If you were to be completely honest, telling me exactly who or what you hate, I would know something very important about you. The information you disclosed would tell me where you are on your spiritual journey. Or, to use another metaphor, it would act like a spiritual gauge, measuring the condition of your soul.
If you are like me, you may have a hard time admitting to hatred of any kind. But what if I were to tell you that God allows hatred—that he expects it of us? Would you brand me a heretic? Or a lunatic? The Bible, you might say, tells us that God is love, so how can we tolerate even a shred of hatred in our lives?
Perhaps the point is not so much that we never hate but that we have the right target for our hatred, imitating God by hating the things he hates. Paul tells the Romans to “hate what is wrong” (12:9). We know that God hates every form of sin, not just because sin transgresses his laws, but because sin violates shalom, breaking the peace. Sin prevents us from living life as it’s supposed to be lived.
Like God, we are to hate the sin and not the sinner. But we get confused, finding it difficult to separate the two. Fortunately Christ has done what we can’t—separating sin from the sinner by virtue of his sacrifice on the cross.
Still, instead of loving the things God loves and hating the things God hates, our disordered and divided hearts often make the mistake of tolerating what he will not tolerate—greed, selfishness, pride, and lust—and then hating what he loves—purity, goodness, humility, and kindness. Our quest as Christians is to let God remake our hearts so we love whatever makes for shalom and hate whatever destroys it.
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Joe and Viola Byler live on a farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. On the first floor of their two-story Amish home is a kitchen-family room combination, warmed by wood stoves. Author Suzanne Woods Fisher shares a story about the importance of the kitchen-family room in her book Amish Peace:
“‘It’s the only room that’s heated,’ Viola explains. ‘At night, the entire family gathers here. Everyone is together. The kids do their homework, Dad reads, I’ll be finishing up something in the kitchen.’
“Wouldn’t it be simple to heat the other rooms? Granted, the Amish don’t have central heating, but it couldn’t be that hard to lug a kerosene heater upstairs so the kids could study quietly. Would it?
“The answer comes swiftly.
“‘No!’ Viola says, eyes wide. ‘We love being together. It’s our way. Why, if other rooms were heated, everyone would . . . well, they would scatter!’ She says it as if it were a sin.”1 Suzanne Woods Fisher tells this story to illustrate the Amish emphasis on community and belonging. Research, she says, indicates that Old Order Amish suffer far lower rates of major depression and heart disease than the general population. Perhaps, she says, it is this emphasis on togetherness that contributes to their emotional and physical strength.
The point of this story is not to get you to turn off the heat to all but the kitchen and family room but to say that when it comes to experiencing good health—an aspect of shalom—we have important choices to make. How can we keep our families from becoming fragmented and scattered? How can we connect to others in vital Christian community? Ask God today to help you to make wise choices so you can experience the peace that comes from belonging to those who love him.
1. Suzanne Woods Fisher, Amish Peace (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2009), 42.
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I love sugar—always have, always will. When I was a child, I used to climb up on the kitchen counter when no one was looking. I’d dip a spoon into the sugar bowl and then aim the heaping spoonful of white stuff straight at my mouth. Once I swallowed so much sugar that I managed to give myself a coughing fit, complete with tiny granules bursting through my nose.
The problem with sugar is that it never leaves you feeling satisfied. One bite of a candy bar just makes you start thinking about the next bite, and then the bite after that. Our desires can be like that too—impossible to satisfy.
Wayne Muller believes that most of us try to find happiness through satisfying our desires. But the two are not necessarily linked. “We can feel the difference between happiness—which is often simple and easy, an inner shift toward appreciation and gratefulness for what is before us,” he says, “and desire, which is often frantic and relentless, cutting the heart with its sharp and painful demands. If we do not disengage, if we stay on the wheel of desire, if we do not stop and pray and sing and walk, the pattern of our addictive craving is free to escalate without limit.”1
What kind of sugar are you craving right now? More shopping? An expensive vacation? A relationship to fill the void? Whatever it is, take some time to reclaim your freedom by stopping to take a walk. As you do so, use the time to pray and sing, breaking away from anything that might threaten your peace.
1. Wayne Muller, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (New York: Bantam, 1999), 127.
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Want a surefire way to improve your relationships with others, even with those who have a way of rubbing you the wrong way or offending you every time they open their mouths? I’m not going to offer you a seven-step guide, nor am I going to tell you there’s a pill you can take that will help you get along with the most abrasive people in your life. My advice is much simpler. I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but let me remind you.
The best way to deal with the difficult people in your life is to pray for them—regularly. But be careful how you pray. Avoid the temptation of telling God what jerks they are, praying for them to change so you can experience relief. Instead, pray that God will richly bless them. As you do so, ask God to help you see them the way he does.
Every act of intercession is an act of generosity. God honors that generosity, sometimes in powerful ways. When you pray for a person, you bring them with you into the throne room of God. That’s where prayers are answered and grace is given. There, in God’s presence, you can receive his heart for the people you are praying for. He can show you the best way to pray for them.
Here’s what Dietrich Bonhoeffer says about what happens when we pray: “I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner.”1 Though Bonhoeffer is talking about praying for other Christians, this same transformation can happen as we pray for those who don’t yet know Christ.
Who do you find it hard to like, difficult to tolerate, impossible to forgive? Try a little experiment. Decide you will pray for that person every day for the next twenty-one days. You may be surprised what your heart discovers.
1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, trans. John W. Doberstein (New York: Harper and Row, 1954), 86.
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