Hugh Halter: “The Art of Subtle Wooing: Winning the World Through Meekness” (Excerpt, Chapter 6)
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
The Power of Posture
Words tell people what we think, but our actions, our facial expressions, our touch, or our general “posture” tells people what we actually feel. And this is the power of Jesus to win the hearts of people. When the woman was caught in adultery, Jesus postured himself as an advocate for her, kneeling down beside her as she was stooped over under the condemnation of the pious. When Jesus quietly allowed Mary to pour valuable perfumed oil over His head while skeptics belittled her, He was communicating His compassion for this woman. When he turned tables over by the temple, the sound of crashing trinkets and the look on his face communicated far more powerfully than the words people heard him mutter. As He reclined at Levi’s table, laughing and enjoying dinner with the outcasts, people picked up on his inclusive love. Most starkly, the fact that Jesus lived in the neighborhood for 30 years without letting people know He was their Savior, their Messiah, their God, and instead just lived with them, celebrated with them, and mourned with them, is astounding. His voice and words would someday, in the right timing, cut their hearts to the core, but His ability to draw a crowd and win the crowd was based on His beautiful posture, his nonverbals. And we would do well to live the same way.
In the book of Philippians, Paul encourages us to be like Jesus, who—though being all-powerful—intentionally chose not to force the issue with us or force dogma down our throats. Instead He chose to live among us, love us, show us and teach us about how to live life in His new kingdom. It’s incredible that in the three years of His ministry recorded in Scripture, we don’t see Him aggressively trying to convert anyone. He just seemed to wait for them to come to him. This is the power of godly posture.
To me, this is all the proof I need that God doesn’t want us to stick up for him, confound the unchurched with our right doctrine, or belittle them with attempts to be morally superior. Jesus is teaching us to stop trying to convert people and begin wooing them to His kingdom way of life through the meekness of our way. Meekness will cause us to be dignified and in turn dignify the spiritual journeys of others. Meekness will compel us to respect others, listen to them, and acknowledge the things that turn them off about Christians, especially if they’ve had a few run-ins with fundies. Meekness by its very definition communicates to people an authentic belief that we aren’t any better than they are—really!—and that we only know what we know and have changed because God pursued us, saved us, helped us, and loved us.
Yes, Jesus did teach about the need to be born again spiritually. He did confront people with their need to repent of sin. And so will we . . . if we win their hearts through the power of meekness. With meekness, evangelism and our heartfelt desire to see our friends find Jesus become like one homeless person helping another homeless person find a warm bed for the night.
Exchanging Aggression for Meekness
So here’s a real switcheroo. Evangelicals need to learn that the earliest and most prolific communities of Jesus followers, who saw literally thousands of their friends come to faith in one day and who turned entire cities around for Jesus, were not, as a general rule, aggressive toward the culture. Instead they simply waited for people to come with their curiosity and questions. In 1 Peter 3:15-16, Peter said, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”
We should ask ourselves, “Is anyone asking me about my life or my faith?” If not, I think Jesus would say, “Then you’re not living out the level of love I called you to in this life.” Often we think people’s lack of spiritual response is because they just don’t want to find God. More often, I have found, the real problem is that we just don’t live enough like Jesus yet. Think about this. In early New Testament times, the most religious people, the Pharisees, were highly evangelistic, sometimes sailing across far seas to win one convert. But here is what Jesus said to them in Matthew 23:15: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.”
Conversion isn’t just about helping someone find faith. Yes, it includes this, but when people focus all their efforts on getting people “saved,” they communicate only a small part of the Good News. All too often we are like egomaniacs wanting to turn converts into evangelists, like a giant pyramid scheme where the main goal of the corporation is to multiply and get more warm bodies in the door. But Jesus does not need any more arrogant soul-winners who go out to make more arrogant soul-winners. Jesus wants us to point people to who He really was—a man of humility and love—then allow that image to change them in whatever way God wants. It is not a cookie-cutter operation. The Good News is that every person has a story, and the way Jesus enters each story is highly unique and individual. The process may take years to complete, with fits of starts and stops and doubts along the way. God never meant for us to sign people up with a quick prayer, a contract, and a pat on the back. He intended for us to love and journey with others in their walk toward and with Jesus. This isn’t about a duty to be performed; it is about a relationship to be explored.
Jesus’ own apprentices at first didn’t get His lesson about approaching others with humility. In Luke 9, the disciples were in a fight over who was the greatest dude among them, which Jesus basically dismissed by saying, “It is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest” (v. 48), which probably didn’t sound like a lot of fun to them. Then Jesus sent word to the Samaritans that he was coming through town, but the Samaritans didn’t respond favorably. So what did these self-focused, power-hungry apprentices do? They asked Jesus, like the tough guys they wanted to be, a question I can only hear in my head as sounding like one of the Sopranos: “Yo, Jesus! You wanna we should call down fire on dose blasted pagan half-breeds?”
And they asked this right after Christ’s little lesson on humility.
You have to wonder if Jesus hit His forehead and thought, “Oy veh!” There’s no biblical record of that, but Luke does record that Jesus rebuked them for their attitude of assumed superiority (see Luke 9:51–56).
(What kind of posture do you present to those around you?)