There’s a passage of Scripture that brings a great feeling of awe to me, as I consider the impact its meaning has on my personal life. In Psalm 18:35, David says to God, “Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great.”   Paraphrasing in language more familiar to me, I am saying to the Lord, “You are my only defense, and the shield You have put around me is Your own salvation, which cost You Your life. I am upheld only by Your own gracious, omnipotent hand, and Your mighty arm is everlastingly underneath me.” But this is the part that arrests my attention: “Your gentleness, Your divine condescension, the way You put Yourself in my place; and Your meekness, humility and mildness–these have increased me, by these You have caused me to grow and flourish. You have brought abundance into my life, with its faults and needs,  by this gentle way that You manifest Yourself toward me and deal with me. By cherishing me, You have nurtured and fostered me.”

No one grows under the scowl of disapproval. Not a creature on earth flourishes when those to whom it looks for sustenance hurl continual reminders of its inadequacy. The creativity of an entire company of competent workers is stifled by a stiff-chinned boss whose stony silences are only broken by criticism. Somewhere, a daffodil may break cheerily through black-top, but as a rule, loose crumbly soil is the best ground in which to foster tender plants.

If David recognized that his success, weak and sinful though he had been, was due to the mild, gentle condescension of His Lord, then we also should recognize that, as our Lord’s representatives on earth, we owe to our brothers and sisters, our fellow-workers, our spouses, our children, and to every human, this divine grace of gentleness. “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves. . . .” (II Tim. 2:24-25).

We speak of the authority of Paul as an apostle, to ordain, to rebuke, to write letters of chastisement. Yet he begins the tenth chapter in II Corinthians like this, “Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ. . .” Another place he testified of his own conduct as a spiritual parent to these babes in Christ: “But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children. . . .” (I Thess. 2:7).

I think about our children. We have such a short window of opportunity to influence these eternal souls. Eighteen or twenty years pass so quickly. The first six years, the most impressionable ones, just fly by. To the young mother who is overwhelmed, it may seem like an everlasting period of time. To the older mother of teens, the frustrations seem endless. But the teen years, the last few years left at home and under mom and dad’s influence, are so fleeting. The in-between years of elementary age, when a boy or girl can be gross, annoying, absent-minded-–those are the years when they are deciding which way they will most likely go as teenagers. Will they go with the crowd, will they drink or do drugs, will they admire mom and dad, or idolize someone in the world? All these decisions are being made while the mother is tempted to shove this child out of her way, because he is acting so annoying.

Consider a boy at about seven or eight. He has been somewhat of a trial to mom today, and she is tired of constantly reminding him of chores, manners, or whatever. It’s bedtime. She is tempted to “let him have it” one more time about the rules that he broke, give him a hard little hug, and send him to his room with a great sigh of relief that he is down at last. She can do it that way, probably not giving it a thought that those feelings are a way of life with her lately, and a little boy is being formed to constantly feel a vacuum where strong feelings of attachment to parental love should be.

Or she or dad can kneel beside the bed and establish a bond that will last a lifetime. Just a few, tender moments at the end of a frustrating day can heal a mother’s raw emotions and seal a little fellow’s loyalty. Not many words have to be spoken. She might  talk about his bike or the neat road he built in the dirt pile. As he lays there in the dark,  he just might express that he feels badly about how he talked to her today, and she might say, “Well, Mom was not as patient as I should’ve been, either. Let’s do better tomorrow, okay?” A brief, earnest prayer that he will become a strong soldier for Jesus, a reminder that Dad and Mom love him and Jesus loves him, a warm hug, and she’s left a boy nearly wriggling with the happy feeling of well-being.

Our humanity would protest this way: “He’s not worthy to go to bed feeling happy. He needs to lay there and think about his sins. He needs to feel guilty for a while. My disapproval is all he deserves right now, and I’m going to let him have it, until he changes.”

Let’s remember that we have grown, changed, and prospered, not because we constantly saw the scowling face of the distant, powerful, Almighty Father, but because He showed us his meekness and gentleness in the face of Jesus Christ.

I once became aware that a little boy, with whom I was acquainted, was very impressed by how people looked at him, or didn’t look at him. His school teacher never won his devotion because, from the very first day of school, she never looked him in the eye. He constantly felt defeated in school, and didn’t try at all to succeed. I began to realize the importance of seeking him out immediately when he came around, looking deeply into his eyes, and engaging him in conversation that let him know I was interested in him. The response was amazing. When I would teach him, his eyes never wavered from my face. Now he is an adult, and his demeanor toward me is still very warm.

How many little ones are just starved for someone to look them in the eyes with a warm, kind look? How many adults are still hungry just for someone to affirm them as a person? How many times do we feel that our “gospel” hasn’t been “received”, when we didn’t establish the first steps of connecting with the person? Have we somehow grown up with the idea that our family and loved ones who are “not living right” need to feel our disapproval with their lifestyle? Must they constantly be reminded, by our stern, critical glance over their appearance, that they are not where they should be?

Maybe there is another way. We don’t have to approve of what they are doing. But they already know that–now they need to know that we have the sweet spirit of Christ that says, “Come unto Me,” not “I push you away.” They need to know that we will drop everything we are interested in, and spend time with them and listen to them. We must “go where they are.” Not in condoning their sins, but in service and devotion to their needs as a person.

Someone has said, “Treat your family like strangers and treat strangers like family.” What is the worth of this statement? Well, we treat strangers, many times, with a congeniality and politeness that strives to make a good first impression. We want this person to feel well received and comfortable. We want them to like us. However, with family, we get this feeling that we’re already stuck with each other. “You’ve got to accept me; I’m your sister.” And then we do not actively pursue behavior that demands the respect, admiration and acceptance we desire. We get so familiar with each other that we forget the basic laws of human relationships. Kindness, generosity, good manners. So, we should pick up those forgotten niceties extended only to “company” and start using them liberally in our home circle. Use our pleasant “phone tone” for speaking to our own children or siblings.

The second part of this maxim refers to the special inner circle of belonging that is part of family. We are to make every human being feel the warmth and acceptance that we give to our own kin. What this is really saying, is that every person, whether relative or stranger, deserves kindness, gentleness, and acceptance. That is the personal debt that we owe to every one around us, from our spouses to our children, to siblings, to parents, grandparents, in-laws, extended family members, neighbors, business associates, and enemies.

How can we nurture a child into GREATNESS? How can we encourage a spouse to be the one to “sit in the gates”? How can we nurture and foster the growth of young Christians around us? By using the great secret that Christ Himself used: “Thy gentleness hath made me great.” (Psalm 18:35).