Random Blog Clay Feet: October 30, 2008
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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Preach It, Brother!

I have started listening to some stories and talks by a very faith-filled missionary that is having significant influence on my thinking. But at the same time I also feel uncomfortable about some of the things he says. Maybe I should say I am uncomfortable with some of the feelings that are aroused inside of me as a result of the way he says some things. For what I am noticing is that my discomfort is very often connected to things I experienced when I was much younger more than what I am hearing today. And it would be very easy to assume based on emotions that what someone says today is with the same intent or spirit as those who tried to use fear and intimidation to motivate me in the past.

One thing this man says is that he does not want to make people comfortable. As I continued to think about that this morning I remembered that the Bible seldom has positive things to say about being comfortable. This is partly understandable because, as this missionary says, when we are comfortable we are not likely to grow. It is usually only when we get out of our comfort zone that we are challenged to change the way we think and to take decided steps to move in a different direction.

But as I stop to think about this word “comfortable”, I also think that some of the problem may be with language itself. For to believe that God does not believe in comfort would be to imply that He would refuse to comfort us when we are hurting, and I will not fall into buying that lie. So there seems to be a wide variety of meanings attached to this word “comfort” or “comfortable” and I believe we must be careful not to be too dogmatic about God's intentions as relating to these words.

What I have seen at times is that religious agitators who like to promote their radical brand of religion often seize upon this issue of being comfortable and use it abusively in ways that I don't believe God ever intended and that misrepresent Him. They confuse peace with comfort and thus promote an atmosphere in the soul where a person feels guilty if they are not in a constant state of fear and agitation thus robbing them of peace. But this is completely incongruent with the inner peace that God has promised to all who live in close connection with Him. Again, this is another classic case of a counterfeit supplanting what is supposed to be an important part of our experience.

Something else came to my attention while I was listening to these talks. Every once in awhile there was a noticeable outburst in the audience by someone who would enthusiastically say “preach it” whenever the speaker said something particularly discomforting. I have observed this kind of spirit and behavior a number of times in my life and almost every time I encountered it I had the same feeling of uneasiness. As I now try to analyze just what this produces inside of me I would describe it as a mixture of guilt and intimidation. I sense that these kind of people want opportunities to impose forcefully on others what they believe is sharp truth that they perceive as coming from the speaker. I have to admit that there have been times when I myself have felt that same spirit inside of me, and now I wonder about its legitimacy and my own motives.

What suddenly came to my mind as I thought about this today was the experience of Paul and Silas as described in Acts 16 when they were followed by a slave girl who was saying apparently only positive things about their message. She was strongly affirming that they were preaching the gospel, and yet they eventually were not comfortable with her public affirmations and support. After a number of days of this experience Paul finally turned around and ordered the spirit within this girl to leave and she was delivered. But the results of that miracle were anything but pleasant for Paul and Silas over the next few hours.

I have often wondered about this situation each time I read this story in Acts. Now it makes a lot more sense to me. When I put this together with the spirit that I sense in people who typically urge a speaker on, supposing that stern, fear-oriented messages are what people need the most while appearing to be strongly promoting the spread of “truth”, I am beginning to sense that the spirit in both situations may be very similar. Just because a person is enthusiastic about some presentation of truth because it is sharp and convicting does not necessarily mean that they are in tune with the real Spirit of God. And it is also true that just because a person indulges in this spirit while someone else is speaking that it does not necessarily follow that the speaker shares that same spirit.

I often wondered about this story with Paul and Silas. Why did they wait for a number of days before doing anything about this situation with the slave girl? And why did they feel the need to do anything at all since she was not saying anything bad about them?

I believe that they probably struggled with these questions themselves which is why it took so long to decide what to do about it. I can imagine that they may have had long and intense discussions at night about how to relate to this unusual situation and did a lot of praying and soul-searching to figure out what the right thing was to do. It was an extremely clever ploy by the enemy of souls to come up with this unique circumstance and it was not really clear as to how they should relate to it.

I believe that the other situation that I have described with enthusiastic extremists eager to broker fear into other people's hearts may be even more difficult for a speaker to know how to deal with. For it is not nearly so clear to others that this person may have a spirit out of tune with God's Spirit because they are so enthusiastic about religion already. For a speaker to confront them like Paul did with the slave girl would likely be highly offensive to the person unless they first came to realize that the spirit they possessed was not from God as they had believed so strongly for so long.

And as I think about the times when I myself feel motivated to be enthusiastic about some strong message I hear I wonder how much of my enthusiasm is really God-inspired or how much is from my flesh being influenced by a spirit from a more diabolical source.

What I do sense is that I do not want to judge another person who is clearly being led by God in their life. I must remember that they are growing still, that they are God's responsibility and that there may be blind spots or weaknesses that God is still working on in their life that may trigger past unresolved issues in me. I have no responsibility for taking care of their growth but I do have full responsibility to cooperate with God in resolving my own triggers and in guarding the condition of my own spirit. I am accountable 100% to God for myself and I must answer to Him first before anyone else.

Father, I want to learn Your gentleness. You have also given me the shield of Your salvation, and Your right hand upholds me; and Your gentleness makes me great. (Psalms 18:35)