Let Them Stir Up Christ’s Affection in Us
My mind went again to an event that set off a firestorm on social media not too long ago. Even the White House tweeted about Kendrick Lamar’s passionate Grammy performance in mid-February. The unapologetically political message struck a chord with many in the black community, and as usual set off a round of mixed responses from those in the white culture. The performance of the night revealed to many that Kendrick is one of the most talented voices speaking the cries of his generation and his people.
But also in the middle of all this came a seemingly random tweet. It’s a question that is so simple in its clarity, but so cutting in its trajectory: “Will this stir my affections for Jesus Christ?” But coming in the midst of Kendrick’s performance, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was a pointed reference to the praise his performance was garnering. And I wondered if that person might be better served in that moment by asking a different but related question.
It’s always right when we question how deeply our affections for Christ are moving our thoughts and lives, to see the direction our hearts are flowing, and doing all we can to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, our affections, our wills…making them captive to Christ. Our hearts are deceitful, and bent still toward that deception as our flesh joins the world to tell us that drifting, compromise, and complacency never hurt anyone. We don’t want to be legalists, we say. We know not be of the world, but we also know “in it” is necessary. We know we can’t reach people with the gospel when we can’t even stand beside them. But instead of standing for Christ there, we find all too often find ourselves drifting right along with them. We are often more unquestioning and more accepting than we ever should be of not only the world’s ways, but also their self-seeking goals.
However, in the midst of all our strategies to protect ourselves from temptation and right awareness of the dangers around us, I often think we forget it is not an option for us to turn away from this world. Those around us, even those far from us, are the very opportunities God is giving us to do good to all people. To do it well, however, it takes a very sober mindset about ourselves, but also a very sober understanding of what it means to represent Christ himself as we go out. When faced with a performance like Kendrick Lamar’s, we can so easily ask ourselves what it will do in us. But we all too often forget to ask ourselves another very important question: “Will I let Kendrick’s music stir up Christ’s affections for him in me?”
Christ is very clear about what he thinks and feels for Kendrick. Even a cursory glance at God’s word reminds us of the inherent dignity, significance, and worth Kendrick has in God’s sight. He stands as an image bearer of our Creator God, and his life is of more value than any creature on earth. For that reason alone, Kendrick deserves my time, my attention to his words. He speaks because my Father speaks. Like the God who knit him together, he reasons and feels, rejoices and cries out. He stands with strength and speaks with clarity. His words are not to be dismissed because they don’t speak of my experience anymore than I could dismiss my own granddaughter’s cries because she doesn’t see things the way I see them. The cry alone is worth my attention because she was knit together by my God’s hand. Kendrick is no different than she.
But there is more to Kendrick that should cause us to see and listen with great attention and compassion, especially if we are a part of the majority culture. His performance was unsettling to many, but Kendrick’s words are meant to evoke feelings, an understanding of where this young man sees his life and his identity in the midst of a culture that he believes doesn’t see him well.
The entire performance would have been so evocative to our Christ. As his word reminds us again and again, Christ has great affection for those who are downcast, sorrowful, filled with the rage of injustice, and the travesties of life. He came to dwell amongst them, and intends that it still happen today through us. His commands give us a template for what his image bearers look like while we walk these broken roads. Calls to weep with those who weep, have mercy on those who doubt, be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger (Rom. 12:15, Jude 22, James 1:19). These are all the exact representation of the Son who shows us the Father. When we obey them, we display him.
Yes, Kendrick and others like him will use words that aren’t glorifying to the Father. Sure, they will overshadow part of an argument to get their point across. We know they will simply because we do the same, especially in grief. A quick glance through Lamentations or Psalm 88 will also leave us more in the darkness than the light. But that’s not because there is none. It’s simply because at that moment, the authors of those laments were crying out for us to see not an objective truth, but to comprehend the weight of their experience of this world. Jesus didn’t need an thesis on the goodness of God in the garden the night before his death. He needed what the Father provided: strength to face the day and all the troubles in it (Luke 22:43).
Sure, it’s true there are some Christians who seem never to understand the danger of the world or the power of the lies that whisper agreement to their flesh. There is surely a need for all of us to take care with things like alcohol, movies, songs, possessions, fame, power, position, wealth…and even race. We must all tread carefully to flee where we are tempted to sin, but never for the sake of staying away. The whole idea is to flee to strengthen, to lower our affections for us, for this world, for the ways of Satan, and then to return back to the world; in it, not of it, this time…that we might offer to them more than ourselves.
We must come for Christ, to display Christ. We can come to unbelievers with compassion, as one who sees them, hears their cries, understands their view, and walks right with them with all the affections of Christ. We can then go to tell them about the one who puts an end to all thirst and promises to right every injustice. We do not bestow dignity and significance on those around us. Instead, by giving our time and attention to their words, our understanding and compassion to their story, we reveal we know the source of it all.
Consider searching again to listen and watch Kendrick’s performance from that night. Don’t go to find Christ in his words. Go to feel what God’s word tells you Christ feels at hearing this young man’s heart, just the same as he felt hearing Jeremiah’s and David’s cries. Go to hear why this young man would say he died too that February day in 2012. Go from it to understand better why “It’s Gonna Be Alright” has become an anthem shouted in the streets. Go because you have your own heart stirred with the very affections of Christ for a world that is longing for their identity, significance, purpose, meaning, and value to be known in every part of their world and with every person in the majority culture. Go because you’ve found it yourself in Christ, and now have the longing of Christ for them to find it in him as well. Go out to the world with compassion not only to use all he created to stir up your affections for Christ, but because you have had Christ’s affections for them stirred up in you.