In the opening chapter of Repenting of Religion (2004) by Gregory A. Boyd, the author tells readers about an experience he had while sitting in a shopping mall. He began “people watching” as many of us often do. For every person that walked by, a thought went through his mind. Some positive, some negative. He caught himself and began to realize that he was attaching descriptions, characteristics, and titles on people he had never seen before in his life. Once he realized this, he immediately started talking to God right there in the mall. He shifted his thinking and began instead praying a blessing over each person that walked by. Boyd mentions in his Sunday sermons that this is an exercise he continues to practice to this day when he catches himself placing labels on those around him.
Boyd writes, “The only conclusion about other people that God allows us and commands us to embrace is the one given to us on Calvary: people have unsurpassable worth because Jesus died for them” (p. 107). As people pass us by, the one and only thing that we know about that individual is that Christ died for them. We don’t know their name, their history, or the struggles they face day to day, but we do know that they were worth Christ dying on the cross for. And if, in fact, this is the only true thing we know about that person, then what judgment can we pass?
The beautiful thing is that God does not command anywhere in the Bible that believers are assigned the duty of judgment. That is God’s role, and God’s role only. Rather than taking this on ourselves, we are able to take a deep breath and trust that God is working in the lives of everybody around us. We have the easy job of showing love and simply praying a prayer of blessing over each and every person we encounter. This exercise of praying a blessing over others helps to diminish our negative thoughts. It also paints a picture for us as we view them in God’s image and see the beauty of His creation. We should see others not as strangers, but as brothers or sisters in Christ whom God loves deeply.
This perspective is one that encourages me in my daily work. It reminds me about equality and keeping everybody on the same playing field. It reminds me to meet each individual where they are at, and to slow down in order to understand the obstacles they are facing. I am not to criticize or judge them, but rather assign them value and worth. I cannot look at myself and my own sin, and say that I am better or worse than another. Matthew 7:4 reads, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” (NIV). This mindset prepares me for difficult discussions. I pray that in my work I will embrace others with the same love that Jesus Christ has so graciously given me.
I’ll leave you with a verse from the book of Luke. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37, NIV). In your social work practice and in your personal lives, I encourage you to trust that God is working in the lives of others and shift any negative thoughts and judgments you may have into thoughtful prayers of blessing.
Mallory Birch, LSW, is Program Coordinator for the Salvation Army in Roseville, MN. She has been a member of NACSW since 2005, when she was a student at Trinity Christian College, and a student representative on NACSW’s Board of Directors for two years. This blog entry is a adaptation of an article which appeared in the January, 2014 issue of NACSW’s newsletter, Catalyst.
Reference: Boyd, G. A. (2004) Repenting of Religion Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.