I’ve been thinking of a small section of Scripture lately. Right after the killing of Stephen, we read in Acts 8:1:
“. . . On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.”
These believers did not respond to persecution as the old heroes of faith did, by willingly laying down their lives. No, they ran! Why? Maybe they were afraid, they didn’t want to suffer, they thought life would be easier somewhere else, or they didn’t want to face hardship. They wanted to live. They were cowards.
But let’s not be too hard on these early believers. How often have we been afraid of “doing the right thing?” How often have we hedged on what we felt God called us to? There have been times when I have run from difficult situations and didn’t feel like I had the strength to oppose angry people. There were times when I was a coward, when I decided that I wanted a different life. No, I understand why those early believers abandoned Jerusalem, like rats fleeing a burning building. Within me are the same weaknesses and fears.
God used the fear and weakness of these believers to do something great. It may even be that God was counting on their weaknesses so that He could do even greater things. When these believers were scattered from Jerusalem, they took the message of Jesus with them, and many others came to know the Lord. God used their fleeing for good.
I, like every other pastor, would like to be the perfect pastor. I would like to be strong, courageous, inspiring, a great leader, a sensitive counsellor, a praying warrior, a creative teacher . . . the list could go on and on. That’s what I want. The reality is that I am a man with weaknesses and hang ups. Sometimes I lose my cool like Moses. Sometimes I flee like Elijah. Sometimes I manipulate situations like David, or lie like Abraham. These great people of faith made blunders, yet found God’s grace really was sufficient for them. God willingly forgave them and sometimes even used their weaknesses for good.
Don’t buy into the subtle lie that unless you are a perfect pastor, you are not a good pastor. Don’t demand perfection of yourself. Demanding perfection, while it may seem spiritual, in reality is destructive. Perfectionism becomes a whip to our back. Perfectionism keeps us from seeing ourselves as God sees us – as His children whom He delights in. Perfectionism keeps us from dealing with our failings in a constructive way, and finding God’s grace.
If you think I’m saying we should be satisfied with mediocrity, or that our sins don’t matter, then you misunderstand me. But we need to accept God’s grace in our lives because we are all weak. We need to admit our weaknesses and accept God’s mercy and grace. It’s God’s grace that brought us to the Saviour. It’s God’s grace that gave us a role in His family. It’s also God’s grace that will transform our weaknesses into a demonstration of His love and mercy towards a lost world.
“. . . My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. . . .” 2 Corinthians 12:9
Jerry Ritskes was director of Focus on the Family Canada’s Kerith Retreats at the time of publication. For information about Kerith Retreats visit KerithRetreats.ca.