One day a couple months ago I was out taking a walk in a park and saw an elderly woman crying on a set of stairs. She was alone but I didn’t think she was in trouble or pain. I passed by her not wanting to intrude on what could have been a moment of reflection for her. As I walked I prayed about what God would have me to do for her.
He told me, “Tell her I love her.”
I walked around the circle and back to her with a hope I could tell her what I thought could brighten her day. She was no longer sitting on the stairs but was now up a hill and walking toward some neighbors. I started up the hill after her. At that point I began to plan how I would tell her what I had heard God say. To express love in Portuguese verbally is a little tricky, especially from a foreigner talking about God. So, I started to formulate my own plan. Any time anybody starts to add or subtract from what God is saying it leads to a mess because what’s going on is pride and pride and God are mutually exclusive.
Pride has ingredients and here’s the short list: rebellion, arrogance, willfulness and stubbornness, stiff-necked and hard-heartedness, disobedience and a refusal to be corrected or taught. Those things are poison to all growth with God. In that short walk up the hill I began to descend a slippery slope. I decided to give her Ten Euros along with God’s message to her.
I was adding to God’s message now.
As I caught up to this fast walking, Portuguese, elderly lady she was now standing with two other women. They also thought she was in some sort of distress and they were talking to her. The message I was told to deliver to her got a whole lot more serious. To tell a stranger with my shaky Portuguese that God loves you, while she’s crying on a park bench, was easier in my head than to say it in front of two more people. The thoughts of their reactions intimidated me.
If I was gong to say or do anything, I should have obediently done what I heard. Instead, I reached for my wallet and asked if either of these women could speak English? All heads nodded, “No.”
I tried to make them understand that I wanted to give this distressed woman what “I” thought she needed to make her day better. I tried to hand her the Ten. At first the woman looked at me with confusion and then suspicion and finally outrage. I had completely offended her. The women around her looked at me completely baffled by what this creepy foreigner was attempting to do. I struggled to make them understand but it just escalated into more confusion. Finally, I apologized and walked away leaving the three of them shaking their heads and dismissing me as a whacko. I had so screwed up a simple assignment I couldn't really add,
"Sorry for making your bad day worse but by the way, God loves you."
After the train wreck I caused, I had to take my failure to do exactly what I was told to do before God.
It was ugly. Mountains of past failures based on the same, self-willed decisions washed over me. I was still stinging from embarrassment and now I was being corrected and examined by God. These “small” self-willed decisions are not small. They are actually the infections in the soul that we can examine in a smaller dose, like a toxic slide under a microscope. The poisons of pride, of rebellion, of self-will, and an independence from the plans (any plan) of God, is rebellion and the idolatry of self; it is a proof positive that there is a sickness that is rotting in the soul that needs to be radically dealt with.
My initial reaction to this woman when I saw her was emotional. She was crying but she wasn’t bleeding or in pain and she didn’t look like she needed help. I just wanted to help her so maybe I would feel good about my day. So, I was actually going to use her distress to make me feel better about being me.
If I hadn’t asked God for what to do it would have been okay. The lady was just having a bad day. But since I did ask, He told me what to do.
When I decided that I would do what He told me I felt great but then I failed to obey. I added my own plan, to hand her a Ten. That wasn’t at all what I heard from God. As I returned to where she was, she was no longer there. She was up a hill and talking to some neighbors. What God had told me to say to her was now not in the privacy of just me and her but two other women.
As I climbed the hill I thought about how to say the simple words, “God loves you.”
Afraid of what they would think of me, I went to my plan and reached for the bill in my wallet. Giving money is always a good thing, right? No, actually obedience is always a better thing.
So, disaster unfolded.
When I got home I told my wife and she bit my head off because of the cultural, as well as the spiritual implications, for what I did to that lady. Later on that day my friends laughed in horror at my story. I got zero sympathy. I didn’t have any coming.
What I got from God was correction (thankfully) in an arena of testing to reveal something to me in a smaller, controlled setting. I had disobeyed God when He gave me a simple thing to do and I recognized it and admitted it. I prayed that I would do better next time and to fight the lies in any area of my life that says: God needs my help, I can handle things on my own or I know what I’m doing. I made a decision that afternoon to prepare my mind and my will to understand and to do exactly, exactly, what God wants me to do and that is where I am in my life now; pressing on in spite of the failures.
I really didn’t need to do anything for that lady.
But, since I asked, I heard.
If I had just done what I had heard I could have provided a message that we rarely hear when we're in distress in this world, "God loves you." Those three words can give comfort and peace that no amount of money on this earth can compare with when you need to hear those words.
If I had just stuck to the direction from God and said that it would have been obedience and obedience to God is greater than anything I can come up with on my own.