Even though I am not as far along as Paul was in his passionate love for the church, I thank God that there have been key points in my life when God has rescued me from the pit of cynicism. I recall the days when I was finishing college and starting seminary. The mood in the late sixties was inhospitable to the local church. I can remember walking the streets of Pasadena on Sunday mornings in the fall of 1968, wondering if there was any future for the church – like a fish doubting the worth of water or a bird wondering about the reason for wind and air. It was a precious work of grace that God rescued me from that folly and gave me a home with the people of God at Lake Avenue Church for three years and let me see in the heart of Ray Ortlund, my pastor, a man who exuded the spirit of Paul when he looked out on his flock and said, “My joy, my crown of exultation.”
John Piper – Desiring God
Desiring God – the seminal work by pastor, teacher, and author John Piper is – I’m firmly convinced – impossible to read without some heartbreaking conviction. There were many moments of self examination and tears when I finally got around to reading it – something I’d intended to do for years. The most wrenching, though, came when I read that passage. The word “cynicism” jumped off the page, burned itself into my eyes like I’d stared at the sun.
Read my blogs over the last year and a half, and you’ll see my responses to things God has been teaching me over the last several years of serving on church staffs, being in a band, and becoming a father. But you’ll also see a man on the verge of hopeless cynicism.
I’ve been hurt. I’ve been hurt by the people I’ve looked up to – the ones I’ve looked to for compassion and leadership – by the people I’ve tried to serve. By the time I recorded my second CD with the Jud Kossum Band, I’d been through an emotional and spiritual beating, and I was getting angry and morose.
I knew that I couldn’t let myself fall off that brink, though, and I’ve been battling that cynicism ever since. There have been times when the only emotion I could feel when it came to my interactions with church was bitter distrust. I’ve begged friends and pastors for prayer, so that I could feel something meaningful again, learn to trust again, learn to love the church. I’ve said the words “I forgive” again and again, but I always felt like I needed to keep saying them because there was always that one scrap of unforgiveness hanging on for dear life.
That’s why this paragraph hit me so hard. I knew exactly what Piper was saying. I knew exactly where he was coming from. In that moment particularly, my heart ached for that “precious work of grace.” I begged God for it with tears in my eyes. “Show me how to love the church.”
A couple of days later, I read this:
For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
My heart broke yet again, and those words of Piper’s came flooding back to me. I longed to be truly grateful for my church.
As the tears started to rise again, God reminded me of all the times that I actually have been grateful for the loving family He has blessed me with at Magnolia Creek Baptist Church. I have been grateful for the way they welcomed me and my family. I have marveled at the way they pray and care for each other and genuinely love being together. I’ve been deeply moved by my pastor’s love and acceptance and respect of them and of me. They have their shortcomings – as any church does – but their love of one another is not one of them.
I couldn’t help myself. I began praying along with Paul the words of this epistle. I could not stop giving thanks for my church, and God impressed on me four items of prayer (at least!) that I should keep bringing to Him. I want to share them with you, and I pray that if you’re struggling with bitterness like I am, you would pray for these in your context as well.
- Keep thanking God for the church family He has blessed you with. (Eph. 1:16)
- Pray that He would open the eyes of the church body – beginning with you – to wisdom and the knowledge of His character. (v. 17)
- Pray that your church’s eyes (beginning again with you) would be opened to the hope He gives. (v. 18) We need #2 and #3 in order to forgo the lesser pleasures of this world and seek the greater pleasures of God. That’s what will make our churches what God intends them to be.
- Finally, pray that you and your church will know that God’s power is for you. (v. 19) As believers, we have in us the same Holy Spirit, the same power that raised Christ from the dead. (See also Romans 8:11.) Therefore, we have the power to live the life to which we are led by the knowledge of God’s character and the hope He gives.