This fall and early winter has proved to be far different than what I would have predicted. Over the last few months I have watched the roaring lion of Satan launching various attacks and bringing great pressure to bear in the life of various parts of our church. I don't mean that as a negative statement. Although it has not been fun, it has been allowed by God to test us, refine us, teach us, and break us-keep us broken. Between these events and the weather of December, God has been really teaching me to turn to Him more, trust Him more, and to remember that it is a privilege to suffer for Him. I will not tell you that I have passed all these tests with flying colors. I have wallowed in discouragement; I have struggled mightily with the desire to run away from hard things; I have forgotten to take refuge in prayer and the Word.
God is much more faithful than I am. He has sent me grace, good friends who have listened, encouraged, pushed. He has blessed me with the most amazing spouse in the world who can talk things out with me and help me to put my hands back in Christ's when I've let go. Christ has not reassured me that I am ok. On the contrary, He has made me face my weakness and failure more and more. He has instead given me more and more appreciation of the ENORMOUS amount of grace that He showers on me every day. My unworthiness only makes His grace all the more powerful!
Through all this I have also found myself thankful for something you might find surprising. I am thankful for critics.
I am surrounded by a lot of very encouraging people. They love me and they seek to encourage me. They are very reassuring. This is very nice for my emotions as I like to be assured, encouraged and reassured. However, there is one problem with those who love you and seek to encourage. They may have a hard time telling you some things you need to hear. Those that love me tend to give me the benefit of the doubt. A lot. They emphasize my positives over my negatives and sometimes don't even clearly see some of my negatives. When they do, they tend to be gentle and careful in bringing up the shortfalls if they bring them up at all.
My critics have no such compunctions. They are not blinded by my positives. They are not motivated to spare my feelings. They are not awed by my gifts and strengths nor overly gracious with my failings. They may not make me feel very good, but they are invaluable to me. Some things a critic says may not be true, or completely accurate, but even when off the mark, it should serve to point me toward areas needing growth.
When I was awaiting the vote of the church fellowship 7 years ago on whether they would call me as senior pastor, I sought counsel from a fellow pastor. He told me to hope that I didn't get a unanimous vote. He told me it would be much better for me if I knew there were those who were not supporters and were not convinced I was right. He told me it would make me a better pastor. It has.
So as 2013 passes behind us, as I look back over a very challenging few months and know that the challenges are only beginning, I am thankful for the Grace of Christ, for the presence of friends, and for critics who force me to question myself and keep my feet on the ground, my knees toward the throne and my head out of the clouds.
Check out the Youtube video below for a fun illustration of the power of critics as a new board is formed. (from Babylon 5) [video:youtube:meXCmuXoxuA]
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