A friend of mine is starting a church and fortunately some haters have materialized out of thin air. I say fortunately because only ordinary things ever get full consensus from people. Doing something extraordinary should never make complete sense to everyone in your life. People will always support photocopies of what’s always been done, but if you start something new, something different, you should expect resistance. (That last paragraph was the first time in months I’ve heard the faint whispers of the Newsies’ “Open the Gates and Seize the Day.” It’s been too long Crutchy, it’s been too long.)
When I called my friend and asked him how the church plant was going, he said that a member of the first church he started in the 1980s had written him a letter. In it, this former member that had not spoken with him in close to a decade said that he felt my friend was starting the new church out of ego.
Then, in what baffles me, he told my friend, who has a degenerative eye disease, that he was “Praying more earnestly than I’ve ever prayed in my life that God would destroy the rods and cones in your eyes so that you would go blind and only the sight that God gives you will be able to guide you.”
That’s not a direct quote because my friend’s wife tore up the letter in a fit of justified pastor’s wife rage, but the gist was that he was praying for the destruction of his rods and cones.
That is crazy. Maybe this was just the angry ramblings of an 80-year old former minister who has lost touch with the whole love your neighbor thing. Maybe the letter writer just had access to a typewriter on a day when whatever bitterness that was bubbling inside of him had a chance to spill out. Maybe he’s just a messed up human being like me, but whatever his reason was, that is one crazy letter. The really crazy thing though is that I think I understand what he was trying to say.
Sometimes, if you’ve come to Christ through some tragic circumstance like a death in the family or an all consuming addiction or a specific pit so deep only the light of God could find the bottom, it’s tempting to think everyone needs to have that very same experience you had.
So you start to develop this weird kind of “brokenness pride.” That sounds completely stupid and impossible, I know, but I think it’s true. Or rather it’s true of me. A few years ago I made some mistakes that no amount of intelligence or wit or temporary, “I’ll do better this time, I can fix this” could remedy. In the midst of that, Christ grabbed hold of me.
And yet somehow I found a way to turn that into pride. I started thinking things like, “That guy hasn’t been broken yet. Look how deep my faith is compared to his. He hasn’t seen the depths of hurt or darkness I have and is still holding on to things I had to let go of. Maybe someday, he’ll get broken like me and experience a real relationship with God.”
Ugh. When you start to define faith by the tragedy that helped bring you there it’s tempting to pray some really weird prayers. I wish I had a dollar for every time a parent has told me, “I just pray it doesn’t take a horrible tragedy to bring my son to Christ. I just pray that when he hits rock bottom it doesn’t kill him.” The hard thing is that at the heart of that is a truth. I want people to know the love of God more than anything else in this world. So losing a job or going into credit card debt or a million other things that temporarily hurt is not nearly as important as missing out on a life-changing relationship with Christ.
But I don’t think that means you pray for someone’s rods and cones to deteroiate. I don’t think that means you pray someone goes blind. I don’t think that means you identify a tragedy and pray that it befalls someone.
I think it’s weird to pray for something bad to happen to someone so that they will see how good God is.
Fortunately, my friend who received that letter is smarter than me. When I asked about it, his answer was perfect. He told me,
“I’m not mad at the guy who wrote that letter. I just wish he would have prayed that God would have restored my sight and in that experience I would have been able to see His great love for me.”
Pray for love. Pray that the people in your life will experience the deep, all consuming love of God in a way that only God on high can predict and orchestrate. It might take something big and scary to quiet someone’s life enough so that they can hear the voice of God. That was my personal experience four years ago but I know my parents and my wife didn’t pray for a tragedy to occur. They prayed for love and hope and God shaped that in the way that only He can shape it.
Above all, please don’t tell that 80-year old rod and cone guy about this post. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t read blogs and I don’t want him praying I get in some freak cougar accident and lose all my typing fingers.