A guy on TV said he never went to a theater alone to watch a movie because he was afraid people would see him there by himself and think he was a loser who had no friends. He lived in a city and it was most likely nobody in the theater would know who he was and he’d probably never see them again. And yet he was concerned what these strangers might think of him. The fear of their opinion was determining his actions.
Why does it matter what some strangers think? They might be too busy eating their popcorn and not even notice him. And even if they did – what difference does it make?
Worrying about what others might think can become a cruel dictator that controls our actions, robs us of joy and fills our hearts with fear.
The apostle Paul wasn’t enslaved by fear of what people might think. In the book of Galatians he tells about meeting some of the leaders of the church. He appreciated the encouragement they gave him, but he didn’t have to have their approval. He was even willing to confront Peter when Peter was doing things that weren’t in accord with God’s Word. “When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong” (Galatians 2:11). Peter was leading people to believe they had to keep certain Jewish traditions in order to be right with God. Paul let him know that was contrary to Scripture. He wanted to make it clear that we get right with God by faith in Christ and not by following rituals. He did it even though there was a chance it might upset Peter and cause people to think Paul was a little brash. He was more concerned with what was true and right than what people thought.
Jesus most definitely was not worried about what people might think. He was willing to become one who “was despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53:3). The religious crowd made accusations against Him because of what He ate and drank and who He hung out with. “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2). They meant it as an insult but we ought to see it as a cause for thanksgiving that Jesus was called “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34).
Jesus can set us free from the fear of what people think. We don’t worry about how many likes our Facebook post gets, because we’re loved by God. So what if nobody chooses to go with us to the movie? God has chosen us to be His child. The crowd won’t approve of all of our actions, but when we have faith in Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross, He approves us to be in His family.
Our calling isn’t to get people to like us. It’s to love them and introduce them to the incredible love of Jesus. Sometimes the crowd may like us and sometimes they won’t. But God’s great love for us endures forever.
It was one of those times when I was reminded of how blessed I am to get to do what I do. I was visiting with a lady whose health was failing. It didn’t look like her time on this earth was going to be much longer and she knew it. She also knew where she was going and what was coming next. She had faith in Jesus who died on the cross for her sins and rose again from the dead. She had received His gift of life eternal.
I read from the Bible some of God’s promises about heaven. “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4). Even though she had some pain and difficulty breathing, her eyes lit up as she looked forward to what God had promised.
We prayed and she asked me to read some more. I read some of what Jesus said before He went to the cross: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms … I am going there to prepare a place for you … I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1-3). The thought of being with Jesus and having her long-held hopes realized gave her a spark that her suffering couldn’t extinguish.
We prayed again and then sat together in silence for a bit. She repeated the word eternal. I felt like a privileged spectator who was getting to watch God at work giving comfort and assurance. I was given a front-row seat and a chance to watch God walk with one of His children through the valley of the shadow of death. I got another opportunity to see how God can calm fears and give peace.
This all happened on the anniversary of the day that my mom went home to be with the Lord 21 years earlier. When I got to the car the first song on the radio was “Home” by Chris Tomlin. “All this pain, all this suffering; there’s a better place waiting for me in heaven. Every tear will be wiped away. Every sorrow and sin erased. We’ll dance on seas of amazing grace – in heaven. I’m going home.”
One day the tears will be wiped away. One day the pain and sorrow will be no more. One day we’ll be home.
One Christmas season I was in a coffee shop preparing a sermon. A lady I didn’t know came up to me, got my attention and said, “Have a merry Christmas.” She said it like a command, making me wonder if she thought I was somebody who needed some cheering up. I wasn’t feeling depressed. I was just lost in my thoughts. The lady maybe felt her calling was to put a smile on my face.
Our culture can get uncomfortable with sadness and sorrow. We ask, “How’s it going?” but we hope people will just smile and say, “Good.” Some of the best acting that goes on isn’t in a movie or on a stage. It’s in relationships where people are acting like everything is fine, while inside they’re wrestling with much fear and pain. Often people don’t want to say and they don’t want to hear what is really going on.
A culture that wants a constant smile isn’t a big fan of the Lenten season. Lent is the time in the church year when we remember what Jesus did on the cross for us. It is often a time for sorrow as we are confronted with the reality of our sin, the damage it caused and the price that had to be paid.
Sometimes we shouldn’t be smiling. This life can have a lot of pain and heartache and sometimes weeping is more appropriate than smiling. You’re not a weak Christian who lacks faith if sometimes you’re sad and struggling. When Jesus “approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19:41). He was sorrowful because He knew many would reject Him and miss out on the peace He wanted to give them. When He saw His friends weeping at the tomb of Lazarus, “Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’” (John 11:35-36).
When we love deeply, it opens us up to being hurt deeply. Because we love we hurt over the one who strays. We miss the one who is gone. Our culture would often prefer us to stay in “the mellow middle,” giving up great blessings to avoid deep hurts. Doing that avoids truly living. A heart that is alive gets hurt, but we trust in the promise that “weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). We look through the tears and see the signs that morning is about to dawn.