(I originally wrote this article over a year ago, but at a time in our society when there is so much that divides us, incenses us, and hurts us, I felt an urging by the Holy Spirit to share it again now.)
“A bruised reed shall He not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench.” (Matthew 12:20, KJV).
These words, inspired by the Holy Spirit, described Jesus Christ, both in the Old Testament prophecy forecasting His coming, and in the New Testament as He carried out His earthly ministry. The words referred to the fact that Jesus was careful not to put down or belittle people who came to Him, even when they were weak in faith, or because they were lacking in some area of consecration or obedience.
Now, to be sure, He did on occasion ask His own disciples, “Why are you fearful, or why did you doubt?” But those words were not intended as reprimands, but as questions to cause them to think and learn. They were in training, after all, and were supposed to be learning from Him and growing in faith and the demonstration of it. They were in a different position from the average person who came to Jesus for ministry.
Throughout His earthly walk, Jesus was kind and compassionate to everyone who had need of Him. If the people He dealt with had even a smoldering bit of faith, or just a heart-felt desire to connect with Him, He welcomed them and spoke and acted in such a way as to encourage them. To the sick man at the Pool of Bethesda, who evidently had some lack of initiative if he’d been supposedly “trying to get to the pool” for 38 years, Jesus simply asked, “Do you want to be made well?” And then, even though the man’s only response was to complain about not having any other people to help him, Jesus proceeded to heal him completely. (John 5:1-15).
And look at His treatment of Zacchaeus, who was a first-rank sinner (self-confessed) and who had no obvious faith or obedience going for him. Just the fact that Zacchaeus wanted to know more about Jesus — enough to climb into a tree so that he could see Jesus better as He went through town — was enough for Jesus to call him over and invite Himself to Zacchaeus’ house — showing him both honor and compassion at the same time. (Luke 19:1-10).
Even when Jesus knew He had to deliver a strong word to a person who sought something from Him, His focus was on loving that person and responding in the most compassionate way possible. In Mark’s gospel (chapter 10) Jesus is approached by a rich young ruler who asks for instructions for inheriting eternal life. This young man had sought to follow the rules of the law in conduct, but he obviously had a heart problem that would keep him from being in unity with God.
Jesus knew the man would need to let go of the pride he had in following the rules and experience a heart change that would cause him to truly give of himself to help others. Jesus knew HIs instructions would come as a blow to this young man, and the first thing we learn about Jesus in this situation is that He “loved” the young man. He spoke to him words that were necessary, but they were not spoken in rebuke, but in love and compassion.
Another time, when Jesus’ disciples told Him of other ministers who were delivering people in Jesus’ name but were not following Him, Jesus said to leave them alone because if they were not “against” Him, then they were “for” Him. He didn’t rebuke those other ministers or even correct them. (Luke 9:49-50)
Wherever He went, Jesus was looking for ways to lift people up, encourage them, and help them grow in their relationship with their Creator.
Several years ago I read words by another minister that said, in effect, that we should be careful not to destroy someone’s imperfect faith because, at the time we’re interacting with that individual, it’s the only faith that person has. But it’s likely that, given time and encouragement, that imperfect faith will grow into something stronger and purer.
I’ve learned over the years that there’s a good deal of wisdom in those words, and I’ve seen people’s faith grow exceedingly. In fact, my own faith has grown, changed, grown some more, and changed some more over some sixty years of life as a Christian. So I know the potential is there.
I’ve been thinking a great deal about this particular subject matter lately, and I believe the reason is that the Lord is showing me it’s really important to encourage people in these areas. I think I’ve always been an encourager in general, but I know, at times, I also tend to hold back when I see that a person has areas of his life or faith that are most definitely unscriptural. I sometimes tend to concentrate more on trying to “help” them get “fixed” in those areas rather than encouraging the little bit of positive in them — that smoking flax of faith or that character trait that is slightly bruised.
But I believe the Lord is saying that I need to refocus and concentrate on encouraging for a while rather than fixing. It may be that enough encouragement of the positive — even if it’s just smoldering or somewhat bruised or damaged — will strengthen those people enough to help them go on and eventually get the other stuff fixed.
And, after all, God is the real “fixer” — not me. And I’m also aware that there are a number of areas in my own life that need “fixing” as well. Certainly, I need to pray for the people in my life where the negative areas are concerned, so that the Lord has an open channel to work in their lives. But I need to let Him take care of the fixing and use my energy and influence to encourage those individuals. Encouragement in the right places can sometimes put us in a stronger position so that we can better receive the help God has for us.
So, as I move forward in my life, one of my primary spiritual goals is going to be to encourage every positive thing I see in every person I’m with, and to do so in the name of Jesus Christ — who never broke a bruised reed (damaged person) or quenched any smoking flax (smoldering faith.) I believe if I’ll be faithful to do my part, He will be able to do all the rest of the work necessary to bring them to wholeness and overcoming faith.
photo courtesy of Ria Algra @ pixabay.com