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Tough and Tender

A while back I had an enlightening conversation with a friend — a fellow pastor — about a young man on his church staff.  This young man had served with his pastor for several years.  He was a great support and blessing to him and to the church, and has continued to be blessing.  As my friend described this fellow’s character, I was struck by two things about him .  He was both tough and tender.

As I listened to the pastor outline the responsibilities this person carried, and the way he carried them, I was impressed by this fellow’s strength.  He was tough.  He knew how to handle tough moments, tough situations, and a tough and often demanding work schedule. According to my friend, he did these things with grace, and without complaining to himself or others.  He had mettle, steel, grit in his nature that made him reliable and useful.  There was a wonderful toughness about him.

But there was also another side to him.  He had a very tender heart — a tender conscience.  The pastor told me that practically every time he needed to address a point of correction or growth with him, the young man would beat him to it!  Before the pastor even brought up the subject, this fellow would show up at his office and bring up the issue himself, saying:

“Pastor, the Lord has showed me ____________ about myself ” or “I realize that I handled ____________  the wrong way.”

He would then proceed to either ask forgiveness and/or request help from his pastor about the situation.  There was a wonderful tenderness about him.

My friend described the sensitivity of this young man’s conscience as rare and deeply touching.  He described his spirit of humility as refreshing.  He described his mentoring relationship with this fellow as a tremendous joy and privilege.  And as a result of this young man’s heart and character, his spiritual and ministry growth has skyrocketed and his usefulness to the work of God’s Kingdom has expanded greatly.  He understands what so many never understand.  He grasps the value of both toughness and tenderness!

How does this young man’s example relate to you and me?  It leads each of us to take a look at ourselves and to ask ourselves some important questions.  Here are some questions for you to consider:

How tough are you?  What is your response to the challenges and demands of life?  What happens to your attitude in tough times?  Do you have spiritual mettle, steel and grit in your “gut” that keeps you going?  Does your spirit stay unsullied and your communication stay positive in dry or demanding seasons?

Take a look at what the Bible says about the importance of toughness:

If you fail under pressure, your strength is small.  —  Proverbs 24:10 (NLT)

How tender are you?  Are you sensitive to the Holy Spirit?  Do you allow Him to convict you and correct you?  Do you find it easy or difficult to acknowledge your failures and mistakes to God and others?  Are you teachable — truly hungry to learn and grow — and do you openly and clearly communicate this eagerness to learn and grow to the people God has placed in your life to help you?

The Bible reminds us that God desires to make us tender people — responsive to His Word and Spirit’s work in our hearts:

… I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart … ”  —  Ezekiel 11:19 (NLT)

God is looking for folks He can use.  Toughness and tenderness make us useable.  It’s a rare and precious character combination!

Pastor Dale