A girl in her mid teens, who I’ll call Lotty, lost her virginity while on holiday. Upon her return to England, she told her foster mother, a staunch Christian with whom she used to go to church. To Lotty’s surprise, her foster mother exposed her secret during a church service, and instead of mercy, understanding, compassion, or even indifference, Lotty was on the receiving end of metaphorical stones of guilt, shame and condemnation. More than twenty years down the line, I wonder if that experience is brought to Lotty’s mind whenever she meets Christians, hears the gospel, or thinks of church.

A lot of people have a similar story to Lotty’s, or one that is, perhaps, even more painful. Can I be candid? We only have to Google “Christian church abuse” to see numerous articles that describe what’s sadly been going on in some church congregations in the UK and beyond. In light of these heart-breaking stories, let’s consider how we can reveal Jesus to those who have been hurt by the church, tough as it may seem.

It’s not in our own strength or power that we are to be God’s beacons of light to those who have been hurt; it’s by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit

A few weeks ago, the Holy Spirit reminded me that my righteousness is in Jesus alone (Philippians 3:9), because God made Him who had no sin become sin, so that in Him I might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Once I remember that I am only righteous because of Jesus, my words and actions shouldn’t communicate condemnation but rather love, just like Jesus demonstrated when He met the Samaritan woman at the well, who had several husbands (John 4), and the woman who was caught in adultery (John 8).

The love Jesus poured out on the hurting and broken was a result of His walk with God. Luke 2:52 says: “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” This tells me that it’s not in our own strength or power that we are to be God’s beacons of light to those who have been hurt; it’s by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in believers because Jesus made us righteous. This scripture also tells me that Jesus was strengthened by the Spirit because He had a personal relationship with His Father, one that saw Him leave the crowd and His disciples for quality alone time. (And, remember, it was often after Jesus met with God in private that He would bring about change in public.)

I encourage us, therefore, to follow Jesus’ example and deepen our relationship with God by hanging out with Him and in His word. Through this, we give the Spirit the fuel He needs to do work on the inside that will be displayed on the outside in words and actions that can transform others’ lives. But how, exactly? I’ve discovered that I need to feast on God’s word daily, for I shall not live by bread alone (Luke 4:4), then be quiet as I think about what I’ve read. Of late, I’ve noticed God explaining His word to me, which makes me aware of His purposes and plans, and how He can accomplish them in me and through me.

Know that God loves you, and it’s not His fault that we often get it so wrong.

Let’s get in the word daily to grow spiritually. We don’t have to be religious about it, or squeeze the fun out of fellowship, but we can consider setting targets or establishing a routine. It’s so important that we do this, because as we grow in knowledge and love of God, we also grow in our love for others, and knowing how best to treat those who have been hurt by the church or other Christians.

Meanwhile, to those who resonate with Lotty’s story, I apologise. I’m sorry that you have experienced pain. I’m sorry that people in church, who you may have trusted deeply, have hurt you. Know that God loves you, however, and it’s not His fault that we often get it so wrong. We, as Christians, are a body of rescued people, keen to tell you how Jesus can heal even the deepest of wounds. We know this, because He has healed us too.

God is working daily to get you to stretch out your hand so that He can hold it. Please don’t allow what happened rob you of all that God still has in store for you.