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We can work and we can wait, for Christ will reveal all in the end

freely-heart-rocks

Yesterday, I was reading an overall excellent book on disciple-making and orienting churches around being “sent”—that is, building a culture that helps everyone see themselves as missionaries responsible for making disciples. One chapter in particular dealt with the challenges many of us have in sharing our faith. We feel awkward, we don’t feel equipped, we don’t know what to say… all the things we’ve all heard, felt and said.

I read through the chapter and found I agreed with most everything in substance (which is nice). But as I came to the end, even though I agreed with the points made, I didn’t find myself actually motivated to go and share the gospel more. If anything, I actually found myself struggling with demotivation to a greater degree than I had before I started.

Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you’ve read an evangelism book and agreed with what’s said, but by the time you were done, you felt less motivated than you did when you started. You felt less effective than ever. And so, you continued to feel like a failure when it comes to sharing the gospel.

So often, there’s an expectation in these books—whether spoken or unspoken—that you’re going to see immediate results. That you should be able to draw a line from someone who comes to faith in Christ to yourself. And I’m not always so sure that’s true. I agree that we should be able to point to clear fruit in our lives of our growth as disciples, which includes playing our part in making others disciples.

But I wonder if part of the discouragement so many of us feel about sharing the gospel comes down to this expectation? And sometimes I wonder if the expectation itself is realistic—or if it misses something critical that might actually strengthen us for our task?

Consider what Charles Spurgeon once said:

We must not always reckon to see nations converted the moment the gospel is preached to them; and especially where new ground has been broken up, where countries have just received the gospel message, we must not be disappointed if neither to-day nor to-morrow we are rewarded with abundant results. God’s plan involves ploughing, sowing, and waiting, and after these the up-springing and the harvest. “Be patient, therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and the latter rain.”[1. C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 19 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1873), 182–183.]

This is good advice for all of us. It is a reminder that our expectations don’t always align to God’s plans. “God’s plan involves ploughing, sowing, and waiting, and after these the up-springing and the harvest,” as Spurgeon said. Sometimes as we share the gospel, will be ploughing the soil. Sometimes we will be sowing seeds. Much of our time, especially in a culture such as our own, will be spent waiting.

There are people I’ve been sharing the gospel with for years who I have yet to see express interest in the things of God, let alone give any indication that they will turn to Christ as their only hope. I still share what I can where I can, but I recognize that I’m probably not going to see the results right away (which, I hope, no one will write off as a lack of faith on my part). And if this effort does result in them coming to faith at some point, it doesn’t mean I’m going to know about it.

At least, not yet.

I fully expect there to be a day when I’ll get to learn the results. But today is not that day. Tomorrow might not be it, either. It probably won’t be until I’m standing with those people worshipping our risen Savior. And because I know that, I don’t need to worry about drawing a straight line right now. I can wait and I can work, knowing that Christ will reveal all in the end.

The best news you might read all day

god-healing

I don’t always feel very Christian when I read the inspirational gobbledygook that gets shared on social media. In fact, there are few things that test the fruit of the Spirit in me more than these. So the other day, I saw a pithy, pseudo-inspirational statement someone shared on Twitter, one that punched me in the soul (and not in a good way). What’d it say?

“God can’t heal what you hide.”

I’m not going to rant about the problems with this idea, I promise. Well, I might, but I’ll try to be brief if it happens.

When I saw this pop up in my feed, interestingly, what I felt wasn’t annoyance over the silliness of the statement, but sorrow for those who would believe it. And (hopefully) not in a holier than thou sort of way, either. Why? Because this is bad, bad news, gang. It is hopeless, devoid of the gospel.

[bctt tweet=”God is always healing what we try to hide.” via=”no”]

How do I know? Because God is always healing what we try to hide. There is nothing hidden from him. He knows our darkest secrets, he knows our deepest shames, and our most deeply hidden sins. There is nothing that is outside of his sight and his reach. And in the gospel, in Christ’s death on the cross, our Father takes those things from us and places their burden on Jesus.

He will heal us because he is healing us. He is revealing to us our brokenness more deeply each day. He is confronting us with our sin. He shows us what we try to hide—because he knows what it is better than we do! And in all of it, he is making us more and more like Christ. If we have trusted in him, he will finish the good work that that he began in us. No matter how painfully slow the process might be, there’s no stopping it. Ever.

And that might just be the best news any of us read all day.

God meets you in the valley

meets-valley

I’ve never been a big believer in the idea that the Christian life is to be moving from one spiritual/emotional moment of joy and “feeling” of God’s presence to another, in ever increasing degrees. “Mountaintop” Christianity doesn’t really seem to work—if for no other reason than it doesn’t see the value of the valleys.

They’re something to be glossed over, or moved through quickly. We pretend they don’t exist, whenever possible. They’re the “rock bottom moment” in our testimonies, but after that, Christianity is all rise (like a good mixtape). And when we find someone who has been stuck in one for a significant period of time—and maybe that person is us—we don’t know what to do. So how about this?

While the mountaintops are nice, we need to remember that God meets us in the valley, too. He isn’t waiting for us to pick ourselves up by our spiritual bootstraps, dust ourselves off, and climb up to him. He comes down to us. Wherever we are, in whatever situation we find ourselves in, he is there. He is not absent, despite how we might feel.

Maybe you’re feeling this right now, dear reader. Maybe you’re in a season where you feel weary, despairing or simply stuck. If you are, I want you to know: you are not alone. Whether you feel like he is or not, God is there with you now. God is the comforter of the downcast (2 Corinthians 7:6). He hears the cry of the afflicted (Psalm 10:17). No matter what your heart tells you right now, he will never, ever abandon you (Hebrews 13:5). He will meet you in the valley, and someday the darkness will lift.

Why we become deaf to the warning cries

snow-wolf

Whenever a controversy erupts, you’ll always find a group of people who, when everyone else finally realizes there was a problem, are saying, “We’ve been saying it for years!”

And it’s true. They have been saying it for years. There’s no question about it. There have been many—many—people who were warning about Mark Driscoll, for example. Notably among them were John MacArthur and many of his followers such as the Team Pyro folks.

So why didn’t we listen?

I wonder if the reason is two-fold:

The first reason is many of us choose to not hear. Honestly, when a church leader appears to be being used by God in a pretty powerful way, it’s tempting to just shut down any negative criticism with a slightly patronizing, “But look how God is using him”. Which is completely stupid, of course, but it’s true. Many folks did this with Mark Driscoll (something I admitted to). Many did it with Rob Bell, too. Many still do it with Steven Furtick, and Perry Noble, and Joel Osteen, and TD Jakes, and…

We need to not just look to (dubious) fruit as a reason to excuse  un- or anti-Christian conduct, character or creeds. When there are warning signs, we need to pay attention and we need to take them seriously.

The second is that many of those voices raising alarm only raise alarm. I remember attending an event in 2011 during which the alarm was raised a great deal over the seep of paganism into the church. During the final Q&A session of the event, one of the attendees said something to the effect of, “We’ve heard a lot about the dark, and this has been a real wake-up call… but what about the light?”

The truth is, we need both light and heat[1. With apologies to John Piper.]. The alarm needs to be raised over false teaching, abuses of power and actions and attitudes that bring reproach to the name of Christ—we need to offer reproof in those instances.

But we are also called to encourage, to build up and edify the body of Christ. There needs to be a balance, of the sort you see in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation. There, when addressing each church, Jesus offers specific commendation to five of the seven churches (Sardis and Laodicea being the two exceptions), before offering any rebuke. Jesus shone light on their sin, but also on their good works. If all we say is a constant stream of warning, we risk becoming clanging symbols that deafen those we wish to persuade.

Encourage your pastor by being fruitful

Hands Holding a Seedling and Soil

How do you encourage your pastor? In some ways, the answer seems obvious. We know we should pray for them (and hopefully we do). We know we should thank them. We know we should find ways to help them (all ideas I’ve discussed here). But there’s another way we can do this—simply, by being fruitful.

I love the way Thomas Watson explains this in his work on the Beatitudes. Watson writes:

Encourage God’s ministers by your fruitfulness under their labors. When ministers are upon the ‘mount’, let them not sow upon the rocks. What cost has God laid out upon this city! Never, I believe, since the apostles’ times, was there a more learned, orthodox, powerful ministry than now. God’s ministers are called stars (Revelation 1:20). In this city every morning a star appears, besides the bright constellation on the Lord’s Day. Oh you that feed in the green pastures of ordinances—be fat and fertile. You who are planted in the courts of God, flourish in the courts of God (Psalm 92:13). How sad will it be with a people, who shall go laden to hell with Gospel blessings! The best way to encourage your ministers is to let them see the travail of their souls in your new birth.

It’s this last line, “let them see the travail”—the difficult labor—”of their souls in your new birth,” that made this click for me. Pastoral ministry, one-on-one discipleship, small group leadership… there’s a great deal of pain that comes along with these things. When a leader sees someone they’ve invested in walk away from the Lord, it’s painful. When they see ongoing patterns of sin unaddressed, it grieves them. There are more tears in these roles than most of us realize.

But what brings much joy is to see a young man or woman “get it”—that lightbulb moment when they understand why an important truth is really important. When a leader gets to rejoice with them over the defeat of a particular sin. When they get to pray together over how to share the gospel with a family member who is far from the Lord.

Growing in grace—being fruitful—whatever language you want to use, if you want to encourage your pastor or lay leader, that’s the way to do it.