He is patient; kind; not easily provoked; extravagantly generous; long-suffering in our doubts and apathy; and infinitely righteous and faithful. We do well to remember that; better still if we allow that amazing Gospel truth to incite the same deep sense of gratitude in us that we knew when we first came to know His salvation.
Over the past month, I've been able to see a few things more clearly. The first is how not to let the hypocrisy, politics-playing, or any sundry sins of other people affect my own relationship with God OR devotion to His Body, the Church. The Church is made up of sinners and I am one of them. Becoming cynical is not an option (although my husband swears I am not becoming cynical; but rather only more realistic as I age). I dunno about that one....if you saw the darkness of my heart at times, I'm sure you would be shocked.
The second thing to which God opened my eyes came at the NANC Annual Conference in LaFayette Indiana earlier this month. He made me realize that I cannot afford to grow lax, apathetic, cynical or cold towards Him -- He's given me too much, and expects me to joyfully use what He has blessed me with to benefit the Body. As I am working towards certification in biblical counseling through the Institute for Nouthetic Studies, naturally I wanted to soak up all that I could by way of in-depth teaching. (The fact that I am able to study formally, and have a flexible work schedule is in itself a huge privilege - these courses cost money). Several of the "big names" in biblical counseling, including several Focus Publishing authors who have agreed to endorse my book would be there, so naturally I looked forward to meeting them and networking with other ministry folks.
However, my excitement about the conference was dampened only slightly by one thing....a growing sense of apathy about prayer and devotional time with Christ. I am ashamed to type this, but people, politics and conflict were becoming a pretext of sorts to avoid Him.
|I'm starting to need some o' this...|
I was furious. She pulled attitude. I got sarcastic, and she responded by passing the buck to the HR department ('cause as we all know, it's ALWAYS somebody else's fault). I did not curse or raise my voice, but I most definitely did not respond as Jesus would have. (Now that I think about it, I wonder how He would have responded if a carpentry client refused to pay Him for a completed project??) At any rate, my Bible stayed closed, on the motel nightstand, all weekend.
And the next. How could I face God, when I still get so angry I cannot respond graciously? I couldn't even figure out where, exactly, my sin lay, but I knew it was there. I had done the work; they owed me money. They refused to pay. I was angry. Not knowing how to deal with that one biblically, I just...didn't.
Time went by; eventually my anger cooled, but I felt like a hypocrite going to church. A case of church-related dirty politics was duly noted and contained. Add another brick to the cynicism wall. I finally confided in my husband that I was having...doubts. I shall not go into all of that here, as it is neither edifying nor important, but you get the idea.
And here I am; a "doctrinally sound" biblical counselor in training. Who no longer can pray easily.
The first night of the NANC Conference, Al Mohler spoke for an hour and a half on "The Communion of the Saints: the Congregation at the Center of Biblical Counseling". Mohler is what can only be described as "scary-smart". This is a man you definitely want on your team if you are playing Bible Trivia, and he described his teen years as a time of doubting and searching. His youth pastor, who was a year out of college and played the guitar ("...and therefore had all the qualifications necessary to be a Youth Pastor...") could not answer Mohler's apologetics questions, and brought him to meet a renowned pastor and apologist. "These men were so brilliant, that even in my teen hubris, I knew that I wanted to be on their team!" Mohler exclaimed. The speakers at this conference, like Mohler and his mentors before him, were so brilliant and well-educated that it was the perfect environment for someone experiencing doubts or a wilderness season to soak up all the exhortation he or she could.
Besides, I was alone in a motel for two nights with no computer, and TV bores me. God had to get me out into the cornfields of the Midwest, with no distractions, to get my attention.
Most of the workshops I attended had something to do with addiction and/or bulimia counseling, and I may write about the content on my other blog, where appropriate. That's not the point here, or even the main thing God taught me. The final speaker of the Conference, Pastor Brad Bigby (a NANC Fellow), spoke on doing counseling for the glory of God. His speech, however, was personally moving in a way that had nothing to do with NANC...and in fact, he wanted it that way. It's all about Christ, and He is Who we want our counselees to remember. Not us; not even what the acronym "NANC" stands for. We do not want people to think we are knowledgeable about the Bible; they should come away with the knowledge that we have BEEN WITH Jesus (Acts 4:13). He described the "sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place" (2 Cor. 2:14) as a cologne we all should be wearing...the "Eau de Christ".
"If all you have is principles, guidelines, and bullet points, that's all they're [the counselees] going to get," he advised. His point was to keep pointing hurting people back to the Great Physician - their greatest and only true need. Nothing else will satisfy - not NANC or CCEF and our many great books; not "four principles of godly communication", not simply "putting off" (sinful behavior) and "putting on" godliness.
This admonition is so common-sense as to seem obvious, but at the time, the reminder to keep Christ and His message of redemption central was a great reminder to me. By this time, I had already repented of my apathy and cynicism -- but there was more. Driving back to the airport, it struck me how very fortunate and privileged I am, as one of His kids, to have all these opportunities to study and learn and train. With privilege comes responsibility, and the Bible makes no bones about that.
"To Whom Much is Given..."
Going out to Indiana represented a sacrifice for our family - both of money, and of time. My husband knew how much this meant to me, and graciously took several nights off from work in order to take care of the children. The expense of going was less than a vacation would have been, but how many people would be able to work part-time, take distance courses, and fly halfway across the country to attend a conference -- for a ministry that will never earn them any money? I realized how blessed I have been, and how guilty I would be to squander it. Knowledge for knowledge's sake is never the goal; as Jay Adams says, the whole point is to turn around and serve the Church. In that way, we serve Christ Himself.
The stakes have gone up. The verse "From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more" (Luke 12:48) rang in my head, and likewise the parable of the ten talents (Matt. 25) came to mind. "Much" doesn't just refer to material means -- it's easy to write a check to your favorite mission, and put it out of mind. Serving faithfully with the spiritual gifts and opportunities you've been given demands more of a commitment, and precludes the "spoiled baby stuff"* of depression, doubt or cynical pride/self-pity. After I returned from the conference, I listened to an online sermon from the same pastor who spoke so eloquently - Brad Bigby - about the difference between hardened unbelief and the occasional doubts of the believer. Nevertheless, as Spurgeon preached, doubts are not to be entertained nor rationalized - doubting God's love, grace and sovereignty is still sin, when He has graciously called us out of darkness. The antidote, of course, is the same as it's always been: to get back on our knees and into the Word.
Several times over the past few months, I have been convicted and encouraged by the messages on Puritan Fellowship, the blog of British preacher and evangelist Kevin Williams. A recent clip he posted was an excerpt from Don Currin's address at a conference, where he asked the rhetorical question: "What will you do with what you've heard?" This seems to be Christ's challenge to me this Fall. I have a responsibility which would be sin to take lightly: I cannot afford to squander what He has given me. It is all to be used in the service of Him and others -- but in order to be an effective servant, I must stay at His feet. In brokenness and humility He can make us useful; leave that place and we become clanging gongs (or cynical do-nothings) Either way, we're useful to His Kingdom and will wind up pretty miserable.
It's all about Him. It was always, and will ever be, all about Him. And we are crazy to forget that, or lose sight of His beauty...even for a moment.
* - "spoiled baby stuff" is the catch-all term my husband uses to describe any whining, crying, unreasonable demands or over-reaction of our preschool-aged daughter. It seems to fit here, as well.