatoes. Just little barley loaves – probably slightly dusty and crumbled from the long hot walk, and a few dried fish from a little boy’s lunch. And the culture shock? Forget transatlantic travel: would you like to adjust to life on earth after experiencing eternity? When Lazarus died, no golden-throne view of His friend’s joyful entry into heaven. No, Jesus stood by the tomb, stuck in time – where you may miss a friend for years before you see him in heaven – and cried.
If that’s what He does for me in my hurts and fears, it seems the least that I can do for the people I share the bus with…the people I share the sidewalk with…the people I share the classroom with. When I was first here, back when there were more frequent bombings, I froze whenever I heard a sonic boom…and only relaxed when I didn’t hear a chorus of sirens rushing the wounded to the hospital near my house. Now, even though things seem much quieter, security is still high, and every time I walk into the mall or the grocery store, I let somebody search my bag.
But my physical safety is really the least of my worries. This is the most spiritual place I have ever lived in: it seems to attract both the kookiest and most heartfelt religious expressions you’ll find anywhere. I’ve met Christians from all over the world who simply glow with the light of God, who exude the fragrance of closeness to Jesus. I’ve also met people from all over the world who are the most mixed up, the most spiritually and emotionally bruised and wounded. There are even Christians who identify so closely with the Jewish religion that they become willing to deny Jesus…
It’s no wonder that I’ve been thinking a lot about the vital difference between identification and assimilation. Jesus identified with our hurts and needs at the same time that He lived and spoke in a way that was radically different from the expectations of every single human being He interacted with.
Obviously, I have to find some way to be as different as He is, in the way that He is different. But how?
Here are a few ways that God prepared me to be an ambassador for Him without my realizing it…and a few ways that I want Him to help me further.
1. Set stones of remembrance.
Keeping track of the process by which God led me and then actually got me here. It helps when things get bumpy.
2. Put myself under authority.
My relationship with my spiritual authority (in this case my daddy) has been my lifeline in the middle of the battle.
3. Enlist prayer warriors.
Keeping up correspondence with two or three trusted, praying friends has been a huge encouragement.
4. Feed myself spiritually.
All of the times when I managed to practice being a spiritual self-feeder (i.e. Seeking God myself, and not just relying on others’ relationships with God). Sharing lessons with you is a great motivator to learn myself!
5. Bear others’ burdens.
Getting to know the people around me at home and finding ways to bear their burdens. I had to learn to be sensitive, but not shy: God gives everybody, including me, something to offer to others, and I had to practice sharing it.
6. Cultivating flexibility.
I’m learning that I don’t need a particular food, home, friend, job, etc. to be happy…not because they aren’t good, but because Jesus is with me. I didn’t have to worry about making up opportunities to practice flexibility – God sends plenty. All I have to do is embrace the ones I have.
7. Learning how to have fun!
Yes, fun. Noticing the little things that God sends me every day just because He loves me, knows what I like, and wants to make me happy. It helps to take lessons from kids on this one.
8. Having a practical relationship with the Holy Spirit.
Just recognizing that: I don’t have all the answers, that He does, that He knows how to communicate with even thick-headed me…and then asking Him to lead me and expecting that He will (and sometimes without my even knowing it until later).
9. Not trying to be spiritual.
Yes, God wants me to grow, but it’s a process. It takes time. I can’t get frustrated with myself in the process, but instead, just have it as my aim to walk with Jesus no matter what…while seeking a conviction of His ridiculously, amazingly big love for me and then sitting on it, hard.
10. Being real.
Just being. Being real through and through. Being joyfully, unapologetically what God wants me to be. This is what attracts people the most. They can tell genuine from fake, and they are incredibly hungry for the real thing: somebody who knows God and really lives the Bible. It helps to find out why I do something I’ve been taught to do. If I discover that it is Biblical but I still don’t like it, I can talk to God. He understands, He’s in the business of heart-changing, and He’s good at it.