Confession time. I have to work really hard at being gentle. It’s the truth. Many people from my former church and many people I’ve known over the years describe me as having a “sweet spirit,” and I believe I am a sweet person. But, do I think of myself as gentle? No. Gentleness is something I have to work at.
One of the main areas that reflect my lack of gentleness is my speech. I’ve said this before, but my college friends used to call me “the Baroness” from G.I. Joe because my quips were so lethal. I’ve grown over the years and am more conscious of my words, timing and tone, but I still have to work at it. I don’t intentionally set out to hurt or offend people with my words, but every now and then, I find myself at war with my former self struggling for the godly or gentle words to say.
This wouldn’t be such a big deal if my speech wasn’t a reflection of my heart because as believers we know out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34). Hardness of heart is something the Lord has had to work on with me over the years. I think I struggle with hardness because of devastating and traumatic events in my life. I’ve become hardened as a means of self-protection. One of the first spiritual lessons the Lord taught me as a baby believer was about the condition of the heart. The Lord showed me I couldn’t love the way He wanted me to love because everything flowed through my tainted heart. The Lord showed me the image of a filter. When my emotions, actions, words flowed through the filter of my tainted heart, they, too, became tainted. Jesus taught me that I needed to be transformed by Him so I could truly love the people in my life, whether in my personal life or in ministry. It’s still a struggle, especially since the death of my husband. I feel like my heart was so broken by his unexpected death, and my natural or fleshly inclination is to harden up per se. Some days I feel like Naomi. Just call me “Mara” meaning bitter because I feel the Lord has dealt so harshly with me (Ruth 1:20).
Of course, the Lord knows my natural tendencies to harden up, so during my devotions, He led me to Matthew 10:16.
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (NIV).
Some versions say as “harmless” or as “gentle” as doves. In Matthew 10, Jesus is commissioning the disciples. He is sending them out to do the work of God, and in the process, He’s telling them everything they will encounter for His name’s sake. He tells them they will be chased out of towns, thrown in jail, taken before judges, rejected by those closest to them, and called children of the devil. However, in the midst of all this negativity, hurt and pain they will surely face, Jesus tells them to be as harmless or as gentle as doves. Wuh Jesus? Yes. Jesus tells them in the midst of ravenous wolves, He wants His disciples to maintain their gentleness.
When you think about it, isn’t this what the world lacks today? Gentleness? People deal so harshly with one another without regard for the consequences, especially in the online world. Your personal shortcomings or mistakes can become memes that can be shared all over the world as a global joke. And what about our relationships? Men and women have a hard time connecting and maintaining relationships because of hardness of heart and lack of gentleness. And look at our children! Many of the children and teens in today’s society are very hard-hearted. Some don’t care about their future, their parents or elders in the community, and some don’t even value the sanctity of life.
When Jesus admonished the disciples to be as harmless as doves, it means He wanted them and wants us to be a person who advocates for peace, conciliation, or negotiation in preference to confrontation or conflict. It means Jesus wants us to lead with love and not hate and violence whether that violence is psychological, mental, emotional or physical. We are to be the peacemakers. We are to wear our hearts on our sleeve so to speak. That’s how the world will know us, by our love. That’s when we’ll be called the children of God.
As were the disciples in Matthew 10, we are constantly surrounded by ravenous wolves in today’s society; however, we can’t let that harden us and destroy the work that Jesus wants to do in us. I believe the first step is surrender. Surrender your heart to Christ, and He will give you a heart of flesh in place of your heart of stone (Ezekiel 36:26). This is the first step to real transformation as a believer. When your heart is right, your relationships and experiences will follow. Then you can become the change agent God wants you to be.