A Hard Story to Tell
Over the last ten years I have gained a lot of weight due to my back problems, aging, and my bout with depression. And I am sure getting addicted to pain pills did not help. I am 100 pounds more than I used to be. If you knew the old me, you would know a guy who was very confident about his looks. You would know a guy who is obsessed with working out. You would know a guy who would tell others about the benefits of eating right and exercise, pushing them to healthy living not only for the sake of their physical and mental health, but for their spiritual health as well. Now it is hard for me to go out in public to places where other people who knew the old me will be present. I know what they will think and I don’t want to put them or me through it. “What happened to you?” will enter their mind, though it won’t come from their lips. “Oh, how sad. Michael must be in some deep depression and eats a lot as a coping mechanism” is another. Or how about this: “I don’t think Michael is following the Lord.” And the worst: “Michael’s life must really suck.”
(Forgive me if I am making you uncomfortable. I don’t mean to. But it is a good illustration for what this blog post is really about.)
I have so much shame. Not just shame in the way I look. I have shame in the very fact I have shame. I should be confidently engaging people no matter how overweight I am. They don’t know why I am this way, but hiding out will only confirm their suspicions that my life sucks and the Lord is of no benefit.
When You Suck and Others Know it
Kinda setting that aside for a moment…
Why would anyone want to become a Christian? I often think that. When I am depressed and other people know it. When I am on drugs and can’t get off and other people know it. When my marriage is not going well and other people know it. When I am fat and other people know it. When I can’t pay bills and other people know it. When I am lazy and other people know it. When my kids are crazy and other people know it.
I am talking about myself. All those characteristics either fit me now or have been a good fit in the near past.
But a lot of those fit you as well. No? Let me add some: When I am divorced and other people know it. When I am an alcoholic and other people know it. When I am so much older and other people know it. When my kid is in jail and other people know it. When I lost my house and other people know it. When I am always anxious and other people know it. When I didn’t graduate and other people know it. When she broke up with me and other people know it. When I have such a unremarkable job and other people know it.
I have probably hit you by now. If I have not, then just wait . . . one of these or some other will one day apply to you.
This is why is it so much easier sharing Christ with those who know nothing or little about you. They don’t know that your life sucks. I am sorry if that is an offensive term but it is the best I have right now. Nothing else seems to work unless I go with something even more offensive.
But, really, just in general, the feeling of shame can come over me and I think to myself: What have I got that they don’t? They seem to be doing better than me so why don’t I just leave them alone. Christianity obviously does not guarantee that you will be happier, wealthier, or more stable in any one area of life than the next person. So what am I offering Christ to this guy? He already feels sorry for me and I want to make the proposal to him that he be more like me?
Why should I tell others about Christ when my life sucks?
Two Reasons We Still Tell Others About Christ
I know the answer. You do too. You are just caught up in the ethos of the world in a like manner as myself. But when push comes to shove, we know that we have reasons—very good reasons—to offer them Christ. We just don’t like to approach people downtrodden. We don’t like to approach people all dirty and messy. We don’t like to approach people while sinners. We just don’t like to approach people while in the mire of despondency. We want to wait until everything is clean and ready. We want not only to approach them with Christ, but with the bells and whistles of life. And if we wait until then, we may never approach anyone.
I have many reasons scribbled in my head, most with pencil, but two with permanent ink. Here are those two:
1. Because it is true: First and foremost, we share our faith with other people because we believe it is true. This is the most objective and important reason. As my sister and I talked about this today, she said something similar: “Because we know where we are going.” We know our future. We know the ultimate end.
I have to think that The Psalmist asked the same type of questions we are now:
For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles. Their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills.
Don’t you love it? Leave it to the Psalms to express the exact same thoughts we think. In other words, “What good is God to them when they already have it made?”
He goes on:
This is what the wicked are like—always free of care, they go on amassing wealth. Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments.
So what is the advantage to following God? Why should we tell others about Christ when our lives suck? Listen to David’s conclusion:
When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.
Because of their final destiny! Because they are not at peace with God. Because they are enemies on the side that we KNOW loses and loses badly. The Psalmist goes on to describe the destruction that awaits those who do not care about the forgiveness of their sins. It is a collage of anarchy and eternal restlessness.
Even when we see our lives in the most pitiful of conditions we can be confident about sharing Christ to others because what we believe it true. There are no guarantees of comfort in this life but our hope is the peace with God we have today (even amid the chaos, there is peace with God) and the glorious restoration of all things that we will experience tomorrow.
2. Because they will ask you “Why do you still have hope?” I have been surprised by this question many times. I say surprised, but I really mean blindsided. As I sat timidly with someone who I knew and who I knew had knowledge about all the [insert Pauline curse word that starts with an “s”, ends with a “t”, and has a “hi” filler] I had done and been through, they suddenly asked me the most unexpected question: “Why do you still love God?” He went on, “After all he has put you through, I can’t believe it.” My very first thoughts were, “How on earth would this person know that I still loved God?” I did not see any evidence of my faith. I felt like a total failure. Yes, I still had faith, but I thought I was holding it close enough to my chest to avoid being asked such a question. Really, I just did not want to be called a hypocrite. But have you ever noticed, being called a hypocrite and a phony are judgements that primarily come from those within the church, not from outside? (another story for another day). Those outside the church may often have a different perspective on your life.
You see, I did still have faith, I did still have peace with God, I did still love Christ and this guy somehow saw it. He saw it more clearly than I did. You know why he wanted to know why I still had faith? Because his life was a wreck as well and he needed to find something stable to hold on to. It is like we are all in a rushing river, drowning as the currents wash us downstream. And some guy comes by us as we have a solid rock that we are holding on to (maybe just barely holding on, but holding on nonetheless) and he says “Help!” They don’t look at you and judge you, laughing because you are in a rushing river, all they see is that you are stable and they want to be as well.
It’s like Peter said:
1 Peter 3:15
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
Many people use this as their primary verse that talks about defending your faith by apologetics (“The Apologists Creed”) and it certainly does have those implications, but the primary thing Peter is doing is speaking to his audience who is suffering. He has just talked about their suffering and wants them to get ready. Why? Because he knows that when you find that rock in the river to hold on to—the rock that saves your life—others will ask for your help.
Sure, some people will think you are crazy. “Look at that guy. Look at what has become of him. He is depressed, fat, and broke with no job and he still loves God. Haha. What a loser.” There will be those people. But there will also be those people who live in fear in the chaos of this world and want to know why you, being effected by the same chaos, still have hope.
Your answer may be like the Apostles when asked by Christ if they wanted to leave him since everyone else was leaving. Here is what they said: “We have nowhere else to go, you have the words of eternal life.” Your answer may be more than theirs. Either way, you have a stable rock and they want to know where to get one.
God does not wait for your life to be cleaned up before he calls you to Himself nor does He wait for your life to be all nice and neat before you are able to help others to the faith. If He had to wait for our lives to be straightened out before he used us to tell others about Christ, then He would have to use the angels to evangelize or no one would be in Heaven! We would never be qualified.
All of our lives will suck to a great degree. Whether this loathsome condition is one of our own self-making or one that is brought upon us by God, we can confidently tell others about Christ because it’s both true and because your loathsome condition just might be your best evangelism advantage that God uses.
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminar (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]