When I taught at the seminary, I was often asked to address the new students. On more than one occasion, I said, “Your parents, church, pastor, and friends are all praying for your success. Just so you know, I’m not joining them. I’m praying for your failure. I’m praying that you get so overwhelmed by the academic work, and by your neediness and sin, that you seriously think about leaving and going into vinyl repair. Then God might use you and you’ll learn to laugh, dance, and sing in the presence of God, and in his grace and mercy.”
My friend, Gwen, introduced me to Steve Brown many years ago. God brought us (Gwen and I) together for many reasons. I believe one of them was so He could smile as He watched the two of us meet at a restaurant and go from belly laughing to crying…many times. People have wondered what we were drinking so early in the day because our joy was so over the top.
Another reason He brought us together was because we needed each other. My life taught her to meditate on God’s Word and believe Him for all things. Her life introduced me to the life giving grace and love of God (my gratefulness cannot be expressed).
After going through surrender and confessing so much sin, God and I were tight. I stuck to Him like glue. I was almost afraid to move. Being so image conscious all my life had made me hide who I truly was. When I uncovered all my hidden sin and was filled with God’s Spirit, it was overwhelming and exhilarating. I started to try to make sure I never sinned so I wouldn’t lose His presence. No one can live on a tightrope like that. We will become morbidly introspective. Not long after surrender; I met Gwen.
Gwen’s life was a breath of fresh air. She taught me about grace and not taking myself (and my holiness) so seriously. Before anyone starts quoting about “without holiness no one will see God,” let me explain. Any holiness outside of the presence of God is not holiness, it is hypocrisy (we ain’t holy; God is). We all have a tendency to start by the Spirit and try to get better by human effort.
Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross. Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?
For the child of God, we are inviting a much needed nervous breakdown when this happens. What God says we are to be is not hard, it is impossible.
When I went into full time ministry, I had walked with Jesus for over 20 years. I was usually the most spiritually mature person in the room. In my home, although I submitted to my husband, everyone knew who the spiritual leader was. When I started working outside my home, I was around many unbelievers and nominal Christians (Not all people were. I’ve had some dynamic Christians in places where I’ve worked). With my outgoing personality and the presence of God’s Spirit, lots of people came to me for spiritual help and advice.
This was wonderful on many levels but deadly on others.
We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.
2 Corinthians 10:12
When we don’t surround ourselves with people who are close to God and will call us out on our hidden hypocrisy, we are not wise. When any of us get to the place where we know it all and can’t be taught, we are on the road to a nervous breakdown.
When God crushes our pride, it feels like He is crushing us. He is actually crushing what is killing us.
Paul would not have written to the Galatians about trying to be perfect by self effort if it was not deeply ingrained in every single person on the planet. Paul even had to call Peter (who physically walked with Jesus) out on his hypocrisy at one point.
The other Jews joined him (Peter) in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas (Peter) in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?
Paul, just throwing spiritual throat punches at Peter in front of all his peers. Peter was saved by grace but it didn’t take away his need to be “the man.” He was wearing a mask and he was the main leader of God’s early church. A leader who wears a mask will automatically lead in such a way that others will start wearing a mask also. When we pretend we are doing great when we are not, others will not feel free to admit their weaknesses and depend on Christ. We will look to each other and compare ourselves with each other and no one will look “up” to the only true Help we have.
When Paul saw this deadly spiritual gangrene spreading through the Body of Christ, he was violent about it. He ripped Peter’s mask off and left him exposed in front of all his fellow leaders. Peter was a high achiever and he truly loved Jesus. He risked great things for Him. He walked on water, cut off a man’s ear when that man tried to arrest Jesus (I believe he was trying to cut off his head), wept bitterly when he denied Jesus, and jumped out of the boat when he knew Jesus was on the shore. He only wanted to be where Jesus was.
Jesus chose him to be a leader for many reasons. Not the least was his passion and desire to achieve great things for God. As leaders (and we all lead someone), we have to stay transparent and humble because people follow us. It is a huge temptation to get out of touch with reality and start being what people want us to be, not what we really are; dustballs who need the Holy Spirit to do anything of any eternal or temporal value.
People naturally follow spiritual achievers because we want someone to represent God to us. We want someone we can touch, see, and talk to. We long for heroes and there is only one true hero; His Name is Jesus. No leader on the planet loves you and me like Jesus does. Yet, we often prefer a person over His Presence.
The Israelites to Moses:
When the people heard the thunder and the loud blast of the ram’s horn, and when they saw the flashes of lightning and the smoke billowing from the mountain, they stood at a distance, trembling with fear. And they said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen. But don’t let God speak directly to us, or we will die!”
I wrote this blog for me, even if it speaks to no one else. I went through my own breakdown about a year ago. It was so hard, and I preached a sermon about it called, “When Pride Looks Like Humility.” I am still healing from it. I thought I was above hypocrisy. I am not. None of us are. If the Apostle Peter started to people please, who do I think I am? If all the leaders in his circle got on the hypocrite wagon with him, who do any of us think we are?
I hate talking about stuff like this because deep down, I am proud. I say deep down because we bury things we don’t want people to see. We hide because we are all afraid of not being enough. I take so much solace from knowing God has put people all around me who will help me when they see pride ruining me and the people I lead.
Recently, someone called me out for saying I don’t have bad days. In my defense I said, “I do have bad days, but I look at scripture above what I’m going through and I don’t let the bad day rule me.”
They said, “That’s different from saying you don’t have bad days.” You are making where you seem to be walking an impossible place for others to achieve, and it’s a discouragement to them. Ouch! That broke my heart.
God will show us things, but we have to realize that God will use people to show us the things we can’t see in ourselves. I’m sure Peter would have preferred God reveal his hypocrisy in the dignity of his quiet time.
When God deals with us on a deep level, it will be both devastating and healing. God is amazing like that. I wish I could tell people that total surrender will fix everything in our lives. It does not. It is the beginning of a long and narrow road in the same direction. All of us are going to try and take detours because they look like painless shortcuts. Let’s be honest. We want to arrive at the destination. We will not…..on this side of eternity.
So many leaders end up being exposed as frauds with a double life. I don’t think most start that way. It all starts with a little dose of hypocrisy. Like yeast, it will end up permeating every part of us until we don’t even know who we are.
Whoever you are, you need truth tellers around you. Let people in and get real. We need each other. I’ve always said church needs to be a place where anyone, at any time, can stand up and say, “I’m about to have an affair, help me!” Or, “I hate all of you and myself too, help me!” Why don’t we do those things? Pride, of course, plays a part. But we also have that great tendency as Paul so beautifully stated “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3 ESV)
The answer is “yes,” we are foolish like that. Self effort will divide and conquer us. It takes us down the road of comparison instead of to the feet of Jesus where there is love and unity.
We have to become unpretentious and honest, like little children (and I do mean little). It doesn’t take long for children to start playing the game of “aren’t I a good boy/girl?” It never stops there. It goes on to “aren’t I better than him/her?”
The Christian life is rigged. No one can live it without Christ. We will eventually fall apart with self-effort. We are all the same. We are fragile. Every single day we need one thing (our lives depend on it); to be emptied of ourselves and filled with the Holy Spirit.
When we live like that, people will be amazed at God, not us.