The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them. (Ezekiel 34:4)
The second half of this verse further demonstrates how we should not act if we are living in such a way as to grow up and fulfill the “good work” of shepherding God’s flock. We have to learn to not deal harshly, angrily, or forcefully with our brethren. This can be tough in our youth and time and experience is often needed to temper us and show us how to be patient and careful in our words and actions even when we are trying to help.
Harshness, anger, and forcefulness can come out in many ways. First, it can come out in our words. We cannot be slanderous or speak derogatory things about our brothers and sisters. We must be thoughtful and careful with our words as we have said earlier. We need to ensure we are not speaking in a way that injures, discourages, or inflames others. Through thoughtful consideration of the situation and God’s word, we can then speak with care and avoid further hindering another.
Harshness, anger, and forcefulness can also come out in our actions or behaviors. Our actions and behaviors do matter and even when we think that others are not watching, they are. This is true in the world as we work to live as lights for the gospel’s sake and work to make decisions, take actions, or speak in ways that would not hinder someone coming to Jesus. This is true with brethren too. Again, it comes back to knowing them and knowing what actions or behaviors are encouraging versus a distraction or a stumbling block. It is our responsibility to know that and to act carefully and in a way that builds up and not tears down.
For me, in both cases, my pride can often get me into trouble with words or deeds. Even if I think I am right and/or I am defending another who is right, if I am not careful, my own feelings become more important than the others’ and I can become divisive and cause more damage to an already tough situation. I can say that it seems to happen less as I get older, but it is still something I must work on.
Taking the time to put myself in another’s shoes, not projecting my own negative feelings onto another, and carefully deciding how to act and what to say has allowed me to be more understanding and I think more useful for those I am trying to help.
You know what types of situations can get you into trouble. Take time and think about them. What kinds of things put you on the defensive? When do you become intolerant of other’s thoughts or ideas? What things about you can set others off (i.e. posture, faces, emotions, words, etc.)?
Take some time and be honest with yourself. It is okay that we are not there yet. We are working to live a life that prepares us to shepherd. Be self-aware. Ask others for their assessment. Seek out those that you observe handling situations well that you might not…and get their advice.
This is a team sport. Remember we are body and shepherding is a gift along with a lot of other gifts God has given us to be used for our edification and to build us up in Jesus. One step forward in improving how we talk and act in a kind and careful way is a step towards growth and preparedness for even greater opportunities in the future.