When I first began preaching I discovered that oftentimes those in the congregation often assumed I was preaching about them or directly to them. Note that this can be a good thing or a very bad thing. If the message is challenging or tears at the heart, I’ve done my job. But if those listening assume that I am using the pulpit to bully or embarrass then I lose my effectiveness and any respect the congregant had for me.
For the record, my sermons have always been directed to the one that needed to hear it the most—Dean Barley. The same can be said about these little messages. There’s no agenda on my part to “get someone’s attention” or to embarrass or point the finger. Each blog I write is from my heart—impure as it is—and the purpose is to merely put on paper (or a computer screen) what I am learning, experiencing, and coming to understand. If something I write strikes you as personal, perhaps it is—but the “strike” is not coming from me.
Throughout my ministry I have found myself both the object of annoyance to some people and one who has been angered and annoyed by folks that let me down. Family, close friends, board members, brothers and sisters in Christ—you name it—they’ve all let me down from time to time. And I am guilty of the same or worse. Sadly, I am not yet at the place St. Francis was when he kissed the feet of a beggar that insulted him and “retaliated” by thanking the beggar for reminding him of true humility. I WANT to be there one day, but I am not there yet. Lord hear my prayer. But what I have found to be incredibly effective in dealing with people that have hurt or attacked me is this: follow the example and words of Jesus: “Father forgive them, the don’t know what they are doing”, “Love your enemies”, “Bless those that curse you”, “Pray for those that take advantage of you”, et al. I used to wonder how in the world it would help for me to ask God to bless the same “jerks” that slandered me or ruined my day. But I have come to see three things:
- You cannot hate someone you are diligently praying for. My prayer for my attacker is not so much about him/her being blessed as in me becoming like Jesus Himself in the character of forgiving! My destiny is to have the character of Jesus.
- My prayer for God’s blessing on those that have hurt me releases God’s blessing on me ten-fold! I am, in effect, better off precisely because I do—in sincere empathy with my enemies—pray that God blesses them. I am becoming like Him when I pray like that and mean it.
- The “jerks” become something far better to me when my heart is broken for them — when my heart is not hard and my life is not a bitter attempt to get even or get ahead. They are no longer “jerks”. I am confident that the manner in which I treat the meanest people in my life is a reflection—whether I admit it or not—of how I hope that God will treat me for MY errors and propensity to be a jerk!! I want God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness in my life—NOT justice for what I really deserve.
Now if anyone reads this and thinks that I am talking about them, he/she is mistaken. But maybe God is talking…