We were at a church leadership conference in the Chicago area. Bill Hybels was speaking to the crowd of 2000 or so church leaders. He said, “If there is an issue you just can’t seem to get beyond, if there is a sin you can’t seem to defeat, you might do well to get with a Christian counselor.” There was. I did. I am thankful, and at a much better place than I used to be for it.
The blessing of guilt. Don’t feel bad about feeling bad – especially about sin in your life. In other words, feeling bad about something that displeases God is a good thing. If we feel guilty because we are hurting others, and feeling bad about that might lead to a change in behavior that would be good for those you are hurting and for yourself as well.
Brand and Yancey in their book, Pain, the Gift Nobody Wants, share a touching story of a medical missionary visiting a leper colony in India. The doctor had apparently made a major impact for the good of these people and they were excited to see him. In his exuberance one of the patients ran across the open yard to greet the doctor. What he didn’t realize was that as he ran his ankle had completely broken. The bone was coming through the skin and he was injuring his foot and ankle ever more severely with each step he took.
Pain is a warning. C.S. Lewis famously said, “Pain is God’s megaphone to the world.” Through our pain God is sometimes calling our attention to a needed change in our lives. Your friends all forsake you? Perhaps you need to be more understanding or aware of their needs. Have you received a diagnosis of diabetes? A change in diet may be called for. Does your big toe hurt every morning? Perhaps you need to move the foot locker out of your path to the bathroom so you don’t stub your toe!
Some times feeling bad is a necessary precursor to making a change that we otherwise would not make. So while we may not need to feel bad about feeling bad, we may need to feel bad about something over which we have control which is causing us unnecessary distress.
When I was in college I struggled with making good grades. I cast about seeking different career paths. Premed? Great! Except for the D’s and F’s I made in classes essential for entry into medical school – minor things like biology and zoology. The irony of that is the fact that my soon-to-be wife graduated a prestigious university with honors and a degree in biology! She would have made it into medical school – had shoe chosen that career path – with little trouble. But I digress. My college years came to a hiatus only a semester before I would surely have gotten dishonorably discharged from school.
It was the winter of 1973 when I finished a real estate class, to the state exam to become a real estate broker. I had my own business – bankrolled by my dad and mom. I was pretty miserable and pretty much a failure at it. In one week I sold two houses, the realtors fees from which would have bankrolled me for at least two months. The next week, both deals fell through on the same day.
Perhaps it was at that time I also drove up to my future father and mother-in-law’s house to discover a For Sale sign in the yard. They had (wisely) passed over me and chosen another company to sell their house. I was devastated. I sat in stunned silence in the car that night while Diane wondered what to do. It wasn’t her call or her fault, but I was her boyfriend! And at that time I was quite serious about her!
Not too long afterwards my good friend Jerry offered some great words of wisdom. We were on the way to a friends bachelor party. It would be a relatively mild event compared to anything we see on TV or the movies today. But the night would prove to be the beginning of a whole new chapter in my life.
We were riding in Jerry’s 1966 Ford Fairlane. The night air whipped through the car windows, as we sped down Interstate 55 to the park we were to meet for the party. Jerry and I were very close friends, and he would speak straight with me. That night he said, “Dave, I think you’d make a better pastor than a real estate broker.”
This was not a new thought. He had long been urging me to become a pastor. I had deftly put it off time and again. This time, however, I had to admit it. He was right. He could have said I would make a better dog-catcher, carpenter, or short-order chef than a real estate broker, and I would likely have agreed. But that night he said, “pastor.”
My acknowledgement of that caused a change deep in my heart which launched my life in an entirely new direction. And that’s a story we’ll take up tomorrow.
One caveat deserves mention. I referenced Bill Hybels earlier. The recent events surrounding his leadership at Willow Creek Church have revealed some major issues and caused much public distress. I am not privy to the particulars of the charges or his guilt or innocence. But I am keenly aware of the severe impact that a leader’s public sin or moral failure – or even the appearance of ungodliness – can have on churches and people. I’m not certain what he was referencing in his comments two decades ago, but I was saddened to learn of his downfall.