I woke up today to the heartbreaking news of another man of faith, a church leader, who has walked away from God.
Plenty of blogs have been and will be written to explore the why’s and wherefores and there will be many opinions and conclusions in the weeks ahead. Lives are complicated and the reasons people walk away are varied.
Barnabas Piper posted this advice in response, ‘Every time a prominent Christian leaves the faith go find a story (or twelve) of unknown Christians being faithful in the midst of persecution and suffering.’
So instead of adding to the endless speculation of why someone falls away, I thought I would process my own feelings by celebrating faithful people I know.
Last week I had the privilege of listening to a young man named Ben Courson speak at a conference I was attending. Ben is the son of a well-known pastor in the US. It was a special moment for me because my dad knows his dad and so I was familiar with his story, which is a very difficult one. Ben’s sister died in a car accident when he was a young boy and he lost his older brother to cancer only last spring. Alongside the pressures of growing up as a Pastor’s kid, Ben struggled with depression for 10 years and had a heartbreak in his marriage that was devastating.
And yet Ben travels the world with the message of hope. He speaks to young people about a faithful God who holds onto us in the midst of tragedy and suffering. He talks about a faith that, ‘doesn’t always make sense but does make miracles.’ I don’t know if Ben ever considered giving up; I expect he did. But he is finishing his race with joy. He has wrestled with God, worked through his questions and doubts and allowed God to turn grief into a message that brings life to those who need it.
And I want to tell you about friends of ours, a young couple who felt called to serve in an extremely dangerous part of the middle east. They said yes to Jesus and spent the first years of their marriage preparing. They will not have children; their calling is too dangerous. The American dream for them was living on a boat in San Diego while they faithfully and quietly trained for the mission field. There were many setbacks and delays and discouragements but I have had the joy of sharing lunch with these precious servants of the Lord and I came away undone. They are the happiest couple you would hope to meet. Purpose infuses every word they speak and they think nothing of what they have given up to share God’s love with others.
And let me tell you about a faithful Pastor in Pakistan. My daughter’s fiance is from Pakistan and a few weeks ago my husband and I were at a barbeque with the two families and we had the privilege of meeting this family friend. He has attended dozens of Christian funerals after church attacks by extremists and his congregation has to have armed guards every Sunday. And yet the idea of not meeting together on a Sunday has never even crossed their minds. The faith of these precious followers and their commitment to each other is strong and resilient and it withstands challenges we have never faced.
And in my own family and church, there is such beautiful faithfulness. The quiet heroes I know ask for nothing in return and their names are not known beyond their small circles of influence. They run medical clinics without taking salaries and spend their vacations serving disabled children. They give up evenings to run Alpha groups, do marriage counselling for free and pray for the sick. They help troubled young people furnish their first homes and they preach to small congregations with loving preparation and excellence. They raise families and they serve their communities and churches without recognition.
And these stories are multiplied throughout the world where Christians are building hospitals and schools, campaigning to end slavery or equipping young offenders to lead successful and happy lives. These Christians don’t wait for governments to solve the problems; they get out there and work for solutions themselves with creativity and passion.
If I never fall away, it will be for two reasons; the grace of God and the amazing Christians I know.
Look around you this Sunday and see the faithfulness service of others. Be generous with your encouragement and miserly with your criticism. Pray for your leaders, thank those who serve your kids and have your worship leader over for dinner.
Then read about the persecuted church, if you dare. Pray or give or write a letter to one of these saints. These are our brothers and sisters, our family. They will be never be asked to speak at a conference or write a book and yet their faith is inspirational. They face things we cannot imagine and they need our love and support to carry on.
And decide that whatever else happens, you will be a person marked by faithfulness. Pray if you said you would; be there when you are needed. Don’t even think about missing church because someone needs you this Sunday. Be the one who happily chips in and helps out. In a world of fragile commitments, decide to be utterly dependable.
If you have questions, ask them; if you have doubts, work them through. Seek out godly mentors, read good books, worship, pray. Get truth in God’s Word. And then when it makes sense again, get back in the saddle and serve this broken world with everything you have.
Be faithful because He is faithful. Stay true and strong and finish the race with beautiful joy.
‘No life can surpass that of a man who quietly continues to serve God in the place where providence has placed him.’- Charles Spurgeon