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Who has most influenced you? I suspect that for most of us, that person is someone who has not only spoken words of wisdom but who has also practically loved us. We listened to their words because we saw their hearts. One of the six fundamentals of leadership is care; influencing others involves loving care.

Followers of Christ are often the greatest hurdle that people must overcome to believe in Jesus. We do not reflect his love to them or others, making it difficult for them to trust what we say about God. We show dislike and disdain for those who don’t think or look like us politically, economically, or socially. Saying we love the sinner but not the sin, we really don’t love the sinner either, holding them at arm’s length and escaping to our holy huddles rather than care for their needs. Such people are not only outside of our churches, but they are right there, afraid to let anyone know that they struggle for fear of being rejected.

To show the love of Christ it’s not enough to speak the truth; we must live out the unconditional love and grace that has been poured out on us. Christianity is hard; only by the grace of God can we love those who aren’t like us, those who question God, those who aren’t easy to love, even those who are our enemies. Those who come into our churches, small groups, neighborhoods, or workplaces who aren’t lovable or neighborly test our love and care.

I have so far to go in this area. Instead of reaching out to the unloving and difficult, I want to withdraw from them. I finally recognize that my natural instinct to run is selfish and protective, not godly. I struggle to care well for people who aren’t like me, but I am trying to do so with the power that God provides through his Spirit.

To influence others and lead them to embrace God’s vision for them, we must consider how far our care really extends.  These questions help me assess my real love for others, and they may help you.

  • Do you love someone in a practical way who isn’t easy to love, who takes advantage of you, who thinks differently than you do, or who disagrees with you on issues where your background, skin color, and economic situation may have predisposed you to differ with them?
  • Do you reach out in friendship to those outside of your comfort zone?
  • Do you show as much care for the woman in your small group who is difficult as the one who is encouraging and fun?
  • Do you willingly interact with the woman whose life continues to be a mess because she doesn’t listen to wise advice?
  • Do you have friends who aren’t like you in background, income, or beliefs?
  • Do you practically care for your annoying neighbor, unreasonable boss, or unkind relative?

There is likely nothing more like God and less natural to people as unconditional love and acceptance of those who don’t deserve it. There is nothing that will more cause people to notice that we are different because we follow Jesus than loving everyone. Pray for me as I ask God to grow me in this area, and share your comments about your struggles and successes.

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