My friend Marlo and I led a conference together in a state I will not name. We found out we are like oil and water when it comes to our responses to situations. Marlo goes with the flow, looks at the positive side of things, and remains cheerful in the midst of not-so-ideal circumstances. Me? Let’s just say I don’t.
Tired from the long flight, I was critical of the town the minute we stepped off the plane. It was my first visit to this particular state and I was not impressed. I have encountered chicken houses, paper mills, and pastures before, but nothing compared to the foul odor of this town. It followed us from the airport to the restaurant we dined in, to the church, and to the hotel. It was like being caged in an inescapable stink prison. We were told the odor was from the manure used to fertilize the fields—all fifty bazillion acres of them. My hair stank, my clothes stank, and even the pillow I brought from home seemed to absorb the smell. It was nauseating.
During the three-hour drive from the airport to the town where we were to speak, which I renamed Smellville, Marlo and I reacted like polar opposites. She had her head sticking out the window like a Cocker Spaniel puppy taking in the scenery, while I had one hand on the steering wheel and the other covering my nose and mouth. “How could you possibly be enjoying this?” I whined through a pinched nasal passage. “It’s like a doo-doo bomb exploded! This is so nasty! Get your head back in the car so I can roll up the windows!” Always the encourager, Marlo replied, “Oh, it’s not that bad! We’ll get used to it. Have you ever seen so many pastures? What beautiful land! And just look at those storybook farmhouses! This is amazing!” Amazingly stinky, I thought.
Marlo’s mindset was all about the exciting opportunity to bring the message God had given us to new people in a new state, even a stinky state. My mindset was all about calling the event planner and complaining that we were not provided with gas masks upon arrival.
In some ways, Jesus faced the same situation when he traveled to Samaria. Jews considered Samaria a “stinky” state that harbored an unclean breed of people. Unwilling to risk contamination, the Jews avoided Samaria and contact with Samaritans at all costs. But Jesus purposely went to Samaria. Upon arrival Jesus was tired from the long journey, but rather than criticizing the town and its occupants, he graciously offered the woman at the well the gift of God’s living water (John 4:10). When her initial response was to throw the gift back in his face and basically accuse him of thinking he was better than everybody else, Jesus responded in love. He didn’t throw her down the well and walk off mumbling about what he did and did not deserve. What he did do was patiently explain, “‘Everyone who drinks this water [well water] will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life’ ” (John 4:13-14).
Jesus’ ultimate motive for entering the stinky state was not to benefit himself, but someone else. While the first thing he asked the woman for was a drink of water, I find it interesting there is no record that Jesus ever got any. He wanted water, he asked for water, but he wound up putting his needs aside to meet the needs of another.
Christians are instructed, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4). Jesus took his time, going out of his way to minister to one woman in Samaria, a town others despised, for the purpose of bringing encouragement and hope into her life. He was the perfect example of looking to the needs of others above his own.
Everywhere Jesus went, no matter the circumstances, he used his time to bless others. I have been guilty of avoiding eye contact with someone I recognize in the grocery store in order to guard my time. How many occasions could I have taken a moment to speak kind words to a friend who may have been in desperate need of encouragement? How many chances to show the love of Jesus were snuffed out by my selfishness? How many times did a critical attitude toward a situation keep me from ministering to someone in need? All the missed opportunities because of “looking to my own interests” send a shiver of conviction down my spine.
Because we are all sinners, we may give in to temptations to grumble, complain, and respond to situations with criticism and selfish ambition. Thankfully, our God has already atoned for the sins of selfishness and critical attitudes. When we blow it, we have the privilege of starting anew in Christ. Because of Jesus’ work at Calvary, we can receive his forgiveness, accept his atonement, and move forward in his grace. Should I ever have another opportunity to visit the stinky state, my prayer is that I won’t wallow in such a stinky state of mind.