I have a friend in California who I’ve known for almost 20 years. I was on my way to church around 4:45am a couple of weeks ago, and I got a text from him saying he was distressed and feeling lonely. He is 2 hours earlier on Pacific Time, so that was 2:45am for him. Then I got a text saying he was thinking of texting an old girlfriend. He asked me to stop him…so I gave him a call. It takes me about an hour to get to church from our house, so I had a lot of time to talk to him. It turns out I was too late to stop him from texting his old girlfriend…which is always a fantastic idea…especially when you are under the influence of alcohol…which he was. But, at least we had a chance to talk about the root issues. My friend has always been what you call a “tortured soul”. He constantly questions religion, God, truth…agonizing over what it all means to him. For whatever reason, he occasionally wants to talk to me about this stuff. I’m glad. I love him…and every time I think of Stephen, God reminds me that He loves him too. We’ll talk in circles of course for hours because we don’t agree on the source of truth, but I can see God tugging on Stephen’s heart. He wrestles with God from a deep longing in his heart and through pain and agony. I think God has a soft spot for people like him. The Scriptures say, “the Lord is close to the broken-hearted” (Psalm 34:18), and “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). The word “contrite” implies the breaking of something that has been hardened. Incidentally, it’s impossible for seed to grow if the soil has not been broken…otherwise it just sits on top of the ground.
In a strange way, I think Stephen may be in better shape than a lot of Christians. He agonizes over these questions because he cares. He’s lost, but he’s searching. I think a lot of “Christians” aren’t searching because they think they are found. One of the most sobering moments in Scripture is when Jesus says – “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” The implication here is that there are people who will know about Jesus, but have no relationship with Him. I’ve been in that place before…where I’ve esteemed God, but wasn’t close to Him. It’s kind of like getting married, but living in different houses. Then, you tell all your friends and family about how great your spouse is…how beautiful and funny and talented…because that’s how you imagine they must be. But, you never dwell together…and you never become intimate. Can you really call that a marriage? If I’m being honest, I can still drift in and out of that place sometimes. I know so many Christians who esteem a relationship with God, and would even talk about it with you as if it’s the most important thing in their lives…yet, they couldn’t even share the Gospel with you if you asked them.
Esteeming vs. knowing.
Imagine there is a devastating tornado headed your way…and it just so happens there is an underground storm shelter in your back yard. You walk outside…stand over it staring in awe, saying to yourself, “Wow…I’m sure glad I have that storm shelter. It has everything I need to live: food, water, a generator for heating, a fresh air vent…beds, a landline to call for help… Boy, my Great Grandpappy knew what he was doing when he built that thing. It must have taken him….” Then right then…the tornado just bowls you over and takes you away. If only you hadn’t stood there running your yippity yap about how great the shelter was…and just gotten inside it instead! But, the sad reality is that there are a lot of Christians who just sit outside the Shelter and talk about how great it is… Their neighbors will even walk over and try to talk to them about the Shelter and warn them that they should get inside before the storm comes, and they’ll just stare back at them and say “I know! Isn’t it awesome!?” The South is bad about this…I know – I grew up here. Everyone is “saved”. But, I read about what life IN CHRIST looks like in the Scriptures. There were no blurred lines with the apostles. There was no guessing where they stood. It’s very difficult to imagine Peter, John, James, or Paul saying “Isn’t God great!?”, but never praying. You can see it in their words…they agonized over their faith. They were desperate to really know God.
It all just makes me think… Which is worse: to be hostile and wrestling with God, or to live in ignorant bliss, thinking you know God, but you really don’t? The latter sounds lukewarm to me. God doesn’t seem to like things that are lukewarm. He says in Revelation 3, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” I see this posture a lot in American Christianity. I don’t know anyone who sits around literally saying, “I am rich. I have prospered. I need nothing.” But, that’s exactly how a lot of us live isn’t it? We don’t realize our need. That’s why so many Christians in 3rd world countries are praying for America…specifically because we are prosperous and don’t realize our desperate need for Jesus. We pity them in their poverty, yet they look at us and their instinct is to pray for us in our prosperity. In Scripture, there are examples of people who either denied Christ or were outright hostile toward Him – Peter, Paul…who were then radically transformed. I can’t think of a single character in Scripture who was radically transformed out of a lukewarm state. I can see God radically transforming a guy like my friend Stephen into one of His mighty men! He cares enough to fight. I worry more for the ones who are comfortable enough to not have to think about it.
Lord, please turn the esteemers into knowers and reveal Yourself to the hostile so they become warriors for You!