A Muslim businessman showed me how to act more like Jesus the other day at the Central Police Headquarters in Izmir, Turkey. I stood in a long line waiting to get to the cashier’s window to pay the fees for my residence permit. I had already spent my morning waiting in lines and running up and down cement stairs in the drab gray building full of government clerks and desks piled high with papers. I was desperate to pay my application fee and escape into the sunshine.
After thirty minutes, I finally neared the window, but a bewildered-looking lady in her early fifties with a long coat and headscarf came in with her passport in hand. She bypassed the rest of us to read the sign posted next to the window, and then she stood next to the person who was being waited on. I began to fume inwardly, Who does she think she is?
The stylish young businessman in a tailored gray suit and sunglasses was talking on his cell phone in front of me. His turn was next. He ended his call and started to step up to the window, but the lady said to him, “I’m so confused, I don’t know what to do, and I’m in a hurry. Do you mind if I go ahead?”
I wanted to speak up: “Excuse me. We’re all in a hurry, and we’ve been here all morning. The back of the line is over there.” The Turkish businessman did not have my American “everything-must-be-fair-and-equal attitude,” so he said, “Of course, ma’am, go right ahead.” He stepped back politely, and, without looking the least bit irritated, he motioned for her to take his place. Perhaps respect for his elders was more important to him than equal rights.
Why do I not respond that way when people try to get in front of me? Instead, I clear my throat and say, “Excuse me, I’m in line here.” I am the Christian who is supposed to let her light shine before men, the one who is supposed to act like Jesus because I may be the only Jesus these people ever see. He is a lost man living under the shadow of darkness, but he showed courtesy and compassion to a person older than himself. He took a few moments of his day to be gracious to a stranger. Who acted more like Jesus?
I hate waiting in lines here because people often get in front of me, and it violates my sense of fairness. I am bothered at the bus stop when people elbow around me to get on first. I feel frustrated at the bakery when I am in line and someone walks right up to the counter to order ahead of me. I get irritated at the supermarket when I finally get up to the cashier with a cartload of groceries after a long wait, and someone walks up to me and says, “I just have three items. Do you mind?”
I am almost embarrassed to say that one of my favorite verses is Rejoice in the Lord…Let your gentleness be evident to all. I heard a sermon about that recently, and I taped these words above my desk where I can see them: Give people the miracle of kindness…Being a disciple is acting and looking like Jesus. I meditate on these thoughts often, yet I never try to rejoice, be gentle, and act like Jesus when people are edging their way in front of me in a line! Instead, I protect my own place by inching up closer to the person in front of me.
I am here in Turkey to let my light shine, but daily life presents so many minor irritations and challenges. My daughter drops a glass lamp just as I am settling down to read for a few moments after a long day. My neighbor calls to say she is not coming to tea after all, just as I take the cake I made for her out of the oven. A friend arrives for dinner one-and-a-half hours late, so that my Chinese stir-fry is wilted and soggy. Do I let frustration get the better of me, or do I choose to be gentle and gracious, letting the Holy Spirit fill me?
The businessman at the police station showed me how Jesus might act as He would wait in line. Yesterday at the supermarket I had a chance to practice what I learned from him. I had almost finished loading my things onto the checkout band when I noticed I had forgotten margarine. The checker was still ringing up the items of the customer in front of me, and I knew I had time to go get the margarine. I also knew that people might get in front of me if I did—What should I do?
“I’ll be right back,” I said to the checker. “I just have to grab one thing.” I sprinted off across the store, grabbed two tubs of margarine, and sprinted back, hoping she was already ringing up my groceries. Instead, she was ringing up ten items for someone else who had just walked up. As she finished, another man walked up and looked at me, holding up his two items.
I took a deep breath and remembered, Let your gentleness be evident to all. I smiled and said, “Go right ahead.” I thought about how good it feels to make an effort to act a little more like Jesus rather than fume and fuss inside because a person is getting in front of you. It feels better to smile and be gracious rather than let three lost minutes ruin your afternoon. I thank God for His creativity in using a Muslim businessman to challenge me to act and look more like Jesus, and I hope I will let my light shine before men in the bread line at the bakery tomorrow morning.