In our home group we are reading John Ortberg's book "The Life You've Always Wanted". A good and helpful read. Yesterday I read the bit about Hank - a man who acted Christian, was always grumpy, said he wasn't, and complained about everything. Especially the volume of worship music at his church, over which he called the health and safety executive. Ortberg says:
Hank could not effectively love his wife or his children or people outside his family. He was easily irritated...whatever capacity he once might have had for joy or wonder or gratitude atrophied. He critiqued and judged and complained, and his soul got a little smaller each year.
I read that and some faces I know instantly spring to mind. Miserable Christians exist, even though it ought to be an oxymoron. But its what Ortberg says next that challenges me:
even more troubling than [Hank's] lack of change was the fact that nobody was surprised by it...The church staff did have some expectations. We expected that Hank would affirm certain religious beliefs. We expected that eh would attend services, read the Bible, support the church financially, pray regularly and avoid certain sins. But here's what we didn't expect: we didn't expect that he would progressively become the way Jesus would be if he were in Hank's place. We didn't expect that each year would find him a more compassionate, joyful, gracious, winsome personality. We didn't anticipate that he was on the way to becoming a source of delight and courtesy who overflowed with rivers of living water. So we were not shocked when it didn't happen. We would have been surprised if it did!
Ouch! If I don't expect the miserable Christians I know to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus, what does that say about Jesus, and about my understanding of getting changed by the gospel? But more importantly, if I justify in my own mind that they are never going to change anyway then I can validate never having to do the uncomfortable thing of challenging them to change, urging and exhorting them to live in grace or confronting them with their lack of delight and courtesy.
If, on the other hand, I believe that Jesus can and does do that in people's lives, I have no choice but to urge and exhort and challenge and encourage change. I have to believe that people who are as miserable as sin can be changed by the power of God. I believe in a transformational gospel and a transformational Holy Spirit.
Church leaders ought to have a holy dissatisfaction with people remaining in their grottiness. We mustn't write it off as merely temperamental or unchangeable. We mustn't think that God wants them to remain in their state. We mustn't think that its really OK or at least not serious enough to ever get on to the agenda to do something about it. We mustn't think that it doesn't affect the rest of the church negatively and we mustn't think that challenging it with the love of God isn't our responsibility.
Praying this for the grotty Christians I know today. Will you pray for me that I keep remembering it? After all, if God can get through to me in my sin and stupidity (and, yes - grottiness!) and change me, he can get through to anyone.