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No human has anywhere close to a perfect understanding about God. If you’re growing and not stagnating, then your theology is in a constant state of flux. When our beliefs are changing in small, positive ways—a thrilling insight here and there—then we find the growth process exciting. But when God suddenly slams us with some life-altering revelation and we suddenly realize that we have been clinging to some major theological errors and peddling some absolute lies from the pulpit, well now we’re really in trouble. What do you do when you wake up to discover you’ve been leading God’s sheep over the cliff of delusions? What do you do when you find out you’ve been encouraging them to think and act in ways that royally offend your Savior? If you sincerely care about God, then the realization that you’ve been way off base is going to make you sick with distress and panic. This is when Satan shows up with a bunch of unhelpful suggestions and truckloads of condemnation. But before you end up in a black hole of despair and self-loathing, there are some things you need to understand.
INTENTIONS VS. ILLUMINATION
Our first order of business in diffusing this crisis is to talk about what matters most: your personal relationship with God. If you believe that God is furious with you, you’re going to become paralyzed with stress. Now God’s wrath is very real, as is His protective fury over the lambs in His flock. In the Bible, we find both Yahweh and Jesus speaking quite hatefully towards leaders who are intentionally leading Their flock astray. But is this what you have done? Did you INTENTIONALLY set out to drive searching souls into the clutches of demons? Do you live for the thrill of spitting in God’s face? If you’re currently sick over the thought of misrepresenting God, then the answer to these questions is pretty obvious. You can’t delight in defying God and feel miserable for failing Him at the same time. Your body can wallow in sin while your soul longs to do right, but your soul doesn’t have a split personality. At any moment in time, you either sincerely care about pleasing God or you don’t. You are either aligned with Him or you are rebelling against Him. It is only when we are aligned with God in our souls that we find sin to be such a distressing topic.
Whenever the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see that we’re heading down a very wrong road, Satan rushes in to try and warp our understanding of who God is. Here is where we need to return to truth. God’s pleasure with you is based on one thing: your soul’s response to Him. How is your soul responding to Him right now? If you’re in a bunch of grief and distress over the thought of abusing your shepherding role, then it’s quite clear that your loyalties are firmly on God’s side. Does this please Him? Of course it does. Let’s be clear: God is THRILLED with souls who sincerely care about pleasing Him. If God is pleased with you, then do you need to be cowering in shame or dreading some terrible punishment? Certainly not. Take some deep breaths right now and really think about what a kind and gracious Master God is. If you want to do right in His eyes, you are VERY pleasing in His sight RIGHT NOW, and this must not be minimized. Okay, so you’ve been way off base in certain areas. But you are also a blind and ignorant human who has no access to truth on your own. You don’t know right from wrong until God teaches you, and He obviously hasn’t been in any rush to teach you certain things until now.
What exactly is God saying to you when He opens your eyes to see some glaring error in your ways? One thing is obvious: He is telling you that He wants you to change course. Fine, but is He also saying that He is totally disgusted with the horrible job you’ve been doing up until this point? Certainly not. That last bit is being tagged on by Satan, who is always looking for the chance to shove some condemnation down your throat. God knows that you had no idea you were off base until He showed you. God doesn’t hold you accountable for reading His mind, because He knows that you can’t. Someone can pile up truth right in front of you, and you won’t be able to recognize it until God opens your eyes. To shame a Christian for not understanding something God hasn’t illuminated them about is like yelling at a blind man for not being able to see colors. God is not such an unreasonable ogre. When He assesses how well you are serving Him as a shepherd of His flock, He looks at your soul’s intentions, and He considers how much illumination He has given you.
Suppose you have a young son who overhears you say that your car really needs a new paint job. While you’re busy indoors, the boy sneaks out to the garage, finds a bucket of house paint, and sets to work painting your car. Because he is so small, the work is very taxing, and it takes him a long time to finish. But he presses on because he is so excited about surprising you. Of course his finished work is a disaster: brush marks going every which way, globs of paint that were never smoothed out, and he forgot all about the roof. Now when he hurries into the house covered in paint and glistening with sweat, how are you going to react to his eager request that you come out into the garage to see the surprise he has for you? You’ll rush out, of course, but your reaction is going to be very ungodly unless the Holy Spirit intervenes with miraculous empowerment. As a human, your natural instinct would be to explode in anger over what the boy did instead of stopping to consider why he did it. Satan is trying to use those same instincts against you now as you look over your actions as a shepherd of God’s flock. You are focusing so much on the things you said and did, that you’re losing all sight of WHY you said and did them. Did your little boy understand that house paint can’t be applied to cars? Of course not, how could he? No one ever taught him that there are different kinds of paint in the world, and no one ever taught him that auto painting is a task which takes special skills and equipment. The boy had very limited knowledge, but consider how zealously he tried to apply what little he did have in an attempt to please you. What about you? As a shepherd, you have a limited understanding of who God is and what He wants. But weren’t you trying to please Him with what you did have? Maybe you were taught wrong by others, and it never occurred to you to think your human mentors were seriously amiss in their understanding. When they handed you a can of house paint and told you that this was the material you ought to use to paint a car for God, did you set to work with enthusiasm? Shouldn’t that count for something? It certainly does with God.
Intentions are everything. When God saw you getting up and passionately delivering some sermon that He knew was full of flaws, He could have jumped on you right then with correction, but He didn’t. Instead, He was very pleased to receive your sincere offering of service, even if you were going about it in a very wrong way. God is far more reasonable than we are. He doesn’t expect children to have the knowledge of adults. He doesn’t expect mere mortals to have Divine wisdom and perfection. What He cares about is how much you care about pleasing Him.
UNDERSTANDING GOD’S MOTIVATIONS
Now that we have a more accurate understanding of how God views you right now, we need to talk about how to properly interpret the convictions He has given you. When God convicts souls who sincerely care about pleasing Him, He is not irritated with them, nor does He speak to them in angry, harsh tones. God convicts us to educate us and help us grow in our understanding of Him. For Him, it is all about deepening the bond. It’s important that you understand how positively God views souls who really care about pleasing Him, for then you will be guarded against reading a bunch of anger into the things He is talking to you about. God is not angry with you for not understanding something He has never explained to you. Now that He has opened your eyes to see the error of your ways, He wants to guide you onto a better road. The key here is realizing that God is WITH YOU in this process. He isn’t standing back with arms crossed and yelling at you to fix the mess you’ve made. God has been walking with you this whole time, knowing full well that you were headed in a wrong direction. Up until now, correcting your understanding in this area has not been His priority for you. Up until now, there are other things He’s been working on with you—things that He wanted to resolve before addressing this issue. Now that the time has come to address this, He wants you to see this as a positive graduation, not as a bad grade.
The wisdom of God is a priceless gift. Every time God gives us another kernel of truth, our perspective of Him will become a little more accurate. This is exciting—this is growth. And because Satan loathes the idea of you progressing in your walk with God, he will try to get you to label progress as failure and God’s compliments as His angry insults.
God considers the knowledge of Him to be a precious treasure. He considers it a high compliment whenever He shares a crumb of that knowledge with someone. The fact that you’ve just had your eyes opened to see one or more major errors in your theology is hard evidence that God has blessed you with another helping of His truth. This is something to celebrate, not something to feel bad about. Every time God deepens our understanding of truth, He invites us to come a step closer to Him. If you knew how many souls God is intentionally withholding truth from, you’d realize what a compliment it is that He is opening your eyes like this. God doesn’t go sharing His truth with just anyone. Souls must first demonstrate some respect for what He has already given them before He will give them more. So while Satan is busy telling you that you’ve been angering God this whole time, He has obviously found something very pleasing about you or He wouldn’t be blessing you with a deeper education about who He is and what He wants. What you have now is a glorious gift from God and a thrilling opportunity to honor Him in your application of it.
APPLYING THE ILLUMINATION
So how do you go about applying this new wisdom God has given you? Depending on what He has shown you, some major changes could be in order. No denomination is perfect, and each one will only abide a limited amount of course correcting by their leaders. If God is calling you to make changes that your church board won’t approve of, it’s obvious who you need to follow. Once God calls you to make changes in the way you lead His flock, compromise is not an option. Those changes must be made, and if humans try to block you from honoring God, then you need to part company with those rebels. It could very well be that God wants you to leave your current post because He is dissatisfied with the level of rebellion there and He wants to move you on to a more fertile pasture. While there’s nothing easy about leaving a church, you cannot stay in a place which demands that you dishonor God in your heart in order to satisfy their carnal agenda. God comes first.
Once you are clear on the direction God wants you to go in, be upfront about what He’s telling you to do and give your people a chance to surprise you in a good way. If they agree to try and make the adjustments God is telling you to make, then know that God is going to guide you through this process one step at a time. Explanations will need to be given to the flock, but wait for His wording on those things. Be prepared for people to leave the church and label you as a rebel. Remember that those who are already rebelling against God in their hearts always respond with hostility towards God in their midst. Spiritual rebels can come in some pretty righteous packages, so don’t be thrown off if some of your better guys turn on you over this. When the Holy Spirit calls for a major change in course, the flock undergoes a major sifting and it becomes very clear who is really seeking God and who is just playing games. Let the tares go—who needs them? You can empathize with those who are distressed by all the changes, but don’t apologize for honoring God. It is a great privilege to be given a deeper understanding about what God wants and we must treat all of His insights as the glorious treasures that they are. We don’t want to use language that suggests we think God is being a tiresome burden to break up our nice routine. Instead, this is your chance to model obedience in front of the flock and to teach them how important it is to stay fluid and in step with the Holy Spirit. God is unpredictable, as He demonstrated by leading the Israelites through a desert with a cloud pillar that stopped and started at random. We must always be ready to break camp and head off in some entirely new direction at a moment’s notice. The more His orders cause upheaval in your life, the greater your opportunity is to honor Him with your obedient response.
If God calls you to make changes that your denomination can’t abide and you end up out in the cold, keep a grip on that shepherding staff that He placed in your hands. Expect Him to reassign you to another flock and be open to receiving all of the reequipping He wants to give you. Many new insights about God take time to digest. Sometimes God will pull you out of the main Church for a while in order to shelter you from negative influences until He builds up your confidence in this new path that He has you on. Don’t view the loss of a pulpit as a demotion, but as a promotion to a new and exciting post where you will be able to serve God in ways that you couldn’t serve Him before. As long as you feel the call to shepherd burning in your soul, you know that God isn’t done using you in that capacity. Ask Him to make you all that He wants you to be and He will.
God is extremely pleased with shepherds who stick close to His side, even when that means making some embarrassing course corrections and publicly reversing their stand on various points of doctrine. Always remember that God’s assessment of you is the only one that will mean anything in the end, and He judges you by your soul’s response to Him. As long as you sincerely want to please God, you ARE pleasing Him, and He will walk you through the changes He wants one step at a time.