“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).
I am convinced that we Christians have a gentleness problem.
Let me start with this disclaimer: Writing this article has been far more beneficial for me personally than I assume will be the case for anyone reading it. I am preaching to myself first and foremost as I need to be reminded that I have a lot of work to do on this particular topic. While I wish I could say I am a gentle person, most people who know me would object quickly.
I have been familiar with the teachings of Jesus since my youth. I know the Beatitudes. I memorized the fruits of the Spirit as a child. And yet, I often rely on my own power and strength to grab what I want in life. And for a long time, it appeared to work.
That’s the thing with power. Those chasing it hardly take the time to look in the rearview mirror long enough to recognize the wake of hurting people that have been consumed along the path to the top.
Being gentle people
However, if the evidence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is that we reflect this fruit, shouldn’t we do more than just strive to be gentler at times? Shouldn’t we instead be marked as gentle people? Is gentleness something we just try harder to be, or does it come from deep within? Is gentleness a desirable trait? Some fruits are easily desirable attributes. Who doesn’t love a kind person or a loving person? However, in our society, gentleness is often stereotyped as a form of weakness.
In light of this, we must face the question of why the teachings of Scripture are much easier as an ambition than a reality. When it comes to the fruit of gentleness, I think one answer is the current emphasis on consumerism. Our drive to get more and to get it at any cost. We see this in our spending habits, and we hear it from our leaders. In fact, we have become so accustomed to grabbing what we need that it is hard to recognize that often the desire to be gentle is in conflict with how we live every day.
The Oxford Dictionary describes gentleness as “the quality of being kind and tender.” Our world encourages us to grab for power and step over others to get to the front of the line. God calls us to submit our hearts and intentions to the authority of Jesus who told us that gentleness is the key to success.
When we are authentically gentle, we are not attempting to gain control over someone or something. Instead, we are free to truly be ourselves. Free to be more compassionate, loving, helpful and supportive of whatever good may fall upon others. It means that our power is totally under God’s influence and that our decisions are driven by a sense of love and compassion rather than dominance and manipulation.
This can be a hard pill to swallow. We are so accustomed to power and dominance as part of our DNA. So honestly assessing ourselves is difficult, as recognizing blind spots often are.
However, if we desire to follow Jesus, then we must recognize and employ his teachings in all areas of our lives. A quest to greater gentleness must be the way forward—because gentleness is not optional for followers of Jesus.
Craig Barnes says, “The gentle don’t find their strength in the ways society has privileged them, nor in the success of their pursuits on the many fields of competition. Among Christians, the gentle find their strength in their identity as people created in the image of God, people whom Jesus Christ was dying to love.”
And the exhortation to be marked as gentle people is modeled by Jesus and has been implored to Christians by the leaders of the Christian faith since the time of Christ. Yet, if you are anything like me, I am constantly having to hone my heart into being a gentle person in a world that values the strong. Hollywood consistently reminds us that it is the tenacious hero that often comes out the winner. Our businesses reward the most aggressive salespeople. You do not win in politics by being the meek one.
Gentleness is a balance
So, to pursue gentleness seems so counter-cultural to the very ins and outs of our daily existence. But those who take seriously the call to follow Jesus will wrestle through the imminent fork in the road. Do we grab what we want when we want it, or do we do the deep spiritual work of developing gentleness in a world that does not often see it as a valuable?
The puritan Jonathan Edwards said that “All who are truly godly and are real disciples of Christ have a gentle spirit in them.” Gentleness is the balance between strength and softness. It is the tender, compassionate acceptance of others’ weaknesses and limitations. Even a gentle person has the courage to say the truth, sometimes even painful truth, but takes care that he does so in a tone that will be well received. So, if this is something that we strive to develop, how do we get started? Or, we may have tried over and over to become a gentler person but have been unsuccessful in achieving that result.
How do we get started? Brennan Manning says that “the art of gentleness toward our selves leads to being gentle with others.” It is a similar sentiment to the “forgiven, so that you can forgive” statement.
It is only when we are able to be gentle to ourselves that we will be able to be gentle to others. Our gentleness to ourselves results in us being gentle to others.
Being gentle with yourself
Let me ask you a question—and I hope you are honest in your personal assessment. Are you truly gentle with yourself? Or are you so plagued with personal shame that this will never be attainable? Do comments of others keep you from being gentle with yourself?
Personally, I find this increasingly difficult as the shame-based cancel culture continues to grow among followers of Jesus. My assessment is that this movement is being fed by individuals who do not know how to be gentle to themselves.
Gentleness can only grow in the soil of humility. And the path toward gentleness must start with the path to being gentle to ourselves.
I am convinced that as we learn to be gentle toward ourselves and then to others, we will begin to see the way forward—the way of Jesus, who promises that in the end, the gentle—not those who try to grab it by their own strength and power—will inherit the earth.
Heath Hollensbe is an author, public speaker and podcaster who has a specific passion to encourage the church to engage culture more creatively. He is currently touring his new 60 minute performance called “Our Playful Universe.” As a graduate of the Tabor College’s Ministry Entrepreneurship and Innovation master’s program, he is currently finishing his doctorate at George Fox University. Heath and his family live in Tacoma, Washingont. Learn more at HeathHollensbe.com