Something happened recently that made me ask myself the question: "do I have a habit of taking on someone else's present or past personal experience as my understanding of my own situation?"
Because when a friend or acquaintance shares with us a season of life or circumstance, we can sometimes allow their story to morph into being the answer (or the problem) to our own.
Recently I posted a Facebook status for friends to private message me with their prayer requests. Each day, for 40 days through Lent, I was planning to meditate and pray for that specific person's prayer needs (whether they believed in God or not). It was open to anyone I was connected with in a virtual world.
Thrilled that so many people did actually seem to want prayer — as having an intercessor's heart has been my prayer for 2016 — one particular friend shared more of her journey in detail with me, and I felt the Holy Spirit give me a prophetic word to encourage her in her situation.
This friend was having a hard time believing for something in her life, and what was harder to swallow is that she felt that God had promised this thing to her.
I know that in the past, I would have heard this story so parallel to my journey, my heart would have responded in a fearful way. I would adopt what was happening in her story as my own, because of the similarity on our journeys. I would have made my own understanding my response to her.
What I'm suggesting as the alternative — and what I chose to do this time — is that we seek God instead in what he is doing uniquely in our lives rather than focusing on what he's doing in the lives of our friend. This stops our friend's answer or story from becoming our own. We seek God's understanding of the situation first, rather than speaking of our experience.
Because the Holy Spirit prompted me, as I started to type a Facebook reply, that her story was not my own. Just because we had circumstances in common, it didn't mean that the ending (or the process) was the same. Every facet of our two lives are different, yet it's still easy to take someone else's life and make it ours. The enemy seeks to create fear in our hearts and bring pessimism into our hopes for the future, by telling us a lie that what is happening to someone else, will too be our tale.
And because I choose to separate our two worlds, I am able to speak truth to her and ask God for what his heart towards her is, rather than being caught up in a web of fear of my own situation, and unable to encourage her because I'm fixated on my own anxieties.
If we want to encourage others we need to make sure we don't allow our reactions to someone else's story to be our benchmark for the way we can minister to them. I'm not talking about testimonies where God uses our breakthroughs to encourage others in similar walks. I'm talking about the other side of the coin: where breakthrough has not yet come and we allow discouragement to become our own focus.
We all have a different relationship with God and it's so important that we keep our eyes on the way we communicate and process with God, and not on how others do it.
It can be easy to pick up other people's current state of spirituality, and take on others' spiritual "revelations" as our own. Instead, what is God saying to our heart? Is someone else's revelation for us too? Or is it just for them, and we need to guard our heart instead, asking God for discernment instead?
What I'm learning is that if I allow myself to take on someone else's worries and struggles, I can't be a true friend to them. I can empathize and love them but I am unable to speak God's truth, because I am stuck in my own fear-zone, and am putting my own experiences back on them.
So although we might share circumstances, I want to choose to love them for what they need and focus on their heart and prayer requests. Because right now, it isn't about me.
Originally from The Lake District in the UK, Amanda worked in Publishing in London and Auckland and is passionate about seeing Christians bring salt and light into the media, arts and creative industries. She's currently spending a six month sabbatical in the mountains of Mammoth Lakes in California, skiing, adventuring and writing.
Amanda Robinson's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/amanda-robinson.html