There is a prophecy, in Isaiah 42:3 and quoted in Matthew 12:20 to describe the ministry of Jesus as the savior who would ‘Not break a bruised reed, nor snuff out the smoldering wick.’ Meditating on this has been extremely helpful to me, there is an incredible book on the whole ministry of our Lord with us, as frail, broken sinners titled A Bruised Reed by the puritan pastor Richard Sibbes. When all we can see in someone is smoke and ashes, Jesus can see the small but genuine spark of spiritual life behind it, and He will blow on it in such a way as to not put it out. While others see simply someone who is damaged goods, beyond repair, our Lord is gentle with our souls and does not break us in the process of saving us. If there is any genuine faith and repentance no matter how imperceptible it is to us or others, or how weak it may be, our Lord will honor it, and will cause it to grow, and not in frustration take what little we have away from us.
As ministers, especially in a cross cultural setting we need to follow Jesus in this. We need to be careful of speaking in a way across languages and cultures that is informed, sensitive and full of compassion. This of course is a lifelong project! But how easy it is for words of correction to sound like words of condemnation, when speaking the same language let alone when speaking in another! Jesus was of course the master at bringing everything about us to light, but in a way that is full of mercy. Lord have mercy on us, so that we may not break the bruised reed, nor snuff out the smoldering flax!
Yet there is another prophecy, also from Isaiah, led as he was by the Spirit to describe the ministry of God’s annotated one to come some six hundred years later. In Isaiah 61:1 he describes the future ministry of Jesus as one anointed by the Spirit to ‘bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and freedom to prisoners.’ Jesus refuses to leave us in our mess and bondage, He came to do something about it! We must also follow our Lord in this.
Let me suggest that in our attempt to correct the sins of our fathers, that we have found a new way to be incomplete disciples of our Lord. In the past we know of those who came as colonialists, setting up their own little kingdoms among a vulnerable people, we know of those who never sought to understand the people they sacrificed so much to come and preach to, and only sought conformity and blind obedience to what they thought was best for those they came to minister to.
Perhaps now in not wanting to ‘break the bruised reed’ along with that we’ve allowed a diseased status quo to remain. We’ve got not the courage, nor the authority, nor the ability to speak into polygamy, rank child abuse, witchcraft, a kind of tribalism that invalidates the sufferings (and at times the humanity!) of others, a power-mad celebrity mentality among the clergy, a lax attitude toward infidelity, a lack of personal and family spiritual disciples, and on and on. Are all the troubles of the church and society to be dropped on the laps of cross-cultural works who have come to help out? Absolutely not! However can we just be silent?
I’ve been to several meetings of others who are seeking the best way to serve more often than not the general feeling seems to be that, we should by default hold our tongues. There is this insidious mentality among us at times, that we are simply on some kind of journey of self-discovery. That since all cultures are so different, our main purpose is to sit back and collect new experiences in the world, that we have everything to learn and nothing to share. We wouldn’t want to offend, we wouldn’t want to break the bruised reed, right? We’ve come to believe that somehow our presence alone is redemptive. What if its not?
This is a such a faux brand of humility, that in reality is simply a lack of conviction, except in oneself.
I pray that we could be servants of God who know how to not break the reed, but have the courage to break the bondage and status quo all around us that we see. That we would learn how to challenge, with out condemning.
When we had access to Netflix in the states, my wife and I enjoyed watching various reality series on surviving in the wilderness. I always found the various ways to start a fire fascinating. Especially when the characters on these shows had impossible odds, like in a freezing rain forest in Alaska, everything is cold and wet. Yet the skilled knew how to do CPR on the smallest spark, and create the life saving fire they needed to survive the night.
My prayer is that we would learn how to do spiritual spiritual CPR on those who feel their strength is almost gone! I pray we would know how to walk gently with others, win their trust, love them, and truly learn from them. I pray that we would not break the bruised reed, but also not be content to leave a diseased plant in the way of destruction, because we lack the conviction and the courage to do any more than just observe. That we would take the risk to replant, restore, establish a trellis so that the bruised reed can be healed, and thrive.