Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Thin skin

I have been told often throughout my life that I needed thicker skin. It's a popular phrase in seminaries and other places preparing people for church ministry. I heard it many times while I was pastoring as well. I never much cared for the phrase "thick-skinned," or the sentiment.

I realize what people mean by having "thicker skin" is that we shouldn't take things so personally. When someone gets angry, or they say negative things about you or someone else, or they seem to intentionally do things to make life more difficult, often it has nothing to do with you in particular. You just happen to be the person they are taking it out on (sometimes). I get that - we shouldn't get our feelings hurt so easily.

But I've been reading the book of Jeremiah lately. He is referred to as the "weeping prophet" because his heart broke over the plight and condition of his people. He was sent to deliver a hard message - a message that required people to repent, to change and alter their lives. Then, just like now, rarely do people respond well to messages that require behavioral change. A gander at Jeremiah chapters 8-9 gives you a glimpse of what things were like.

Jesus wept for pretty much the same reasons. His heart broke "because they were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd" (Mt.9:36). I believe Jesus' ministry broke his heart, even to the point of death. And he prayed for them (us) because they knew not what they were doing.

What bothers me when people say things like, "don't take it so personally," is the fear that we, as a culture, seem to have grown comfortable with that attitude towards God too. We commit sin after sin and calm ourselves with the thought that God doesn't take it personally; He knows we're just sinners, after all. And now we have a culture, similar to so many cultures of the past, that doesn't take our actions seriously. In other words, there is no real fear of God.

Now, to be sure, I am not advocating for a legalistic, finger-pointing attitude towards the world, or even the church. What I am suggesting is that maybe we need thinner skin. I guess I tend to equate thin skin with a softer heart. I believe more people should have their heart broken by things that are hurtful. More people should be moved to tears by the things that break God's heart. Rather than thinking others shouldn't take things personally, maybe it's time we started to understand the consequences of our own actions - how the things we say and do can impact the lives of others.

I don't know, I don't like living on an emotional roller-coaster, but I think I would like to have thinner skin again. I want my heart to break for the things that break God's heart. I want to feel again. I want to be motivated to care more not only about my fellow human beings, but about what God thinks as well.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.