A good friend and I have discussed recently a “new-for-me” perspective on serving in ministry full-time. It seems that within the composition of a person, there can be the perceived or public Christian persona and the internal, no-one’s looking persona. And, as a person is increasingly put into the position of public ministry, the distance between these two personas can expand leaving the person at a crisis of character. And, there is a temptation to believe in the perceived persona.
It’s relatively easy to “man-up” and be a good, faithful leader on Sunday morning, leading a discussion or performing any visible function of the job. Okay, maybe not easy…but easier than keeping your inner self the picture of piety. I suppose this is the very reason that the whole grace thing is necessary. But, even so, it does some weird things to my brain.
Last week, I had an experience where a lot of hard work produced some very good results. For the last few months, myself and several others laid the groundwork for a live-event, conference thingy where many ministry leaders would be attending. Our job basically was to prepare a platform for the various aspects of our ministry to be shared with those who pray and support the organization. In the end, the work of many faithful co-workers and the heart of our ministry were highlighted in a very nice way. So, our work produced much fruit it seems. We know this to be true because of the many, very kind comments of the attendees of the conference. So, I was confronted with how to respond to these comments in light of the truth of my complete persona.
Perhaps this will be clearer with a description of the inner half. While on the outside, it may appear that I’m quite faithful, diligent and reliable, on the inside – you know, where the minute-by-minute choices happen – I’m more like Swiss cheese. Full of holes…not holy. A little history to prove the point: as a young boy, I became a Christian. My faith was young and real. My Bible had more yellow highlighter than white space. At the age of 12, I walked away from my faith. No, that’s not accurate. I ran. I kept running. I pursued anything but God. I took my knowledge of His words and used them to my advantage while being very clear that I wasn’t one of His people. I distorted the truth. I sought a life of comfort, rebellion and freedom from any deity. I was good enough for the world on my own without Him. This wasn’t merely a jog around the block. It continued until I was in my twenties, nearly 10 years. It is somewhat amazing that I’m still alive. I have the scars to prove it – mentally, physically and spiritually.
Now, I’ve spent the past 15 plus years climbing back to Him. And, He has been exceptionally generous and provided a place at the table without shame – at the first step of my journey back. I’m a benefactor of His grace and mercy. I accept that. But the truth is, I had chosen to dine with hogs and tried, quite spitefully, to enjoy it.
So, now when I’m in a position like this last week’s conference and in many other ways to be perceived as one who has it all together, it causes some discomfort. Please don’t misunderstand this. I fully accept His grace and mercy and am fully restored to Him. But, there is another aspect of this dichotomy of persona. It would be wonderful if I could say that once I came begging back to the King, I never desired to leave His presence again. But, that’s not true, either. In the very intimate places of my mind, soul and faith, I still have fleeting moments where the hogs seem like they have something that I do not. And, it is in these very quiet thoughts where victories are won and lost. Yet, no one knows. I am mature enough to often realize the battle is happening yet they are still happening. That’s why it causes conflict especially when external victories elicit praise. It’s not the full story.
I often wonder about the rest of the Prodigal Son’s life. I’m sure we could talk over coffee for a few hours.
There are some who would say that perception is truth. They are wrong.
Truth is truth. Grace is sufficient. Mercy is real. Restoration is sweet. Perception is a descending path.