‘Previously, life was about going to the pub, meeting women and working to pay for the above. Now I work to support my partner and child, and it’s awful.’
Be honest – what do you think about this reluctant dad? I’ll tell you what I think – his life and mine are worlds apart.
Let’s move closer to home. What do you think about the people in your bible study? What about the person at church with ongoing personal issues? Pastors, what do you think about the awkward member who keeps turning up at your door? There are people we would drop everything to help, and there are those who frustrate and exasperate us. How should we think about them?
I once tried to help a man whose life was in free fall. He couldn’t see how he was contributing to his problems. Meeting him, you might have said he was completely obsessed with himself. You certainly would have said he was angry. On the face of it I felt very different to this man. His problems felt nothing like mine.
Here’s the thing. Biblically we are more like one another than different.
I’ve been thinking lately about clothes. I know, odd for a man. Specifically I’ve been thinking about sackcloth and priestly garments. When the people of Nineveh in the book of Jonah repented “all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth” (Jonah 3:5). Everyone from the King to the toilet cleaner. They all looked the same. Fast-forward to the New Testament and Peter describes another kingdom where everyone looks the same. The people of God all wear the robes of the “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). It’s the ultimate fashion statement – clothing that reminds us we are to minister to one another. Everyone looks the same, spectacular but the same. God’s people cannot turn to the person next to them and think to themselves they are more important or significant.
My sackcloth reminds me of my need for God’s mercy. It reminds me that, like the reluctant dad, I too struggle with selfishness, self-obsession and anger – in many ways I look just like him. My priestly garments teach me that my job is to help others know Christ. We do that partly by sacrificing ourselves for others – following the one who is the ultimate priest and sacrifice. My clothes motivate me to move towards others out of genuine love and humility, remembering that I am a fellow struggler.
How are you going to think about the person in your life who feels very different from you? Take a look at what you are wearing.
David Armstrong is a counsellor at New Growth Counselling in Edinburgh and is on the Executive Committee of Biblical Counselling UK.