Standing with or standing for my neighbors

Am I willing to suffer for Hell’s Kitchen?

What does it mean to stand with someone vs. stand for someone? Thanks to one of my best friends who imparts his wisdom and experiences on me regularly, this is a question I’ve wrestled with a lot.

With vs. For.

When I think of standing for someone, I think of speaking up and fighting for them, all the while keeping them and their lived experience at a safe distance. Of course the idea of speaking up and fighting for someone is not bad, but sometimes—probably oftentimes—it’s not enough.

When you stand with someone, you put yourself in their shoes. You stand in their place. You begin to experience their pain, suffering, exclusion, hardships, sorrow. You speak up and you fight, but you also learn to do good, seek justice and actively correct oppression; you bring justice to the fatherless and you plead the cause of the widow, just as the Lord speaks in the opening chapter of Isaiah. We see this in Proverbs, too. Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Looking at this verse, one study Bible says, “A true friend is always friendly, not only when the sun is shining, just as a brother is still a brother when things are going badly.” Similarly, though slightly different, Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” That same commentator looks at this verse, in light of what was written in chapter 17, and notes, “There is the sort of nominal friendship found among those who seek others’ company only in order to exploit it for themselves; such ‘friends’ bring only disaster. A true friend is there when needed, will stand by you when things are really hard, and can be relied on even more, sometimes, than one’s relatives.”

Of course, I think this is most beautiful and convicting in God’s Word when we see the incarnation of Jesus Christ. God inserts himself into his creation, in order to not only stand for his people, but to literally stand with them. I don’t think our imaginations are big enough to grasp just how high the stakes were for God to condescend to humanity, but we begin to see these stakes when Christ hung on a cross for God’s people.

His incarnation doesn’t exist independent of his death; his incarnation led to pain, suffering, exclusion, hardships, sorrow.

When we speak of incarnational ministry, more often than not, we’re focused on the idea of inserting ourselves somewhere. Just as God incarnated on earth, so, too, are we called to be active witnesses wherever God places us. But that’s where our idea of the incarnation, as it’s played out in our lives, usually ends.

Are we willing to experience and endure pain, suffering, exclusion, hardships, and sorrow wherever God places us?

As I said, I’ve wrestled with this a lot, most recently around the idea of what it means to lead and be part of a neighborhood church—a church that, I pray, is incarnational for Hell’s Kitchen.

Am I, is our congregation, willing to suffer for Hell’s Kitchen?

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” — Romans 5:3-5