I have been humbled before, and in fact I have been humbled often. I recall only two times before I have ever been so humbled in quite the way I was when the Lord showed me the man I was treating like a leper. As a young child, I said and did one of the most awful things I have ever done as a human. A schoolmate had a head that would not grow hair, and I ridiculed him in the lunchroom so I could grab attention. I was a shy, studious child, and this was very unlike me. Yet I will never forget the words I spoke, nor the feeling that arose in me years later when I released the horrendous act I had committed. I did my best to go back to the boy that was now a man, and I have repented to the Lord whose creation the boy was, yet the fact remains I did what I did. Alas, I was a child that did not know the Lord. And I find some consolation in my extreme immaturity and lack of compassion for my fellow man.
Decades later, I treated a loved one in a similar way. Judgment. Condemnation. Lack of compassion. Lack of understanding. Lack of the Lord’s love. I ultimately repented, and sought forgiveness from my loved one, but this was different. I should have known better. By this time, I was an adult. But I was not merely an adult. I was an adult saved by faith in Christ and a woman who was doing her best to follow Jesus in her daily life. Alas, the Lord’s mercy never runs out and His love never runs out. The Lord has forgiven me. And I find some consolation in knowing I did my best at the time and most certainly in knowing I am forgiven.
Nevertheless, what the Lord revealed to me yesterday was altogether astonishing. In the ongoing act of reaching out to those in need as part of my ministry work and my life’s purpose, I have come across a man I have crossed paths with in years past. We have always merely crossed paths. Nothing more, nothing less. We went to the same place from time to time. But this was not any ordinary experience, when I look back.
See, the man is not like other men – not on the outside anyway. He has what appears to either be a birth defect, the result of a horrendous injury, or perhaps the aftermath of a restorative surgery. The man does not look like any other man I have seen. I choose not to describe the person because the least I could do is show the respect I have never shown him. Suffice it to say his appearance is so profoundly different than any other human I have ever seen in person that I, and I am quite sure others, find it natural to do one of either things. One, to look and stare. Two, to look away and avoid. But why?
While my natural flesh, without the presence and consciousness and commitment to God, finds it necessary and natural to either stare or look away, what about the re-born person I am supposedly to be? What about the Lord’s heart beating inside of mine? What about the Word of God, the Bible, I have studied for so many years now? What about all the time, love, and care I have invested through the years in coming to know that I know that I know, and love, and cherish, the Lord? What about the Lord’s Holy Spirit dwelling inside my body as a temple for His glory? Yes, what about the Lord?
The Lord? It takes an act of utter humility – and tears poking at the backsides of my eyelids – to say this. In this matter of crossing paths with the man, I have failed. Entirely. Every single time I have crossed paths with him. But only the other day, only when a wild kind of a conversation occurred, did I prompt the Lord in my miserable action to bring me to repentance. How so?
“Do you need a sleeping bag?” I asked the man. “I am giving them to people who are living on the streets. If you live inside, and have heat, I can’t give you a sleeping bag.”
“I live in a trailer,” the man replied.
So he’s inside, I thought.
“And you have heat?” I asked and assumed.
“I have a little heater,” he replied.
Ah ha, I thought.
“I’m starting with giving the sleeping bags to people living on the streets, not in shelters or indoors,” I explained. My words were kind, I am quite sure of it. But what about my heart?
“And what do you sleep on?” I asked, figuring I could determine his need or lack of need. I had already judged him. He had a place to live. He had heat. Right?
“I have a bed,” he answered.
“And what is on your bed?” I asked.
“Sheets,” he said.
“No blanket?” I asked.
“Just sheets,” he said simply.
“I think they have blankets downstairs in the place that gives away clothes,” I said.
“I can help him get a blanket,” the man listening to our conversation replied.
“Okay, that’s great,” I said. “But promise me if you can’t come up with a blanket, let me know. I can help find one, or maybe there will be extra sleeping bags. Though I’m not sure about that. I need to start with the people living on the streets,” I explained, as if they both had not heard me before.
The conversation ended, as abruptly as it had begun.
But in reality, the conversation was not an end. It was a beginning. Just hours later, and a day later, the Lord would use the conversation as a catalyst to bring me to repentance.
“He has a little heater,” I told a loved one when I was relating the story. And then it hit me. A little heater. In a trailer. No blanket. But this is not all. In fact, it is relatively nothing. Chances are a grown man indoors, with a small heater, is somewhat okay in a South Carolina winter. Maybe, anyway. Better than on the streets, right? Perhaps. Yes, probably. But this is not the point.
The point is that this man does not need a blanket made at a manufacturing plant. He needs a blanket of God’s love. He does not need a comforter from off of some rich person’s bed that decided to get a prettier comforter for the newly designed bedroom. This man needs the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. This man needs the God of all Comfort. The Lord. And this man needs the love of the Lord – and the love of God’s people.
But what He has gotten from me, and probably most human beings he has ever come across in his entire life, is nothing. He has probably gotten a lifetime of most people looking away. Looking in the other direction. Or staring. Staring at a man that looks different than everybody else. Staring at a man who most likely lives a phenomenally lonely life on a bed of sheets in a trailer with a little heater to keep him warm. But what kind of warmth is that? What kind of warm is it when you spend a life as a leper among human beings that have better, and more comfortable, and safer, and more secure, and happier things to do in their busy, self-centered lives?
Oh, I can’t speak for anyone else. But I can speak for myself. The Lord not only brought me to repentance, but He showed me that He is no respecter of persons. Need is need. One man may need a sleeping bag. Another a prayer. Another a friend. Another a Bible. One man may need an introduction to Jesus. Another encouragement. And what about the man who just needs someone for once not to look away, but to say a simple hello? Or to hand him a sleeping bag, or a comforter, or a blanket, even if he does live inside and everyone else is outside?
Oh Lord, I am a blown away at how far short I have fallen. I am a woman, like so many others, who has complained of loneliness from time to time. But do we really know the loneliness of one of our society’s lepers? This man is treated like a leper. And I am one of the very people who has treated him as such. This is not like the little boy I ridiculed as a child when I didn’t know the Lord. Nor is it like the loved one I judged and condemned (and still sometimes do and have to repent all over again) when I was younger in the Lord.
This man is someone I have treated like a leper as a woman who is heavily entrenched in a life following the Lord. How I marvel at how far I can still fall. But how I marvel most at the Lord’s never ending mercy. And how excited I am for the next time I come across a “leper”. For I know what I will do. I will look to the Lord, and I will show the person His love, His heart, His mercy, His compassion. His comfort. His grace. Not in my own human flesh, but in the strength of the Lord, by His grace, love, power, and mercy.
Father, forgive me. For it is not as though I know not what I have done. I do know what I have done. I was a respecter of persons. I treated a person you created without your love. I treated the person as a leper. You would never do this. You would go out of your way to love. Please teach me to love like you do. We are all lepers in one way or another, aren’t we? Rejected, ridiculed by the world in some fashion. But you love us all, even as we are, and yet you don’t leave us here. You long to take us into your fold, not only as a lost sheep. But as a found sheep. One of your fold. To love and cherish. To teach and grow. To become like you. You, our Father. You, my Father. My sweet, tender, merciful, Father. I cry out to you now, Lord. You say to me, “be still, my love. I have washed your sins away.” Let this not be all, my Father. Help me to do what is right, not wrong. Help me to reflect your light and your love. Help me to open up my arms and heart like you do and to give comfort, your Comfort, and everything else you desire that I give to a world in need. Above all else, let me give you. Jesus. Amen.
I ENCOURAGE YOU is a brand new devotional to help encourage you in your life’s journey.
I ENCOURAGE YOU to take a look into your heart, and your life, and to see whom you may be treating as a leper. Is this what the Lord longs for you to do? Or, might you not ask the Lord to fill you up with Himself and to teach you to love as He does? Repent, repent. And begin again. Begin anew. Begin afresh. And the next time you come across a “leper”, pray the Lord would use you as a vessel to pour His love through to touch and transform, to love and bestow mercy and compassion, and friendship, upon one of His Creation.