Think of the “stickers” placed on you throughout your life. Think of how people either purposefully or inadvertently put you into a box. What labels were put on you? What negative words stuck to you? Imagine those experiencing homelessness, addiction or poverty and how trapped they must feel by the labels pasted on them.
The more labels we put on people, the more invisible they become. Once our mind categorizes someone, it refocuses on something of “more importance” and the person fades into the background. The person becomes a thing.
There are people experiencing homelessness, addiction, poverty and many other afflictions, but like everyone else, they are just people. The problem with labels like “the homeless”, “the addicted” or even “the needy”, is that they lack dignity and respect. People are lumped into a big negative category that robs them of their true selves. They are treated as less than, or worse ignored. The impact on their psyche is enormous.
When someone is called “the poor”, instead of just “Michael” or “Rachel”, they are removed from our world. Labels dehumanize people and cause us to forget that each person has feelings, hopes and dreams just like we do. Michael and Rachel are actually the real names of my brother and sister. They aren’t trapped by poverty, but even if they were, of course I wouldn’t lump them into an impersonal categorization. We don’t do that to loved ones.
Imagine if you and I were judged solely on who we were on our worst day.
I’m so glad that when most people see me on the street they don’t say, “There’s another jerk. The jerk population is really growing in this area. Can’t the authorities do something about all the jerks around here?” This might be completely accurate, because I really am a jerk sometimes, but I don’t live with this stigma hanging around my neck.
People’s current circumstances shouldn’t define them. Imagine if you and I were judged solely on who we were on our worst day. Not a pretty picture. I think that I would go around crushed by shame if people thought of me that way.
Fortunately, I have a lot of people who treat me as if I am always the person I am on my best day. I know it’s not completely accurate, but it shapes me and helps me to become that person. They see the “me” I want to be. Grace does that.
One day during outreach on The Relief Bus, I met man named Christopher (left) who was struggling with addiction. His dream was to kick his habit and become a better father to his children. He showed me photos of his two beautiful 4 and 5-year-old boys and was so proud. I affirmed him as a father for the things he had done to spend time with them and show them they are loved. I ended up sharing about the love of Jesus with Christopher and he gave his life to Christ. After we prayed, he said that he felt something when we were praying and hugged me in gratitude. It was a real God moment. Afterwards, I was able to give him some employment info and a Bible.
I asked Christopher what kind of career he was interested in and after he told me I said, “I think you would be really good at that.” That’s how my parents always talked to me.
I hope that I helped Christopher peel off the “failure”, and “addict” stickers plaguing him and put a new “Loving father” sticker in it’s place. I was most excited that he let Jesus put a sticker on his head that read, “Forgiven”.
It was one step, but what a step! I am trusting God to peel off the rest of the old stickers of guilt, shame and condemnation, as I trust Him to plaster Christopher with some “new creation” ones.
What if we were to “prophesy” into others lives, speaking the reality that could be? What if the stickers we put on them were packed with possibilities and potential? Could our words shape someone into the person they were really meant to be all along?
1 Corinthians 14:3
But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.
Maybe prophecy isn’t as mystical as we think. Maybe it’s as simple as letting love spill out of our mouths. In our culture, we usually wait quite a while in a relationship before speaking so personally to someone. As a result, many people go starved for love, while we politely stay at surface level.
Fearing presumptiveness, we wait for spiritual gifts to somehow manifest out of thin air. If by faith, we start to speak the heart of God, maybe the Holy Spirit will complete the process. I don’t want to miss my chance to pass on the stickers that people stuck on me. I have backpack full of good ones and I want to give them all away. Love does that.
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