The workers were installing tires on my car when it happened. My car was up on four hydraulic lifts outside the tire store. It was a hot day. I retreated to the office and the welcome relief of air conditioning. I sat in a chair next to the desk and played on my phone as a female clerk sat across the desk, also engrossed in her phone.
I wish I could tell you how the conversation began, but I don’t remember. I found out her name was Maria*. As we talked, she got up from her chair and walked over to the door, looking away and out a window to the parking lot. I do remember when she made a comment about something to do with Catholics and Protestants. Whenever someone makes a comment that is spiritual in nature, my radar goes on high alert. Most people don’t want to talk about spiritual things, so when she made the remark, I nudged the conversation in that direction to see if God were at work in her life or not. At some point, I thought maybe I was pushing things too far, and so I tried to change the subject. She immediately brought it back to the discussion about having a relationship with God. I leaned in.
She moved to my side of the desk and sat down on the top. She spoke of her mother’s illness and how she cared for her needs. What she said next haunts me still.
“My sister,” she said, “claims to be a Christian. She attends church regularly. She says she has a relationship with God. She says she talks to God like you are describing. But she won’t help me with our mother.” Tears welled up in her eyes and spilled down her cheeks. She didn’t bother to brush them off. “How can you claim you are a Christian but you won’t even take care of your own family?”
Inside I cringed.
“Maria,” I replied, “there are many people in this world who claim to be Christian. They attend church, they follow all the rules, they may even pray, but actually they are far from God. Please, I beg you, do not let those people keep you from experiencing all that God desires for you. It is not an accident I am here today. The reason I’m here probably has nothing to do with getting tires on my car. I believe God sent me to you today to tell you that he wants a relationship with you. Please do not let those who are not living right keep you from having an amazing relationship with God.”
I hurt for her. She had a legitimate complaint. I thought back to a passage in Matthew’s telling of the gospel. I was struck by the dialog between Jesus and Peter. Here is what Matthew wrote:
“From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Matthew 16:21-23, ESV
If you are like me, the moment Jesus calls Peter “Satan,” my eyes get wide, and I get stuck on the thought, “Oh my word, he just called Peter ‘Satan’.” But if we are not careful, we miss the important truth that follows.
Jesus continues, “You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Jesus taught his disciples he would be killed and three days later rise from the dead. Although they did not understand it at the time, he was explaining the gospel to them. His purpose was to die on the cross to pay the penalty for man’s sin. Rising from the dead three days later he claimed dominion over death. It was a one-two punch. All so that God could be restored in relationship with the creation he loves. Clearly, Peter was confused. Peter’s mind was on setting up an earthly kingdom with Jesus as King. But Jesus’ mind was on his father’s heavenly kingdom.
The problem is we tend to think like Peter instead of like Jesus. By nature, my focus settles on the here and now. It’s human. It takes effort to keep my mind on the things of God, and not on the things of man. What I have never considered is the consequence of this failing to keep my mind on the things of God. According to this passage, when I am thinking about the things of this world instead of the things of God, I actually hinder Jesus.
Pause right here and think about this truth for a moment. We hinder Jesus. We actually hinder Jesus from having a relationship with the Marias of this world. Doesn’t that bother you? It greatly concerns me.
How do we hinder Jesus? When our thoughts are consumed with things of this world and not on God, we block Jesus from having a relationship with Maria.
Jesus came to reconcile us to God. Because we have sinned, we are separated from God. But God wanted a relationship with us so much, he sent Jesus, his son, to pay the penalty for our sins so he could have fellowship with us again. Jesus is the bridge between earth and heaven. When we live our lives as followers of Jesus, we show others the path to the bridge. In this way, God is reunited with the creation he loves.
We hinder Jesus from doing what he came to do when we set our minds on the things of earth instead of the things of God. We effectively block others from getting to the bridge. How do we do this? We hinder Jesus from reaching our neighbors when we do not love them the way we love ourselves. We hinder Jesus from reaching our co-workers when we love status and image more than we love our co-workers. We hinder Jesus from loving the poor when we stockpile our resources for future wants instead of using them to spread Jesus’ love to the poor and the downcast. We hinder Jesus when we invest our time into lesser things of this earth instead of investing in eternity.
Now you understand why Jesus calls Peter “Satan.” This is serious stuff.
How do we set our minds on the things of God and not on the things of man? How on earth do we do this? It sounds simple, but it is not easy.
Jesus said the greatest commandment was this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, ESV). Note the end of the command. See the phrase, “with all your mind.” The way we change is by changing our heart toward God. We confess we do not love him with all our mind. We ask God to forgive us for this. We apologize for hindering the work Jesus came to do. We ask God to help us to love him with all our heart, soul, and mind. Our minds become consumed with loving him with abandon. All we think about at work or at play is how we can love God more. As a result, the world clearly sees Jesus, and he is released through our lives to do what he came to do.
After our conversation, Maria and I exchanged email addresses. I told her I would pray for her regularly. I told her I was confident God was drawing her into a personal relationship with him. I encouraged her to pursue a real relationship with God, even if others are not. I will keep in touch to encourage her in her relationship with God.
As a side note, to show you how unusual this conversation was, I was three and a half hours from my home. Earlier that morning, I saw an ad on Craigslist for a set of used tires. Later I was traveling through the area, but the town was still a half an hour off the freeway. I decided to drive a little bit out of my way to buy the tires. I had never been to this town, and I will likely never return. Maria did not even speak English well, and my Spanish is limited. But clearly God was at work.
I also believe God orchestrated the conversation because he also wants a relationship with you and me. He is calling us to account through Maria. Will we listen? Will we turn our minds to the things of God, and away from the things of man? I hope we will.
For the sake of all the Marias in our world whom Jesus wants to know personally, I pray we would live in such a way that we would not hinder Jesus from doing what he came to do.
(*Not her real name. Her name was changed to protect her identity.)