Dealing with rejection.
They asked me to resign. I’ve been thrown out of the eldership by the very people whom I helped ordain. And it hurts. It hurts really bad. [Note: This was written in 2012, a few months after I resigned my position as an Elder in the congregation I helped start.]
“What is the kerfuffle all about?” you ask. “Why did they toss you out?” Sorry, but I’m not one to air the church’s dirty laundry before the whole world. This essay is not an exposé, rather a discussion of how we should deal with disappointment, rejection and betrayal. And therein lies a problem. I regard what happened to me not only as a personal slap in the face but, more importantly, a betrayal of the fundamental principles we had when we began the congregation. It’s the death of a cherished dream. The ones who “did it to me” don’t see it that way at all. In their view, the radical change in direction they chose was in the best interests of the congregation. From their perspective I’m the stumbling block and they don’t understand why I have the convictions I do.
They’re someone else’s servants
In situations like this I need to keep reminding myself that, ultimately, no one answers to me. It is not my congregation, but the Lord’s. In another context Paul wrote, “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls...” (Romans 14:4 NIV)
I am passionate about the church. When I see someone do something which I believe is not in the best interests of the church, it not only saddens me, there is a part of me which wants to react like Nehemiah did when the people of his day didn’t take God’s word to heart. (Read Nehemiah, chapter 13, sometime!) But that is not my place. It is up to the Lord to prove the worth of each person’s work, and it is up to Him to reward or punish accordingly. Paul writes, “...But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” (1 Corinthians 3:10-15 NIV) Paradoxically, there are times when the best thing I can do for the congregation is to just let go and realize that God is the quality inspector – not me.
Remembering that the Lord is the One who judges is a passive response to rejection and betrayal. But He requires much more from us. He also wants us to forgive. One of the tough things about forgiveness, at least for me, is that it is not supposed to be conditional. By that I mean we are supposed to forgive regardless of whether the persons who have hurt us show any remorse or not. It’s my responsibility to forgive whether or not they apologize or ask for forgiveness. Oh, that is hard! But Jesus made it plain that my own relationship to God depends on whether I forgive those who have wronged me. He said, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15 NIV)
Something which sometimes makes it really hard for us to forgive those who have wronged us is that forgiveness does not erase consequences. For example, God forgave David for his sin with Bathsheba but that didn’t bring Uriah and his fellow soldiers back to life, nor did it remove the family troubles which came to David as a result of that sin. In my situation forgiveness will not erase the damage which has already been done to the church, nor will it prevent the fallout which is surely coming down-road.
But that is not my responsibility. What the Lord requires of me is to forgive – and leave the consequences up to Him.
Jesus made it plain that we are to not only forgive those who wrong us, we are to pray for them. “...Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28 NIV)
This is something else which is really hard for me to do. Rather than pray for the well-being of those who’ve done me dirt I want vindication! Like David I cry out, “Awake, and rise to my defense! Contend for me, my God and Lord. Vindicate me in your righteousness, O LORD my God; do not let them gloat over me. Do not let them think, “Aha, just what we wanted!” or say, “We have swallowed him up.” May all who gloat over my distress be put to shame and confusion; may all who exalt themselves over me be clothed with shame and disgrace. May those who delight in my vindication shout for joy and gladness; may they always say, “The LORD be exalted, who delights in the well-being of his servant.”” (Psalm 35:23 NIV)
While David wanted vindication, he also had the wisdom to know that it came from God. It’s something I need to remember as well. Yes, I want to be proved right. Yes, it would bring a morbid satisfaction if the things I fear will happen to the congregation actually come to pass. But vindication comes from God. I am not to lift my hand against those who have harmed me, and I am not to actively bring about the negative things I think are in store for them and the congregation. Instead it is my responsibility to pray for them and the good of the congregation. It would only compound the tragedy if even more people are hurt or turned away from the Lord. Therefore it is my duty to pray that no one will be hurt. Vindication, if it ever comes, will be from the Lord. ““See, it is I who created the blacksmith who fans the coals into flame and forges a weapon fit for its work. And it is I who have created the destroyer to work havoc; no weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the LORD.” (Isaiah 54:16-17 NIV)
Probably one of the most difficult commands to obey in all of Scripture is 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (NIV) The command is all the more remarkable because it was written to a group of Christians who were going through severe suffering (1 Thessalonians 1:6). It can be extremely difficult, at least for me, to be thankful for anything when I’m suffering – particular the kind of spiritual and mental anguish I’ve experienced in the situation I’ve been going through. Yet, regardless of my circumstances, it is God’s will for me to give thanks.
Why? A full discussion of the reasons why God wants us to be thankful is beyond the scope of this essay. The short answer is that thankfulness is both an inoculation against, and the antidote to, bitterness. The truth is that we cannot have a proper relationship with God, nor the kind of fellowship we ought to have with other believers if we harbor bitterness in our hearts. Unfortunately, bitterness is also very infectious. It doesn’t just affect us – it has the potential to destroy others as well as ourselves (Hebrews 12:15). And, so God requires us to find something to give thanks for regardless of how badly we’re hurting.
But it doesn’t stop there. There’s another passage which is even harder to put into practice. We are not only supposed to give thanks in all circumstances, we are also supposed to give thanks for the circumstances! Ephesians 5:20 says, “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (NIV)
How can this be? How can we possibly give thanks for situations which are wrong or evil? We have to understand that our God is greater than any situation or circumstance. He has promised that He will bring good out of everything He allows His children to encounter or experience (Romans 8:28). This is not just some generic good, but individual and personal good for us. It comes down to faith. Do I believe God’s promise? If I do, I will give thanks for what I’m going through, knowing that, some day, I will be able to look back and see the blessings which could not have come to me any other way. But, oh is it hard to do now!
When something like this happens my natural tendency is to point out all the faults and inconsistencies in the people on the other side of the issue. I want them to recognize their faults and take remedial action. As important as that may be, it may be even more important for me to take stock of my own motives and character. Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5 NIV)
As much as I hate this situation, it has given me an opportunity for introspection. I’ve been surprised at some of my own reactions. I’ve discovered some areas where I still need to grow and mature. I’ve had to deal with some things in my own character that I thought I had already overcome. Though I hate what’s happened, it would be even more tragic not to learn and grow and benefit from it. I like to think that I am a little wiser now. I like to think that I will come through this with a stronger faith. I like to think that this will make me a better person. Peter writes, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 13-7 NIV)
I’d rather not go through something like this at all. If I must endure it, I want it to blow over very quickly. But it hasn’t been quick. In fact, there is no resolution in sight – even though I have done all that I know to do.
People who know about the situation have asked me, “Why don’t you leave?” I understand where they’re coming from. And, believe me, I’ve been tempted to do just that. But I have a conviction that it is not wise to take action in situations like this without the Lord’s leading. So far, the Lord has been silent. I have not heard His call to move on. No opportunity for ministry has opened up elsewhere. Without the Lord’s direction, I don’t think I should even look. I am in limbo. At this point it is unclear whether I will ever be able to serve much here again, but no alternative has presented itself.
Over the years I have become convinced that God often calls on His people to wait. In fact, frustrating though it is, I suspect that God calls us to wait more often than to take action. Moses had to spend 40 years in the wilderness before conditions were right for God to use him. Even Jesus had to wait some 18 years after the incident at the Temple until the time was right for Him to begin His ministry (see Luke 2:41-52, 3:23).
For all I know, God may open up some amazing new opportunity for me tomorrow. But for now, He’s called me to wait; to be patient. One benefit of waiting is that it helps take ego out of the equation. I’d like things to get going now – I want a resolution to this situation. But by waiting, I know that when something does break, it’s more likely to be God’s leading, not my own pride talking. Peter writes, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7 NIV)
And that’s exactly what I intend to do.
[Note: Since this was written new avenues of ministry have opened up. My wife and I have moved to a different congregation. Though the Lord has not yet allowed us to serve in a congregation which follows the New Testament model as closely as we would like, I am busier than ever speaking, teaching and writing. In the Lord’s time our dreams may yet come to pass!]