Four Obstacles to Loving People Like Jesus Did
2003 was when it happened. “It” was a new job as a pastor at a huge church. Before working at that church, I had started a new church in Los Angeles county and knew pretty much everybody in it. But I now found myself in a new place with new faces and I was having a hard time adjusting to all the people.
In short, I felt irritated by the people I was called to love. That’s a big problem if you’re a pastor. One morning I got to church early and sat in the empty sanctuary and prayed about it. I told God how much I loved people but I felt like I didn’t always know how to love people. I asked Him to reveal to me some obstacles that are keeping me from loving people like Jesus did. And as I opened the Bible to Luke 8, I read the story with this question in mind.
“As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him.”
There it is. The first obstacle- the crowds. Reading it, I could almost feel my anxiety rising as I thought about the crushing crowds. So many people with so many expectations. Regardless of the size of congregation you have, the needs at times feel endless. So, I decided to watch how Jesus handled the crowds. Luke tells us that in the crowd,
“a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. ‘Who touched me?’
Jesus asked. With such a big crowd, how could he possibly focus in on just one person? Later on, Jesus continues by saying,
‘Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.’
There was a big crowd, but that’s not what Jesus was focused on. The number that seemed to matter to Jesus was the number one. It’s like taking a picture on your phone of someone standing in a crowd. You put it in Portrait Mode and look at the screen until you spot the person you’re looking for and then zoom in and let the camera focus. In that moment everything else begins to blur and fade into the background.
When Jesus was surrounded by the obstacle of the crowds, he had a way of zooming in and focusing on the one.
The text says that after Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” his disciples all denied it, and Peter said,
‘Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.’
Mark also tells the story and lets us know the disciples asked Jesus in disbelief,
“You see the people crowding against you, and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ Mark 5:31
Obstacle number 2: the cynics. These people are quick to immediately discredit what God might be up to. They might say you’re over-spiritualizing it, or that there are other more urgent things to do. They’re are often so focused on accomplishing the plan that they miss one at a time journey God wants to take us on. Cynics have a way of getting in the way of one at a time love.
Now in this story, context is really important. Because the context of the story reveals the third obstacle to loving people like Jesus: the inconvenience. Jesus is actually on his way to meet a need. There’s already a plan for the day. And no, it’s not the woman with the issue of blood that everyone else was overlooking. A prominent leader, Jairus, was urgently expecting him to heal his dying daughter. Jesus was headed to do the work of ministry…he had every excuse in the book to hurry to the person on his calendar. But that’s not what Jesus did. Instead, he saw opportunity in the journey. The text says,
“Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed…”
While there are obstacles to loving people, for Jesus, the person was never the obstacle.
There was a large group of unidentified people, but she realized Jesus wouldn’t let her go unnoticed—not even if she tried. Surrounded by crushing crowds she knew the eyes of Jesus would not let her go unseen.
When I first read this with this question in mind, I realized God was speaking to me. He has called me—he has called each of us who follow Jesus—in the midst crowds, plans, and packed calendars, to make sure that we are never so inconvenienced that someone goes unnoticed.
See, the longer you study Jesus’ life, you’ll quickly discover that living a life that counts for something doesn’t require working at a large church, having a super talent or being insta-famous, it’s about the everyday intentionality of noticing, connecting with, and loving people right where they are. That’s what Jesus would do. And that brings us to our final obstacle: Indifference. Indifference is the surest way to keep you from loving people the way that Jesus did. Because Jesus was anything but indifferent. In John 14:34 Jesus said to his disciples,
“A new command I give you: Love one another.”
It wasn’t a new suggestion, or a new idea, or a new proposition, or recommendation; but a new command. But why does Jesus call it “New”? It’s not new. Loving others was often his central message. What Jesus says next is what makes it new:
“As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
As I have loved you. It’s vulnerable language. It’s specific language. It’s personal. It’s intentional. If you want to love like Jesus, it starts by experiencing the way Jesus has loved you. If you’re indifferent towards people, it might mean its time to get more intentional with Jesus.
Jesus saw every obstacle as a unique opportunity to love someone intentionally, and when he did this Jesus changed the world one at a time. When someone stood in front of him, time stopped. Everything else in his life—all his concerns, his agenda, his goals—blurred and disappeared. He was always fully present. And as we enter the new year, I’m wondering if that might be the journey God wants to take you on. One obstacle, one day, one person at a time.