Author: Ethan Ezikian
Recently my wife and I took a trip to Guatemala to visit an orphanage that we support. Almost every day while I was there, I interacted with a group of high-school aged boys who live at the orphanage. For me, being with them was hard. Though my knowledge of Spanish is limited, I knew enough to recognize that their conversations were full of crude humor, disrespectful language, and cruel insults. In addition to that, there were a couple of days when I went to do their daily chores with them and was appalled at their laziness.
They worked harder trying to get out of their tasks than they would have if they had simply bit the bullet and done the work.
It irked me that these young men had been taken out of situations of abuse, neglect, homelessness, and hunger and had been given food, shelter, and love and yet they were so unwilling to show their gratitude by obediently completing their chores. It bothered me that they lived in an environment where they received constant reminders of who God is and what Christ has done for them, and still they relished their crude humor and cruel comments. The behavior of these boys troubled me, so I did what I knew I should do:
I prayed for them.
I prayed that the Holy Spirit would work in their hearts and stir up a deep love for Jesus. I prayed that their love for Jesus might melt away the spiteful attitudes of their hearts. I prayed that they would see the error of their ways and repent. I prayed that God would sanctify them and grow them into men of righteousness. Every day I prayed.
On our plane ride home I took out my journal and began reflecting on our time at the orphanage. As I wrote out my thoughts about the boys, I began to vent my frustrations and, again, I prayed for them, but in that moment it was as if God interrupted my internal monologue and said,
“You’re praying the right things for the wrong reasons. You aren’t loving theses boys.”
In that instant of clarity I was humbled. I may have wanted the right things for those boys, but in praying for them that week I had hi-jacked the gospel and tried pervert its freedom for my own selfish purposes.
There is a story of Jesus from the book of Luke that I’ve kept on returning to as I’ve thought about my experience with the boys at the orphanage. In Luke 19, after Jesus makes his triumphal entry with the crowds crying “hosanna in the highest!” and waving palm branches, Jesus draws near to the city of Jerusalem and weeps over it saying,
“Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes” (v. 42).
Jesus looked upon those who did not know the gospel (“the things that make for peace”) and wept over them. Unlike me, his heart was moved to grief and compassion over the lost ones of Israel. He, more than anyone else, had the divine right to be angry at the sin and stupidity of humanity, but instead of bringing wrath, he shed tears.
We who are called to be imitators of Christ (Ep. 5:1) should love the lost as he did, grieving over their plight. Sadly many of us take the same stance that I did, merely using the gospel as a tool to make people behave, which is a grievous perversion of the good news.
When God saves us through Christ, he is not loving some future, holier, less annoying version of ourselves; he loves us as we are in spite of our sin. His mercy is not conditional on who we might become, but wholly dependant on the goodness of the Savior. This is the hope of the gospel! Conversely, when I prayed for the salvation of the boys at the orphanage, I was basing my desire for their salvation on what they could be, how their behavior could change. I was not loving them like Christ. Instead, in my pride, I assumed that my standards for what was good and acceptable were where these boys needed to be. I wanted my false gospel for them instead of the gospel of Jesus.
How often do we find ourselves in these types of situations – not really loving the lost, but seeking to simply make them adhere to our standards?
When we pray for our president and others in authority, do we pray because we care for their eternal destiny or because their policies don’t line up with our agenda?
When we bring messy sorts of people into our lives do we witness to them because we want to love them like Christ does or because if they become Christians they might stop stealing from the offering plate or coming to church drunk?
Do we keep our brothers and sisters accountable in their faith because we desire to see the joy of their salvation well up in their hearts or because them falling into sin would just mean a bigger mess for the accountability group to deal with?
No matter what sort of situation we find ourselves in, we must remember the love of Christ given to us – a love not dependant upon what we might become, but on the goodness of Jesus.
How can a love like that be resisted?
Since God convicted me of my perversion of the gospel, I have been challenged to continue praying for those boys; but this time with a re-oriented heart – a heart that weeps over their unbelief as Jesus wept over Jerusalem. So, my question is… who are you weeping over?
Ethan serves a congregation in West Michigan as the director of worship and has a passion for leading musical worship, penning his own music, writing down his thoughts on worship, and teaching others the truths he has come to cherish. In addition to these passions, he enjoys listening to audio books and podcasts, playing ultimate frisbee, biking, doing almost anything artistic, and spending time with the friends that God has blessed him with, including his very best friend and treasure – his wife Dana.