This season, for me, has been one of undoing. All too often I find myself grieving the fall of personal heroes and mentors, and it scares me to death. I find myself thinking, who among us is safe? If they slipped, how will I ever persevere? I find myself seething with hatred toward deceptive sin and that ugly, wretched, roaring lion of a devil that tries to devour and sift like wheat. I want to hear the crunch of his head under the heel of Christ. I hate the devil, and I hate that he ravages my heroes, my kinsmen, and the sheep entrusted to my care.
The silver lining in all of this is that I have completely lost confidence in myself. I find my prayer life is much more desperate than it used to be. No longer am I a dignified servant, offering my hand for the plow with all the nobility in the world. No, rather, I can hardly keep my head up—I’m a trembling child or a starving peasant, entreating with shaky hands and teary eyes. For example, after praying for my two year old the other night, upon hearing my “amen,” he said to me, “No daddy, you fuh’got to say ‘Pease, pease, God, help me!’” Apparently he has grown accustomed to hearing me beg in my prayers. There’s a reason for this. I have become undone. Where I once saw myself as generally strong, stable, and level-headed, the fall of genuine and pious men have convinced me that I am frail and fragile.
I have written and re-written this post several times, and each time has felt like a particular stage in a grief process. In the first iteration, I was an angry prophet, pointing my finger at the Church saying, “you are the man!” In another, I was a culture warrior, wetting my sword for battle. In the last, I was a doomsday-sayer, lamenting the impending doom of society. Now I’m just tired. And sad. And burdened for my leaders.
Maybe social media has merely made public what has always happened with leaders and their moral failures, but what has happened in the past decade (or year, if you can’t remember that far back) seems unique. Upheavals seems like the right word to describe what we’ve been rocked with, blow after blow after blow.
The temptation in the face of such upheavals is to get panicky and desperate to preserve what little, fragile social influence we have. Assemble the public relations committees. Dispatch the spin teams. Protect what remains. Figure out the bare minimum of what we need to own up to and apologize for. Safe face. We are still strong. We are still exemplary. We still have the moral high ground.
This kind of math is not unlike the self-vindicating lawyer of Luke 10:29 asking the question “who is my neighbor?” Translation: “where’s my loophole?” But we shouldn’t want loopholes, we should want revival. And revival never, ever happens without an undoing of self-sufficiency. Absolute brokenness over our sin is a prerequisite for real transformation. And I think we’re willing to admit this now.
We’re ready to admit that we, the evangelicals, have quenched our thirst for significance by guzzling down the cup of the world and the flesh and the devil. It was filled the brim with thick, creamy fear of man and lust for power and we downed it without thinking twice. Even the gospel-centered crowd is not immune. We drink it too. We need to vomit it out and embrace Jesus. And our embrace of him must not be in the theoretical or dogmatic sense alone, we must embrace him in complete practice—so much so that we become truly Jesus-like in our dealings in the world. In other words, we must embrace him not only as the Savior of our sins and our Mediator before a holy and righteous God whom we have offended (we generally get that script right), but also as our paradigm-setter.
We need to embrace the person of Jesus, the work of Jesus, and the way of Jesus—which is the way of downward mobility. The way of weakness. The way of humility. The way that doesn’t scramble to save face. The way of counter-intuitive meekness. The way of service, where there is reluctance to hold power and authority, and fear and trembling when we do. The way that truly does count others as more important than ourselves. The way of wisdom in the book of Proverbs, which is accessible only by the fear the LORD. This way is not an open relationship—it demands fidelity. It requires that we divorce worldliness.
But none of these observations are new, are they? This modest little post offers nothing novel. Therefore, I conclude not with a thundering proclamation, but a whimpering request: pray for me, please? Pray for my fellow-pastors and the flock God has entrusted to us. Pray for your pastors. Pray for your leaders. Pray for yourselves.
Pray for humility and faithfulness.
Pray for a tender conscience and a fear of the Lord.
Pray in confession and repentance, and for confession and repentance.