Among those things I know now, that I wish I’d known when I was twenty-two and fresh out of college with my Bible degree, is that you cannot convince someone that something is true if they are not ready to hear of it.
Somehow I got the idea that “ministry” was about knowing the truth and convincing others to believe it, too.There were two problems with that. Much of the “truth” I had then, didn’t turn out to be so true at all. And, all of the time spent trying to argue people into my ideas, even those that turned out to be true, were as fruitless as trying to get my grapevines to produce grapes in February.
Truth has its time, and as I look back over my life at the start of a new year, I have a deep appreciation for the trajectory of revelation and transformation in the human heart. These are not things we control, but I love watching how the Holy Spirit begins to unravel our false ideas from the inside and prepare us for those moments when the Truth clarifies in our heart and we find ourselves able to take a step forward in embracing his love or finding a way to share it with others. I’ve had a lot of joy over the past few years watching this process in my own life as well as watching it in others as well.
I was reminded of this by a recent email I received:
I have just finished listening to Finding Church for the 4th time yesterday in the past 2 months (I have a long drive to work!)
- 30 years ago the old me would have thought it weird.
- 20 years ago I would have tried to understand what you were saying.
- 10 years ago I would have wished it was true.
- 8 years ago I would have not thought it clear enough as I looked for the 10 steps.
- But now I see. It is just by loving the one in front of you and seeing how God touches them through the interaction. It is learning that you are loved and sharing that love with others.
I laughed when I read it. Thirty years ago I probably would have declared those ideas heresy. Twenty years ago I would have been intrigued with the hope, but thought them too idealistic to work. Ten years ago, I was already seeing that reality live out in my life and the lives of others around me and my view of his church was changing. Today, I can’t think of the church any other way and with that has come a deep appreciation for the church Jesus is building in the world in spite of all that we humans have done to craft her in our own image. And when I think about ten years from now, my heart leaps with the anticipation of what I might yet learn about him and his work in the world.
Truth has its time. We don’t so much learn it in a classroom as it unfolds in us out of our growing relationship to God. Growth and transformation are a process that takes time. It would be nice to recognize truth out of the clear blue and just embrace it, but it rarely works that way. Mostly truth works its way into our heart over time as God wins us more deeply into his affection for us. Maybe that’s what Jesus had in mind when he told the disciples he would send them Another Comforter and he would guide them into all truth. He even admitted to them that he had so many more things to teach them but that they weren’t ready for them yet. I love how Jesus had a sense of the unfolding reality of truth in our hearts. He didn’t confront them with truth and demand they make a choice, but he opened the door to truth to see who was ready to walk through.
If I’d known that forty years ago, my heart would have been softer in the hands of the Master. I would have been far more gentler with people who didn’t see what I hoped they would see. I would have spent far less time trying to argue people into my view of truth. And, I would have trusted the Spirit to guide me better when others were trying to convince me of things they thought were true that didn’t yet make sense to me.
I would have taken all that energy I used to try and convince others and to let him teach me to walk in the truth I had already been given. And, I would have spent far more time encouraging others who were already hungry for the truth, rather than trying to convince others of it who weren’t yet ready and couldn’t yet see it.
In short, seeing the Spirit as the convincer of people, and I their friend has allowed me to be more relaxed in God’s process, not only in my heart, but with others around me as well. It is far more fruitful to help people into the truth they are seeking, rather than to badger them into what they are resisting. Believe me!