“If you didn’t believe that there was some higher being able to influence the course of events, of what possible value would prayer be?”
and immediately, I found myself asking the same question, but going deeper. Do I really believe prayer changes GOD? If God has a sovereign plan, why pray? If He already knows everything, why am I telling Him everything? He doesn’t need reminding. He doesn’t forget. And why do I pray like a widow?
The generic Christian reply is “We pray because Jesus prayed.”
thank you. thank you very much. that clears it right up for me. I’m better now.
Thankfully, I know I’m not that unique. I know someone has asked themself these questions before. I was betting they had written about it.
It would seem I am in good company. Everybody from Pascal to C.S. Lewis to Yancy, to name just a few.
Philip Yancy in his book, “Prayer” said
“I envy, truly I envy, those people who pray in simple faith without fretting about how prayer works and how God governs this planet. For some reason I cannot avoid pondering these imponderables.”
A second thing happened within a matter of days of receiving AtypicalAtheist’s email. God opened a door for someone I know. He provided a phenomenal opportunity. Out of nowhere. Total “God thing.”
And I remembered something I used to say all the time. “God can do ANYthing.” Beyond what we can ask or imagine.
I realized that I couldn’t see God’s hand in something I was pursuing. Tunnel vision pursuing. And none of what I was pursuing was beyond what I could ask or imagine. It was all “reasonable.”
and it was all me.
me. me. me. me. me. I wanted what I wanted. the way I wanted it.
The absolute LAST thing I want is to find myself in a “successful” situation and say, “Look at what I did!” instead of “Look what GOD did!”
but I saw it clearly. that’s exactly the direction I was headed.
Not a good look in the mirror for me.
I was a mess.
You combine my inability to reconcile praying petitionary prayers to a sovereign God with a sovereign plan and not seeing God’s hand in what I was pursuing and you’ve got someone who came face to face with hopeless selfishness.
I said they were both responsible for pivot points in my faith.
It appears I’m at another pivot point in my faith.
When I first read these books, the basic premise each of these guys set forth resonated with me.
In a teeny, tiny nutshell?
Piper – Serving God does not have to be sacrificial. It can be – sometimes it is – but it doesn’t have to be. There isn’t some sort of causal, yin and yang relationship between how much I sacrifice and how much God is pleased with my service. I can serve God by doing what I love and I can find joy in it. God wants me to find joy in serving him with my gifts. The passion I have for doing so was given to me by God. Sacrifice is not the marker of mature spirituality. Enjoying what I do does not mean I am selfish.
Friesen – God doesn’t have a predetermined, detailed individual plan for my life that I have to discover. A plan that is derailed if I make a wrong choice. (THANK GOD. Because if so, I veered off course a long time ago. multiple times.) Friesen’s premise is that the idea of God having a specific, detailed, individual will for each person’s life isn’t supported in scripture. That God has a sovereign will and it does not change. God has a moral will that we are to strive to stay within. Within His sovereign and moral will, God allows us to choose. He gives us the responsibility to choose. He gives us the wisdom to choose. When we have chosen what is moral and wise, we must trust Him to work it for His good. Within His sovereign plan.
again, I agree with Piper and Friesen’s basic premises. But some of what they say…
was seriously screwing me up.
I couldn’t reconcile the dichotomies in what I was finding.
Why is it that I can read C.S. Lewis and call him Jack when he gets all puffy and full of himself, but with these two guys I had trouble actually separating the wheat from the chaff?
And I see the chaff.
next time. this post is too long. I wouldn’t have read this far.
and like I said in my last post, if you know me IRL, don’t weird out when you see me. Like you’ve never seen a hot mess when you’ve looked into the mirror before.
[CLICK HERE to see a listing of all the blog posts in this series “the search for Joy.”]
In the middle (and at the bottom) of stirring this mess in my head, he said: “You really need to work through this. I don’t recognize you. It’s like you’ve given up. I don’t know whether to encourage you or give you a swift kick in the butt. You’ve lost your mojo.”
mojo. is that another word for faith?
It was bad. I couldn’t even pray.
What does faith look like when you can’t even pray?
it’s not pretty.
I needed to think. I need to think.
And so I clean my house. I paint my house. I purge my house. of books even. over 100 so far. I want every superfluous thing in my house gone. GONE.
GONE I tell you!
physically and metaphorically.
But in the middle of all the thinking I’m reading two books right now.
FirstHusband suggested I re-read these books. Smart guy.
I’ve read both of them before. But I was younger then. Not that much younger. But still.
They were both responsible for pivot points in my faith.
In all my thinking and purging, I need to go back to bones of what I believe and why.
Messy deep digging blog posts ahead.
Even so, if you know me IRL (in real life), don’t weird out when you see me in person. If you’re at a loss about what to say, we can talk about the little blond girl’s face at the end of this commercial. cracks me up every time.
[CLICK HERE to see a listing of all the blog posts in this series “the search for Joy.”]
Four years ago, I was content to sing by myself. in the seclusion of my mini-van.
Leading worship never crossed my mind.
Four years ago, I was content to write a blog. about recipes and how to use a neti pot.
Writing a book never crossed my mind.
Four years ago, I was content to lead a monthly psuedo-Bible study. sitting in comfortable chairs in the living rooms of friends.
A speaking ministry never crossed my mind.
Why did you allow me to go 4 years in this direction if it’s not the place you wanted me to be? How long do I have to stumble around in this mess I’ve made? How long till I figure out how to climb out of this pit? And how long after that will it take me to turn my face and feet towards next?
I have NO sense that these things I’ve been pursuing are from You.
I have NO confidence in my ability to figure out where to place my foot.
so I find myself unable to take a step.
I’m standing still.
by the nagging thought that I have to let it go.
all of it.
And every time the thought crosses my mind, I cry.
dammit. dammit. dammit.
I do NOT cry.
and it’s really starting to tick me off.
Crying is a flippin WASTE of time. When I’m done, nothing has changed.
Except that I have a headache. and my mascara is shot.
And so I take the chicken walk.
If these desires are not from You – if they are, in fact, selfish – I’m asking you to TAKE them.
TAKEthemTAKEthemTAKEthem. I don’t want them.
LET. THEM. DIE.
Painlessly would be my preference.
But part of me knows that if You really did allow these desires to grow over the last 4 years – only to get me to this place of recognition that I love them too much – you did it to teach me.
That I need to be satisfied in YOU, Jesus.
I need to find joy in YOU.
Leading worship isn’t enough.
Writing about You isn’t enough.
Telling people about You isn’t enough.
YOU are enough. You should be enough.
Part of me wonders.
That You’ve allowed me to go so far down this path because You needed me to be this wrecked about being so selfish.
Some say I’m under spiritual attack.
if so, Satan’s doing a damn good job.
But I have to ask myself.
Am I being disciplined?
Am I being pruned?
Are these thoughts from You?
I can’t discount the possibility.
I can’t automatically assume that Satan is attacking me with doubt and discouragement.
Because You are sovereign, I believe nothing happens to me that You don’t allow.
Is that what I’m being?
Right now, everything I see about this ministry I’ve been pursuing is about me. What I want. Me trying to manufacture something. If this is true, the hours I’ve wasted are incalculable. If this is true, I need to turn my back on this self-indulgent disobedience. And if this is true, it completely sucks. Because even after looking straight in the face of this possibility – even knowing I need You to be enough – without these dreams – I’m still mourning the death of them.
Lord, if I’m wrong, you’re going to have to show me.
Smack me upside the head.
because I don’t trust my judgement.
and I am SICK TO DEATH OF THE WHINING.
and seriously. I’m OVER the crying.
It is NOT working for me.
I don’t want to do it anymore.
“To say to Him that something else satisfies you more is the opposite of worship. It is sacrilege.” Desiring God by John Piper
CLICK HERE to see a listing of all the blog posts in this series “the search for Joy.”
This is the 15th post of a series. I started out telling a chronological story, but got derailed before I could get past August of 2012. I’ve addressed the derailing tangent to death. I’m tired of talking about something I wasn’t even talking about. I’m skipping WAY ahead in my story. Maybe I’ll get back to explaining how God brought me to where I am today, maybe not. Today, I’m cutting to the chase. And I can see another tangent coming at me already, so I’m hoping an acknowledgement will help me nip that in the bud. (If you need to catch up or review, CLICK HERE to view a page listing all the posts in the series.)
I’m going to say hard things. I’ve spent a week writing this particular post and I’ve prayed about it for hours. and hours. and hours. and HOURS. Hard. Things. I promise you I’m saying them in a spirit of edification.
After a 14 post lead-in…
HERE’S MY POINT:
THERE. IS. MORE.
“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10
Christ came that we may have life, and have it abundantly, in all its fullness.
Not abundant blessings or stuff.
Abundant life isn’t a state of existence to be pursued or attained. It isn’t a level of success or a degree of spirituality. It is an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ and it leads to a dependance on Him that can’t be met through or in or by ANYthing else.
Without Christ, I can accomplish NOTHING of eternal significance. Without Christ, I have NOTHING. Without Christ, I am NOTHING.
And before I say another word, I need to acknowledge something:
I know there are people in my church who understand what I’m saying.
I need to say that LOUDER:
I know there are people in my church who understand what I’m saying.
But there are so. many. people in my church who have no idea what I’m talking about.
There are people in my church who don’t want what I’m talking about.
There are people in my church who don’t give a flyin flip what I’m talking about.
And to beat a dead horse – I am not only referring to people who haven’t yet accepted Christ. This is NOT about evangelism.
I am primarily referring to people who have accepted Christ.
I accepted Christ 28 years ago and up until 2007, I wouldn’t have known what I was talking about if I explained it to me. (good luck following that.)
There are born-again Christians in my church who have never experienced abundant life in Christ through an intimate, no holds barred relationship with him, who have no idea what I mean by that, who flat out don’t want it and/or don’t think there’s any need for it.
And if the Christians aren’t witnesses to what Christ has done and is doing in our lives and in our church, how will the non-Christians – both the people seeking God and the people who think they are Christian but have never accepted Christ – ever see evidence that a life transformed by faith in Christ is any different from their own?
There are so. many. people. – Christians and non-Christians – at my church who don’t see any need for an intimate relationship with Christ. They don’t even know that what they are missing even exists.
And that realization causes me to grieve for my church. and to pray. persistently.
Because as much as God desires an intimate relationship with us, He won’t force us into it.
My church is not a Christ-centered church. The gospel is not the foundation of all we say and do.
My church has gone off on our own to accomplish good and reasonable things in the world.
My church is so focused on working for God it doesn’t even occur to us to come to the banquet and spend time with God.
My church isn’t refusing to open the door, we just can’t hear Him knocking over all the activity in the house.
There’s nothing I can do or say to bring revival to my church. There’s nothing anyone can do or say to bring revival to my church. Not even the pastor. A Christ-centered sermon here or there won’t do it. A compelling sermon won’t “convince” us to desire revival. Because revival doesn’t come from an intellectual decision to initiate it.
Yes, the Holy Spirit can anoint a pastor and use a 20 minute sermon to draw people to Christ. But if God were to move and stir revival in my church, He wouldn’t limit Himself to that 20 minutes. He would saturate the culture of the church in a foundational dependence on Christ that results in a consuming passion to worship Him, an underlying peace that comes from an unwavering trust in Him and JOY that trumps any unhappiness or trial we might face.
“We depend on God to help us.”
no. we don’t.
“Yes we do.”
no. we really don’t.
For all the things we do at my church, all the programs and classes and service and ministries and sermons and worship sets, we don’t – as a unified body of believers – acknowledge that without Christ at the center of all we say and do, we can’t accomplish ANYTHING of eternal significance.
At my church, we link arms and stand strong together;
we would kick butt in a game of Red Rover. At my church, we know how to follow instructions;
we would be champions at a Simon Says tournament. At my church, we are more loyal to each other
than the Robertson Family. At my church, if we had a box of dominoes, we would
line them up in nice, neat, reasonable, sensible rows
(I know a few who would prefer a game of Mexican train).
We – as a unified body of believers – do NOT openly and consistently acknowledge that we are completely incapable of accomplishing anything on our own.
And there goes the first domino.
The second?Because we – as a unified body of believers – don’t acknowledge that the Holy Spirit – given to us freely through our faith in Christ – is the source of our strength and abilities, because we don’t approach EVERYthing we do – programs, classes, service, ministry and every aspect of our weekly services – with a openly shared understanding that we desperately need the Holy Spirit to equip us for these pursuits, we don’t make prayer our first step – our first priority – and humbly ask Him to do the equipping.
We don’t even ask Him if the things we are trying to do are within His will.
when the dominoes come tumbling down?
We set ’em up again.
We brainstorm and research and study and benchmark and make decisions based on good ideas and bad. We think and reason and rationalize and plan and execute – all without STOPPING. And spending “unreasonable” amounts of time in prayer asking God if these “things” we are planning are things He even wants us to do in the first place. As a unified body of believers, we don’t beg God to reveal to us our motivations and guide us to fruitfulness.
We are afraid to sincerely offer ourselves up and ask God to prune us. Why? Because we know He will?
But we need it. Because we are dragging the ground, covered in mud. Weak. Unfruitful.
We as a congregation need a clear understanding of what our church believes, what our values are, what our mission is, because without a clear understanding what we believe and why we believe it, we have nothing upon which to measure when it comes to evaluating whether or not all this stuff we’re doing supports those values.
We do good and reasonable things.
We do things because we’ve always done them.
We do things because they are efficient.
We do things because they make sense.
We do things to make people comfortable.
We do things so people won’t leave.
We don’t even consider the possibility that God might have something completely different in mind.
Something better than we ever thought or imagined.
Something we can’t accomplish without Him.
Something that would give Him all the glory.
Instead, we are…reasonable. and appropriate.
We don’t ask people to tell us how they came to faith in Christ.
Instead, we ask them how they came to our church.
Baptisms are for new babies, new members and new confirmands.
Professions of faith? new members and confirmands.
If someone comes to faith in Christ outside the schedule of a new member or confirmation class, what do they do?
Who do they tell?
How do we celebrate?
Is genuine worship something we as a body of Christ are confident we experience every week?
Or are there (too many?) times when “congregational singing” would be a better description?
How many of us wake up and go to church because that’s just what we do on Sunday morning?
How many of us wake up and go to church because we look forward to spending time with friends and family?
How many of us wake up and look forward to church because we know we will encounter the manifest presence of God?
This is what I pray for my church:
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
“The gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
That’s not a church we can build on our own power. It’s a church only Christ can build.
But we have to realize we need the Father. And come home to Him empty handed.
We have to come to the banquet and spend time with Him.
We have to open the door and let Him in.
How do we get to that place? The place where we want to go home, want to spend time with him and want to open the door?
I’m praying desperately and persistently, that my church – as the body of CHRIST – would be profoundly dissatisfied with being nice people who do good things in pursuit of a “good Christian life.”
I’m praying desperately and persistently, that – as the body of CHRIST – we would dedicate ourselves to prayer and relentlessly ask Christ to draw us into an intimate relationship with Him that leads us to experience abundant life in Him.
THERE. IS. MORE.
“All the hearts who are content, And all who feel unworthy.
And all who hurt with nothing left, Will know that You are holy
And all will sing out, Hallelujah. And we will cry out, Hallelujah
Shout it, Go on scream it from the mountains
Go on and tell it to the masses, That He is God”
“We committed ourselves to unapologetic preaching, unashamed worship, unceasing prayer, and unafraid witness. And God began to reveal His glory slowly at first but increasingly over time.” Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for. What Every Church Can Be by James MacDonald
CLICK HERE to read the next post in this series, entitled: Vertical Church: a clarification. and a survey.
This is the 15th post of a series. If you need to catch up or review, CLICK HERE to view a page listing all the posts in the series.
“Your choice must be a deliberate determination—it is not something into which you will automatically drift. And everything else in your life will be held in temporary suspension until you make a decision. The proposal is between you and God—do not “confer with flesh and blood” about it (Galatians 1:16). With every new proposal, the people around us seem to become more and more isolated, and that is where the tension develops. God allows the opinion of His other saints to matter to you, and yet you become less and less certain that others really understand the step you are taking. You have no business trying to find out where God is leading—the only thing God will explain to you is Himself.
Openly declare to Him, “I will be faithful.” But remember that as soon as you choose to be faithful to Jesus Christ, “You are witnesses against yourselves . . .” (Joshua 24:22). Don’t consult with other Christians, but simply and freely declare before Him, “I will serve You. ”Will to be faithful—and give other people credit for being faithful too.” My Utmost for His Highest, Updated Edition by Oswald Chambers
Lord, I will be faithful. I will serve You. Please equip me to be a witness for your grace and glory. Please bless me with wisdom. Please bless me with courage. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Romans 8:26
the Word: …choose for yourselves today whom you will serve…
Joshua 24:15 (NASB)
“Let not conscience make you linger, Not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth is to feel your need of Him.
Come, ye weary, heavy laden, lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry til you’re better, You will never come at all.
You will never come at all.”
I realized it was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. But I didn’t give up this “something” for Lent. I haven’t observed Lent for decades, for reasons I won’t go into right now.
When I decided to give up this “something,” I knew I wanted to give it up forever. I need to give it up forever.
What is it?
My dependence on blog stats for affirmation.
For months, I had prayed like a widow, asking God if he wanted me to post some things I began writing in August of 2012. For months I fought against God’s relentless prompting to post. I rationalized. I pleaded.
Finally, I got a word from God I knew I could not ignore. I knew I was being blatantly disobedient and that I would find no rest until I posted. So, nauseous and against my will, I hit publish.
And then F5.
again. and again. and again.
I continued to post every day. And I continued to refresh my blog stats.
Over the last week, God revealed to me that I had a refresh addiction. That stupid little F5 key was having a significant negative impact on my blog posting. From everything I wrote to what I posted to when I posted it. It was intruding on my thoughts. and my sleep.
I skipped a day. Posted. Skipped another day. Posted again.
I knew I was holding back. I was letting digital feedback interfere with God’s direction. I knew I had to cut off the stats. I’ll still respond to comments and private messages, but I’ve moved my blog stat widget and my “Top Ten” widget down in my navigation menus, out of my line of sight. If I find that I can still see them as I work, I’ll remove them altogether. I’ve turned off email notifications for when someone “likes” a post or “follows” my blog. I haven’t viewed my stats page or my “Live Traffic Feed” widget since early Wednesday morning.
It’s the end of my second day without blog stat feedback and I can honestly say.
I have absolutely no idea how many people are or are not reading my blog. I have no idea what posts are being read or how often. I have no idea where visitors are coming from or what they click on. I have no idea what search strings are being used to find my posts. I know nothing about my blog activity.
I thought I would be anxious. But I’m surprisingly relieved.
Here’s what my new blog plan looks like:
6. Trust God to do whatever He is going to do.
Honored to have had the privilege of delivering this message to a group of women at a Brunch this past Saturday morning. This video will give you a preview of the book I’m writing. If you’ve got 8 minutes and 27 seconds, check it out.
[the following is an excerpt from the book I’m writing]
Intimate communication with Christ through prayer can be the foundation of everything in your life: every thought you think, every idea that opens your mind, every choice you make. But when we relegate prayer to certain times and places in our lives, we limit that communication – and its influence on our thoughts, ideas and choices. We quench the Holy Spirit.
1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 tells us to “pray continually” and that it is “God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” These instructions aren’t directed at monks, they are for everyone who has accepted Christ. It’s possible to pray anywhere, anytime because God is with you, everywhere, all the time. It’s possible for prayer to saturate your moments and your days.
Did I just morph into that Jesus Freak with whom you avoid eye contact and cross the street to escape? Have you already tuned me out, thinking, “meh, she’s not talking to me. I don’t need to change anything. I’m fine.”
The most heinous of four letter words. Saturated in mediocrity. Reeking of average. Riding the edge of dissatisfaction and discouragement. More comfortable than a recliner and a bowl of chips in front of a 60 inch flat screen. There are some people who live their entire lives feeling fine about everything they do. There are people live their entire lives feeling fine about their relationship with God.
Fine is not what I’m going for. I. want. more.
I’ve discovered that I can have as much of God as I want, and I want more. I want Christ in every nook and cranny of my mind and heart and soul, every day of the week because when He’s not? My pursuits are just pointless exercises in ladder climbing and stuff collecting. I want my relationship with Christ to be at the center of my marriage, my relationship with my kids, family and friends, my career, my ministry.
If that makes me a Jesus Freak, go ahead and call me one, under your breath or to my face, I’m okay with the label. I’ve found the ultimate source of passion in life and I can’t keep it to myself. I’m compelled to share it. It fuels me. My relationship with Christ makes the routine meaningful, the lows bearable and the highs incomparable. God’s grace is more amazing than any song could describe, His love is illogically unconditional, His patience is unimaginably endless, His blessings are undeserved and abundant and His peace obliterates worry and fear. This is the “more” I’m talking about and there’s plenty of it to go around.
It all stems from prayer, intimate no-holds barred prayer. Naked prayer. The kind of prayer you pray when you are unashamed and want to tell God everything. The kind of intimate communion Adam and Eve experienced with God in the Garden before they were deceived. I’m writing this book because I want you to want more. To have more. More of God.
1. Of course it is and
2. Of Which I am the Greatest
For nearly a decade, I’ve volunteered to work my church’s annual Whale of a Sale, a gymnasium sized garage sale. The last two years, I served as its co-chair. Every year, two Saturdays before the event, we unload PODs (portable on demand storage) into the gym and for two weeks, we sort and price literally thousands of items while continuing to accept additional donations and offering free pick-up for large items. This past year, on the Saturday before the sale, we had scheduled about ten pick-ups and had put out a call for men and trucks to come and help with them.
I arrived that Saturday morning to find a group of about ten guys waiting for me. One gentleman in particular surprised me. He was overdressed for the occasion in dress shorts and loafers. As we entered the gym, I greeted him with “Well good morning! Are you here to help or to donate?”
In front of the other men who had come to work, he replied “I’m here to buy.”
Not to work. Not to donate. To buy.
Let me set this up for you. The sale was a week away. Pre-shopping privileges are offered to Whale volunteers as an incentive. If, while they are working, a volunteer discovers something they would like to buy, they are allowed to purchase it before the actual sale. Two people – neither one the buyer – price the item. Expensive items are researched and we aim for approximately 25% of retail.
“I’m here to buy.”
I said, “Let me get these guys going on their pick-ups and I’ll be right with you.”
Before I could open my mouth to relay a single address to one of the pick-up teams, he continued, ignoring my response as if I hadn’t spoken at all. “SoandSo told me there was a donation of a thingamagig and I’d like to buy it.”
I looked him in eye and said, “Do we need to do this right now? These gentlemen are waiting on me.”
Without missing a beat, he thrust a twenty dollar bill out and said, “Is it worth twenty bucks?”
I immediately and firmly said, “YES.”
He thought I was agreeing that the thingamagig was worth twenty bucks. I had no idea what the thingamagig was worth, I hadn’t even laid eyes on it. What I knew – and what the men who were listening knew – was that I meant it was worth twenty bucks for him to LEAVE and take his coveted thingamagig with him.
And then there I was, holding a twenty dollar bill. We have rules about money. I wasn’t supposed to just put it in my pocket. Besides, even if I bent the rules and temporarily put the money in my pocket in front of all those people, I knew I would get busy and forget about it. I told the men I would be with them in a few minutes, hightailed it to the other side of the gym, spent a few minutes unlocking a door with an annoyingly tricky lock, fetched the hidden key to the cabinet holding the cash box, secured the twenty, locked the cabinet, hid the key again, and crossed the gym back to where all the guys were waiting on me.
At first, I was indignant. But then I realized. He did this in front of at least nine men of the church, three of whom were impressionable teenage boys who got up early on a Saturday to come to church and volunteer with their dads. This man had made it clear to everyone in earshot that he viewed his time as more valuable than everyone else’s time. He got what he came for, but he was completely oblivious to the fact that he had made a terrible impression and lost the respect of those who witnessed his behavior. He was the only church member during the entire two weeks of preparation who bought something without working. Later, hearing about the exchange, another man commented that the man had traded his reputation for twenty bucks.
It’s sad and wrong. But unfortunately, it happens in churches just as often and as easily as it does in the secular world. He wanted what he wanted when he wanted it. And because I knew that doing the right thing would have caused all those guys to wait even longer – because I valued their time – I unfairly afforded one person a privilege that I didn’t afford to anyone else. In the church environment, examples like these are the cases in point when someone says they’ve been jaded by the church.
I personally used this particular situation as a teaching moment with my kids. I stepped through what happened and asked them for their opinion. Thankfully, they didn’t view this as an example of how powerful men get things done. Instead, they identified behavior and reasoning they didn’t ever want to emulate (my daughter used the word copy).
The question is, other than use it as a springboard for teaching my kids about character, what am I going to do about it? Do I give up on all churches because of the selfish actions one person? Am I going to hold a grudge? Am I going to allow someone to have that much power over me? Am I going to allow a person for whom I’ve lost respect to drive a wedge between me and God? Are you? Because make no mistake, unforgiveness is a big ol’ wedge between you and God.
“If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” 1 John 4:20 (ESV)
And here’s the harder question. What have I myself done to leave another person with a terrible impression? It’s highly improbable that I have a stellar reputation in the church or anywhere else. What things have I said or done to damage my reputation and evidence a horrible representation of Christ? Who, when relaying how they’ve been jaded by the church, has told a story about something I’ve said or done?
If I’m honest with myself, I am not without guilt. It’s extremely difficult to face and take ownership of the things I’ve said or done that I’m ashamed of. I believe it’s difficult for any Christian to face and accept the possibility that we’ve done something to damage the cause of Christ by providing fodder for the “they’re supposed to be a Christian” rants of people who find it much too easy to discredit Christians who behave badly.
In my case, it was exactly one week later when I said something I’m ashamed of. Only 7 days following my episode of indignation before I myself was a poor representative of Christ.
It was the last hours of the sale and I was making announcements about discounts over the loudspeaker. Just as I finished saying “Everything in the boutique is negotiable.” a woman approached me.
Woman: “That’s not true. They’re not negotiating in the boutique.”
Me: “They should be. They asked me to make that announcement.”
Woman: “Well, they’re not. I want to buy some teacups and they’re not negotiating.”
Me: “Okay. Show me the teacups.” (me, in my head: “I could not care less about teacups”)
We crossed the gym and entered the boutique. She headed straight for the checkout. Three unmatched teacups with their saucers were in a box. All three had their original price tags on them, but all three also had blue painter’s tape with a lower price handwritten on them. The cashier read the prices on the painter’s tape, pointing to each teacup as she spoke.
Woman: “That’s not negotiating.”
Me: “You asked them to lower the price and they have.”
Woman: “That’s not negotiating.”
Me: “What price did you have in mind?”
Woman: “I was thinking two dollars each.”
Cashier: “I’m sorry, I can’t do that.”
Woman: “Actually, you can.”
You could have heard a pin drop. This was not her first negotiation. and then,
Cashier: “No, I can’t. I didn’t set the price…”
Woman, interrupting her: “That’s not negotiating.” (me, in my head: “stop saying that.”)
Me: “The person who set the price has the option to retain any items until next year rather than sell them below their value.”
Woman: “You said the prices were negotiable….”
When I interrupted her to say “Give me a few minutes and I’ll talk to the lady who set the price” I knew I was completely over the teacup conversation.
The woman turned and walked into the gym. I spent a few more minutes in the boutique and discovered the woman had been at the sale the day before and had scored a name brand pantsuit at a discount by saying she was out of money. That, combined with the already reduced price of the teacups and the fact that unmatched English teacups are not a necessity for living, led me to back up the pricing decision of the volunteers. I decided I didn’t need to drag the person who priced the teacups into this “negotiation.” If they wanted to retain the teacups for next year’s sale rather than see them sold for less than they were worth, it was their call.
I walked into the gym and was immediately approached by the woman.
Me: “We can’t reduce the price of the teacups any lower than we already have.”
Woman: “I think it’s just that one girl.”
Me: “The girl who told you the price is not the person who set the price.”
Woman: “Well then, what’s her name?”
And here’s where it went south. Here’s where I had an opportunity to do the “right” thing and caved to the easy thing instead. And I even took a few seconds to think about it before I replied.
Me: “No. I’m not going to give you a name. If you would like to buy the teacups at the reduced price that would be fine, but I’m not going to give you anyone’s name.”
Woman: “Why not?”
And then I made it even worse.
Me: “Because I don’t do drama and I’m not going to nail my volunteers.”
The woman’s jaw dropped and her hand flew to her chest like I shot her: “I don’t need this!”
Me: “Need what?”
Woman: “You REALLY hurt my feelings!”
Me: “I’m sorry I hurt your . . . ”
Woman, interrupting: “I don’t need this! I am NOT causing drama!” (me, in my head: “this isn’t drama?”)
Me: “I think you may be overreacting.”
Woman: “WHO is in charge here!?!?”
I took way too much pleasure in this one: “Me.”
Woman: “And who is in charge of YOU?!”
Me: “My pastor.”
Woman: “I can’t believe you’re being this way over teacups!”
Me: “This has absolutely nothing to do with teacups. This is about people. And I’m protecting mine.”
Woman: “I don’t need this!”
Right then, another shopper interrupted us to ask me to price something for her.
As the first woman left crying, the shopper who interrupted us said, “I didn’t really need a price, I just wanted her to leave.”
I looked over her shoulder at the door and the shopper patted me on the hand and said, “I saw what happened. Don’t give her another thought.”
But I knew. While I did the right thing by backing up the volunteer’s decision and definitely did the right thing by preventing the woman from initiating a confrontation with the person who priced the teacups, I did it ungraciously. I didn’t get emotionally upset, but also didn’t extend an ounce of compassion. I was very . . . factual.
Stating facts without grace and compassion can easily be interpreted as meanness and insensitivity. And nobody had to convince me that the “I don’t do drama/not going to nail my volunteers” comment was uncalled for and out of line.
I stood there a few minutes, replaying the entire thing in my head, knowing what I should have done:
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Colossians 3:12 ESV
And then her husband was standing in front of me. A man who was able to extend the graciousness I had abandoned. He told me that his wife had come running to the car crying and that she said I was very upset with her. His wife was crying and he was asking me if I was okay. I assured him I wasn’t upset and that I was sincerely sorry that his wife was upset.
Then he told me that he had been out of work for a very long time. And that their son had been killed recently in a tragic accident. He told me that because of these two things his wife was oversensitive. I apologized again and offered to follow him outside and apologize to her in person if he didn’t think that would make things worse. He told me he would tell her what I said and then he left.
And here’s the thing. She was rude. She was confrontational. She was arrogant – while she was aggressively going after what she wanted. But when I confronted her, she immediately became a wounded victim, unjustly accused and unfairly treated. I’ve seen this behavior before. I know to react with grace when I see it.
And I didn’t. I took the easy way out. The “right back atcha” way out. It was wrong and I knew better. My past has equipped me to respond to this type of behavior graciously, but my circumstances led me to react dispassionately. Unkindly.
And I knew why. It had been days since I had spent dedicated time alone with God. The Whale of a Sale hours were demanding and I was exhausted. I wasn’t hungry and if people hadn’t brought me food during that last week, I wouldn’t have eaten. I went through an entire carton of Epsom salts and used way too much hot water, I was taking too much ibuprofen and not enough Nexium. I was physically and mentally worn out and spiritually bereft.
I had spent so much of my time serving God, I had neglected to be with God. I was operating and making decisions from my own limited view of my circumstances instead of striving to see the bigger picture through God’s greater perspective. My intuitive decisions were selfish instead of stemming from the Holy Spirit’s presence within me, not because the Holy Spirit had left me, but because I couldn’t hear God’s voice above all the noise – the external stimuli, my non-stop and easily distracted thoughts, my screaming muscles. I needed to STOP. To take a few minutes to talk to God and, just as importantly, to listen to God. To abide in His presence. Because I hadn’t, I needlessly hurt someone. If I had been spending dedicated time with God every day, would I have given the name of the person who set the price of the teacups? Would I have overridden her and reduced the price of the teacups?
no. and no.
But I would have been much more gracious about it. I would allowed myself to be the hands and feet and ears and voice of Christ.
Thankfully God can use hypocrites. Especially when they learn from their mistakes.
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom. Ecclesiastes 9:10 (NIV)
another year, over. No do-overs. No take-backs. Only lessons to be learned and new choices to be made.
Lord, am I where you want me? Am I living the life you’ve given the me the way you know would be best?
I want to be a living sacrifice for You. But sometimes – much of the time – I know my choices are driven by my own idea of what that looks like.
What does it look like to You, God?
My fear is that my desires are selfish and much bigger than those you have for me.
Is it possible that the plans you have for me involve me sitting across the table from one person, listening, asking questions and sharing my faith one on one? That this book I’m writing is equipping me for those conversations, but will never actually be read? or even finished?
Is it possible that the plans you have for me mean that the primary reason I’m recording is for the witness that occurs during the recording sessions themselves and that these recordings will live forever on my computer in obscurity?
The last thing I want to do is pursue a dream you haven’t given me. I’m desperate to saturate myself in your will and I want to have tunnel vision when it comes to following Your lead. Please don’t let me pursue anything that actually takes me away from You. Please show me what I could or should be doing to bring You glory.
I think of the story about You asking a man to push against a rock. Day after day, year after year, the man pushed, eventually becoming discouraged, saying, “God, I give up. I’ve pushed and pushed with all my strength and I haven’t moved this rock even one inch. What did I do wrong? Why did I fail?”
The story says that you replied by saying, “I didn’t ask you to move the rock. I only asked you to push against it. You say you’ve failed, but have you? Look how strong you’ve become. You’ve done exactly what I asked.
Now I will move the rock.”
I know you don’t need my help Lord. Please allow me to serve you anyway. Please use me anyway. Please guide me. Please equip me. Help me to be obedient. Please don’t ever let me give up.
Too often, we bide our time with the routine of a life that we hope
will one day take us across the chasm. Our days become stacked upon other days.
And as time moves forward, we think about the great abyss in our quieter moments.
We wonder if we should take the leap soon.
But the busyness of our days pulls us back from the edge and we perpetually postpone it.
Why? Because we are afraid we do not have the strength to make it.
Don’t let that happen. You’re stronger than you think.
Dr. Les Parrott