I’m not a patient person. Waiting and I don’t get along well. Those who know me best would call the point of those first two sentences the understatement of the millennium! When I do demonstrate patience, it’s owing to a work of God’s Spirit, patently not a natural occurrence.
But I’m beginning to accept the fact that a few things I’ve been waiting for will never happen, at least not this side of heaven. Let me tell you about three of those things.
I’m thinking of the church lady who confronted me years ago. I had asked members of my Sunday School class to pray for me due to a particularly rough week with depression. After class, she cornered me and questioned the depth of my faith, and whether I’d been having my daily “quiet time” with the Lord.
I’m still waiting for her to admit that trust in Christ and a period of emotional darkness can coexist, that the vital exercise of spiritual disciplines doesn’t magically ward off all affliction of mind, body, or spirit.
Maybe if she were more familiar with Jeremiah’s bio in the Old Testament, or with David’s lament Psalms, or with the 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon’s recurring bouts of depression, she’d realize that deep faith and despondency aren’t necessarily mutually-exclusive.
Nah….She’d claim that Jeremiah, David, and Charles skimped on their devotional times, too. The only answer some people can find to a perplexing phenomenon is the simplistic one.
The next two things I’m waiting for reveal a dark side of Christian leadership. God’s light needs to penetrate that form of darkness, too.
My mind shifts to the TV preachers, many of whom pastor local churches, who plead with viewers to “sow their financial seed.” I’ve actually heard preachers guarantee that God would bring an adult child back to the faith of his or her childhood; that He’d heal you of debilitating back pain; that He’d provide an out-of-the-blue financial windfall that would erase all your debts–if you sowed your money seed into the soil of their particular ministry! (“Get out your credit card and call the 800 number on your screen now to experience your breakthrough!”)
I’m still waiting for these preachers to see the incongruence of sending them money via your credit card as a means of getting out of debt.
I’m still waiting for these preachers to tell his or her viewers to sow their tithe to their local church, and give to them beyond that amount as the Lord leads.
I’m still waiting for faith healers to conclude that sometimes God chooses not to heal. If they read their Bibles more, they’d come to the conclusion espoused by the late Robertson McQuilkin: adversity is a means of God’s grace. Their viewpoint assigns weak faith to anyone whose disability or disease remains. Take their “health” gospel to its logical extreme, and no one would ever die. (Then what would funeral directors do for a living?)
I’m still waiting for these TV preachers to realize that they cannot manipulate God the way they do gullible people. Can God miraculously heal someone after physicians give up? Can He woo a grown child back to vibrant belief in Christ? Can God meet a financial need from an unexpected source which can only be explained by His intervention? Of course He can (and does)! But God is far too big, mysterious, and uncontrollable for anyone to guarantee how He’ll react to someone’s financial gift. To think that we can guarantee how He’ll respond invalidates His sovereignty. Such manipulative promises put us in the role of God—and that’s a frightening scenario, indeed!
But I’m not waiting expectantly for these media darlings to amend their ways. To do so would give them fewer seeds to plant into their personal bank accounts.
Evoking the Enemy
Now my mind turns to Christian leaders who denounce every criticism they receive, or every form of opposition they face, as “attacks from the devil.” I heard a couple of these leaders say this on TV,
and a couple in person when I visited churches.
I’m still waiting for them to listen to their critics and reconsider their plans in light of others’ input. I’m still waiting for them to acknowledge that not everyone who raises a question about a new idea is a minion of Satan.
Do I believe that Christian leaders have a large target on their backs at which Satan fires? Do I believe Satan opposes significant outreach endeavors and program initiatives that could revitalize a congregation? Do I think that the evil one occasionally enlists Christians to wreck havoc within a church or organization? Unequivocally, yes!
But I’m still waiting for those leaders I heard to realize that God also sends criticism and reproof our way for our benefit, and for the good of the church or agency we lead. Satan isn’t the prompt for every voice of opposition we hear. Not every critic’s’ viewpoint should be heeded, nor dismissed, without careful deliberation and prayer.
And I’m still waiting for those leaders to read the book of Proverbs and see the value God puts on a teachable spirit, or openness to others’ input. These three verses are representative of a much larger sample in Proverbs:
*”He who hates reproof is stupid” (Prov. 12:1b).
*”He whose ear listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise” (Prov. 15:31).
*”The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel” (Prov. 12:15).
I actually heard a TV evangelist respond to critics by saying, “You can’t criticize me! I’m the apple of God’s eye!”
I know of a pastor of a large church who kept financial spending blocked from members’ perusal. When a member asked during a public meeting where the money was going, the pastor said, “This church has three board members: God the Father; God the Holy Spirit; and God the Son. If you don’t trust us to do what they say with the money, you can leave.” (Gosh, I wish I had been on the front row so everyone could have seen me walk out of the meeting at that point.)
One of the pastors who labeled every instance of criticism a “spiritual attack” spent half of one sermon blasting unnamed congregants for questioning major changes he had made in the church program. He had the gall to say, “Some of you here today love Jesus. But some of you don’t.” The context of that remark clearly shows that the pastor equated loving Jesus with blind allegiance to all of his own ideas.
I’m still waiting for him to see how inconsistent it was for him to announce, in the same sermon, “I do want you to come to me with your concerns.” Who felt free to go to him when their love of Jesus would be questioned?
I’m not holding my breath on this issue, either. Leaders who take this extreme perspective on critics or people who raise honest questions are typically the ones who are so proud that they are waiting for a vacancy in the Trinity.
Come to think of it, I’m not the only one who’ll be waiting for a very long time.