The other day one of my students missed a few days of school. I didn’t think much of it as this particular girl misses school frequently. One of our staff told me that she was in jail. She had been caught dealing drugs. I teach 10th graders. Since I’ve taught her, I’ve rarely seen her smile. She has little motivation for school. How does someone that age become someone in jail for dealing drugs? She’s not the first student I’ve seen like her, and certainly won’t be the last.
There’s a fascinating verse in Isaiah 42, and repeated in Matthew 12 that reveals much about the character of God. I learned this verse when I was training as a prison volunteer with Prison Fellowship back in the 1990’s. It’s their theme verse and it reads like this: “A bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice.” Isaiah 42:3.
I think if we even noticed a bruised reed we certainly wouldn’t think twice about ignoring it or trampling on it. We probably wouldn’t try to nurse it back to strength. But God would because first, He does notice it. Think of this, He notices those who are the equivalent of a bruised reed. Nothing sounds more pitiful and hopeless than that, but to God, they’re not pitiful, hopeless. And second, He restores. A smoldering wick? We’d give up on it, hopeless. It’s out, no more light from it. Get out your cell phone maybe it’ll provide the light you need, but that wick, it’s out. But Jesus, the light of the world, will make it shine again!
You’ve all met or seen people who are bruised reeds or smoldering wicks. God will bring them into your life with an opportunity to do His work here on earth. And when we are instruments of His restoration, His justice, His light will shine, His light will shine more and more brightly on this earth.
Just a few words to encourage you to be on the lookout for those around you who could use some help, some encouragement, some grace, some love and some mercy.
The other day in class my students were not showing their highest appreciation for my efforts to teach them. In fact they seemed to be little aware of the fact that I was trying to teach them. To make matters worse, one of my principals was in the room observing me as part of a state teacher evaluation system. This is the type of thing teachers have nightmares about. (By the way the evaluation turned out well, she thought I handled the difficult children well)
I went home rather discouraged. Janice will tell you this is not the first time. My kids will tell you this is not the first time! They know when I walk through the door. They no longer come running to throw their arms around me and barely seem to notice when the day is good and I come home with a good report on my day. But if it’s the opposite, they know!
Inner city teaching can suck the life out of you. It can also invigorate you, make you smile, make you laugh, make you cry, make you do all of that in one day! It will drive you to your knees. And it will increase your faith.
I’ve discovered that the book of Psalms are wonderful for encouragement. And the reason they are is because many of them were written by men who were in a state of discouragement. In fact, they had it far worse than I did as they speak of their life being in jeopardy. I’ve never felt my life to be in jeopardy although I have experienced death threats as recently as last year. Most of the time my discouragement comes from children being difficult, disrespectful and/or indifferent.
So I pop open my Bible and I see this nice little gem: “This I know, that God is for me.” Psalm 56:9 How about that? Most of us if we’re honest will admit that we feel at times that God is either against us, or indifferent towards us. Our own inadequacies bring these feelings on often. But God is for me is a wonderful statement of 1His Grace, it’s not because of what I’ve done, 2 His mercy, it’s not what I deserve, 3 His protection, Romans 8:31 tells us since He’s for us, no one can be against us, and 4 His love, like a parent loves his child and is for them, God loves his children and is naturally for them.
Wonderful encouragement, but it’s not enough, because even though it’s a good reminder, I already knew God was for me. It’s a little me focused and I need to be focused on others. Like my students who don’t really care that God is for me. Because they’ve got problems of their own. You know of the plight of inner city youth. I was thinking the other day of how many kids I’ve taught with who have been shot and killed, 3, and who have been otherwise touched by violence, either as surviving victims, relatives of victims, or in sadly too many cases as perpetrators.
So I read on through the Psalms. Chapter 82 provided me with the rest of the answer to beat discouragement, mainly by getting the focus off of me. “Vindicate the weak and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.” How selfish of me to think that my peace of mind was more important than the needs of these kids who God preordained me to see them day by day in my classroom! What an opportunity I have!
I’ve been reading through Proverbs at the same time. Here’s a few related verses: 19:17 “One who is gracious to the poor man lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his good deed.” 14:21 “Happy is he who is gracious to the poor.”
The difficulties of that day have faded. More will come. This I know that God is for me.