I love flowers.
I was raised on the raw beauty of a Texas hillside covered in bluebonnets, indian paint brushes, indian blankets and black-eyed susans. There is a majesty about scanning the landscape and seeing splashes of color in every direction extending farther than I can see. It is matched by the clear blue sky reaching down to kiss the flowers. Something in that expansive beauty stirs worship in my heart.
Flowers in my yard stir an echo of that beauty, so we have a lot of flower beds in our yard.
The thing you don’t see when you stand in the midst of wild flowers and strain to see
beyond the horizon are the weeds. But standing in my flower beds, you definitely see weeds.
We came home from a long trip this summer and found our flower beds completely overgrown with weeds. My heart was so discouraged. If an expanse of wild flowers inspires my heart to worship, the evil twin is flowerbeds overgrown with weeds. I am tempted to despair.
The quick fix would be to spray weed killer on the whole area, let it all die, and start over. But there would be a lot of flowers destroyed in this method! Part of the cultivated beauty of my own flower beds and my affection for them are the memories tied to what I’ve planted. I have a small section of forget-me-nots given by a friend just weeks before she died. Should I really obliterate those to get rid of my weeds?
Relationships can be a lot like flowerbeds and flower fields. There are a host of ways this is true, but lets just think about one aspect today.
And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 1 Thessalonians 5:14
This verse is such a beautiful picture of how relationships are supposed to work. God is glorified when we speak truth and love into the lives of others exactly where they are. But we have to be careful, we really have to draw near enough to others to know what is needed before we act. We need to get on our hands and knees, discern between weed and flower, and get dirty.
Before we can uproot anything in the life of another person, we have to be close enough to see what is needed. We need to be steeped in scripture so we can recognize idleness vs. faintheartedness vs. weakness. Does the heart of another require weeding, watering, or fertilizing?
It is a grace to admonish the idle. (Psalm 117:71)
It is a grace to encourage the fainthearted; to speak courage into their hearts in that moment when they might abandon their call. (Proverbs 12:25)
It is a grace to offer help to someone with a load too heavy to bear, too weak to go on. (Galatians 6:2)
But think for a moment about what happens when we mix up the remedies… What happens when we help the idle, or admonish the fainthearted, or encourage the weak?
It is a curse to help the idle and foster idleness. It does nothing to cure them. It hinders their development and growth. Rescuing people who are simply lazy does no one any favors. (1 Thessalonians 3:10-11)
It is a curse to help the fainthearted. Sometimes we rob others of victory by assuming their calling is a burden. Maybe they need words of encouragement, their fears quieted by the truth of scripture, or the whisper of confidence to help them to succeed. Sweeping away the difficulties stunts their growth. It keeps them from using the gifts God has given them. It steals their joy. It robs them of victory. (1 Peter 4:10, 19)
It is a curse to encourage or admonish the weak and leave them to bear their burden alone. Whether it is physical, emotional, or spiritual lack, it is a sign of our faith (or lack thereof) when we offer the help required. Someone who is broken under a load, incapable of continuing on does not need our words of encouragement or correction. They need someone to lift the cart off their legs and restore them to health so that they can walk again. We leave them dying under a crushing weight when we don’t shoulder the task and lift it from them. (James 2:14-16)
The thing is, the only way we can know whether we should offer encouragement, admonishment, or aid is to be close enough to the person to share their heart.
I had a conversation with my husband the other night and I said words neither he nor I wanted to hear, but both of us needed to hear. He said, more than half-joking, “If anyone but you said that to me I’d be tempted to punch them.”
Why? Because he’s a violent man? No! Quite the contrary. Mike is an incredibly gentle man with great self control. He was simply expressing the idea that I am close enough to his heart on this issue to weigh in on the subject without inspiring defensiveness.
I can only offer this kind of grace if I am willing to take the time to share, at the heart level, in the experiences of others.
A quick, trite answer is a curse.
A response to someone offered without understanding is sinful.
An assessment of laziness, or weakness, or faintheartedness without digging down to the roots of the problem will only lead to brokenness, not growth. Without commitment to stay the course, without care to know the ins-and-outs, I bring judgment and condemnation rather than grace and conviction.
So the question becomes, will I be an indiscriminate-spray-weed-killer-on-the-whole-area kind of friend? Or will I take care to remove only the weeds so the flowers can grow and others are drawn to worship?