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9/24/14 at 11:55 AM 2 Comments

Seeing Christ in the Worst Christians

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Photo: Waiting For The Word - Creative Commons

By David Murray

How do we stop getting so depressed at the failings of Christian pastors and people? Here are five of the ten strategies I try to use. We’ll look at the remaining five tomorrow.

1. Try to see Christ in even the worst Christian
Although Christ is molding each of His people into His beautiful image, none of us show that image perfectly. Our immaturity and sin blight and deform His work. However, no matter how marred the image, there is still a trace of it somewhere in every Christian. Just as even a severely disabled person still shows some lovely aspects of God’s image in them, so the most fallen Christian has something somewhere in their lives where they excel us in portraying Christ’s image. It’s up to us to find that and admire that.

I’ve known some pretty ugly Christians through the years, but as I look back, I admit I overlooked or failed to linger on areas of their lives where Christ was undoubtedly leaving his fingerprints. And today, as we survey our fellow-believers, let’s make the choice to major on Christ’s positive work in them rather than on all the devil’s negatives.

2. Pray for seeming hypocrites
We’ve all done it. We end up in company where we start criticizing someone and very soon we’ve torn them in shreds and left them in pieces. Sometimes we don’t need the help of company to do our shredding; we can grind them to powder in the cruel confines of our own sharp-toothed minds. Although there can be some strange short-term satisfaction in these cruel pleasures, we are inflicting deep long-term trauma on ourselves.

When tempted to start drilling and sawing others, why not start to pray for them. If we really do fear that they are hypocrites, they need our prayers far more than our incisive analysis. And in the process, we’ll discover something: it’s very hard to hate someone we pray for. It’s almost impossible to pull someone down when we are prayerfully raising him or her up to heaven for God’s blessing. Prayer never changes God. It sometimes changes the person we pray for. It always changes us.

3. Spend time with the inconsistent
It’s easy to criticize from a keyboard or from a pew, when a person is at some distance away from us, we aren’t really involved in their lives, and we don’t really know them. It’s much more difficult to scorch people when we’ve had a coffee with them or walked a mile with them. Then we realize they are human after all, or that they’ve had an awful childhood, or that they are enduring a depressing marriage, or that there is some other stress in their lives that puts their words and actions in a different light. Or we might discover that we’ve completely misjudged them and that the fault is more in our perception and discernment than in their conduct.

4. Be patient
As a pastor I’ve been sometimes appalled at the way mature Christians expect young Christians to come out of the shell as fully grown men and women of God. And when they aren’t, down comes the sledgehammer upon them. Some older Christians have conveniently forgotten that they were young once, somehow imagining that they skipped spiritual infancy and adolescence.

I’ve sometimes been stunned at the way some poor specimens of Christianity have suddenly blossomed into beautiful flowers of grace, and even into majestic cedars of Lebanon. People I had given up all hope for are transformed into holy, zealous, steady and reliable Christians. Sometimes it’s marriage or children that does it. Sometimes it’s trial or suffering. But sometimes it’s simply the sovereign work of God. I think God loves to revive His work in those we have written off and given up on.

5. Speak positively about other Christians
One of the most lethal habits that Christians can fall into is to talk negatively about other Christians in front of their children or in front of unbelievers. I’ve seen children spiritually devastated due to regular Sunday meals that served up a diet of roast pastor, barbecued elders, and boiled Christians. In some cases, tragically, it turned the children off the church for life. In other cases, the negativity created perpetually discontented church members and adherents. They had gotten so habituated to criticism in their childhood that they could not break the cycle when they became adults.

One of the greatest favors we can do for our children is to speak positively about our pastors and about other Christians. Even when there may have been some flaws in the preaching, find the good things, highlight them, express appreciation for them, and discuss them with your kids. Draw attention to Christians who are serving the Lord well and use them as models for your children. And when, regrettably, you may have to discuss a certain Christian’s sins, then do your best to also mention evidences of God’s good work in their lives.

David Murray is Professor of Old Testament & Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, blogs at Head Heart Hand, and is author of the books Christians Get Depressed Too and How Sermons Work.

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