In early 2010 I sat in a meeting with church leaders. I had been a senior pastor for just over a year. We were having a meeting to discuss a new building that was to be constructed to house our church in the next year. This turned out to be one of the those meetings a pastor never forgets.
The meeting was supposed to be a meeting discussing the finalization of plans, coordination with the contractor, and developing teams of church members to help oversee certain aspects of the new facility—like carpet colors, furniture, et cetera. What it turned into was a forty-five minute verbal assault of me by a disgruntled church leader. One of those things that you hear stories about but hope, or maybe expect, to never experience yourself.
It was awful. So awful that when it was all said and done one of the deacons, who was probably the physically biggest and strongest man in the room, just put his hands in his face and sobbed. The dressing down contained absolutely no facts, just hearsay developed by gossip, innuendo, and downright lies. It was meant to hurt and tear down and it lived up completely to it’s desired purpose.
My response, however, surprised me. I’ll just say now that there’s no explanation for it except the work of God’s Spirit in me. I know me. If I were to respond in my flesh I’m sure I would have either defended myself, which I didn’t attempt to do since you can’t defend yourself against someone you already know is lying, or just reached across the table and slapped…well, you get the picture.
That’s not what happened. As a matter of fact I don’t remember contemplating how I would answer this individual—especially since I had no idea this dressing down was coming. I will say, however, that I had thought long and hard about why I was in the ministry and who I believed I was accountable to—and it wasn’t the person sitting across the table from me.
Let me just say here how liberating it can be when your aim in life is not to please people. (You can serve people with grace and truth without being a people pleaser, by the way). There’s an old cliche that’s says, “you can please some of the people all of the time and you can please all the people some of the time; but you can’t please all the people all of the time.” That whole line of thinking is simply a waste of time. It was never your God-given purpose or mine to live a life trying to please people. People pleasing just leads to stress and broken relationships. There’s a better way. (I’m not arguing that our aim is to displease people either).
I found myself in front of a person whom I could never please. He had spent many years using fear, threat, and intimidation to get pastors to either bend to his whims or quite from the stress. He was well practiced, and I imagine, pretty confident that I would be the next chair to fold. He had good reason to think so, his track record was pretty much all wins.
What was my response? I told the assailant that there was a day coming that I would give an account. There was a day in fact we all would but the one I’m focussed on is me. The only person’s judgment I’m worried about giving is my own. I stated that I was going to stand before Jesus one day and that I was certain I would bring no witnesses to that meeting. When that conversation happens, if I understand the Scriptures correctly, it will basically go one of two ways. This is true for us all.
I explained to this individual that I had one of two choices: either to be faithful to what I believed God said in His Word and what He was leading me to do, or do what this person wanted me to do. By the way, these two things didn’t come close to matching. I could either fear the man across the table or God—not both.
I knew that how I responded in this moment and whether or not I buckled under the fear of this guy lying about me was coming up when I meet Jesus faith to face. What will I say to Jesus when we meet face to face? As I stated above I think it will happen in one of two ways. Either He will say “well done” or He will say, “why didn’t you do what I asked you to do?”
My response continued with a question; what was I going to say? How would I answer Jesus if he asked me why I didn’t do what he commanded? Would I tell him that I was afraid? Would I tell him that this persons threat accompanied with so many others who were like him kept me from stepping out in faith and doing what He asked me to do? I’m convinced if that is my excuse then Jesus would simply answer “But I told you that I’ve not given you the spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control. Why didn’t you do what I asked?” (If you noticed, Jesus just quoted Scripture there. He does that you know).
It’s a liberating thing to know that you’re going to stand before Christ one day. A very liberating thing. You and I can be set free from a lot of stress just simply living our lives before an audience of One.
The Apostle John longed for this day. He said, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)
There’s one caveat though. Make sure that One that is your audience is Jesus not you or someone else.
I’m sure I could come up with some stories when I didn’t respond this way. I don’t mean that my wit won and I was able to put a destructive critic in his place. That didn’t happen because this guy could care less about what I had to say. I’m sure there have been times that I didn’t remind myself that the only person I needed to please was Jesus. Sure of it.
But, I’m sure of this too, this particular day, though the pain and difficulty were still very real and present, I was liberated because of an audience of One.