Become more like Jesus.
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Be better; do better.
I’ve heard each of these moral injunctions from different places (sermons, the bible, “woke” culture). On their own, there’s nothing to really take issue with. If we actually followed-through on these commands, the world would pretty obviously be a better place.
But, all of the interesting and potentially beneficial or harmful results come after these admonitions are given. How do real people going through real lives of tribulation interpret and do the work of responding to the call of moral transformation?
Implicit in these precepts is the work of taking a moral inventory. What are the ways I have been good and what are the ways I have been bad? The “why” and “how” we go about taking this moral inventory greatly impacts whether this is a healthy experience.
In our most recent episode, author and teacher Brad Jersak reminded me of how the practice of communion in some evangelical church services could be an occasion to do this moral inventory in an unhealthy way. Do you ever remember a preacher asking you to make sure you confessed your sin and “got your heart right” with God before you partook of the communion elements? And there you are as an 8 year old hastily rifling through the ways you’d screwed up recently before the little tray finally passed to you collect your bread and juice/wine. You really only get a few minutes, probably through the length of a reflective worship song. And time’s up! The preacher just gave the instruction for everyone to take and eat the bread. Here’s to hoping you thought of all of your wrongdoing! (I love the practice of communion when it is done well and am grateful to be part of a faith community that does so, but this wasn’t always the case).
Now, did any confession really happen? Healing? Reconciliation? Restoration? Resting in the Father’s love? Probably not. In fact, what really happened is that, my little heart just opened itself up to the Accuser (whether that’s a “devil” or my own internal self-critical voice) and let it have a field day.
“You’re not like Jesus at all.”
“You’re lightyears from perfect.”
“You couldn’t do any better even if you tried your damndest.”
“Why would God like and love something like you?”
These are the playground of the Accuser. When we blithely launch into a moral inventory examination without preparing our heart and doing so alongside the mercy and grace of the Holy Spirit, we will be throttled by the Accuser.
Now what is tragic about all of this is that we train ourselves to think that the voice of the Accuser is the voice of God informing us of all the ways we’ve done wrong.
The Holy Spirit does that too, but with a different motive and end-goal. The all-consuming fire God wants to rid us of anything that is not of love’s kind, where the goal of such a purification is toward healing, restoration, and relationship. But, the Accuser brings condemnation and shame and wants to bring you to a place of self-criticism or denial or hopelessness or a number of other places that leave you just as stuck as before.
So, if you are wanting to know when God is speaking to you and how to discern God’s voice, look at where it leads. If it brings you into closer relationship, exposes your darkness while leading you into the light, heals, restores - that’s probably God. If it leads you to self-hate, turning to substances, lashing out to others, and isolation - that’s probably the Accuser.
What if we became the kind of people and churches who prioritized learning to hear the voice of God instead of entertaining the Accuser?
How much brokenness in our world is due to the Accuser pulling the strings of our heart closer and closer to the brink?
Brad Jersak and Paul Young talk all about this and more in this week’s episode. Their new novella The Pastor: A Crisis dramatizes this topic in a brutally beautiful way. You can watch on Youtube or listen on your favorite podcatcher.
Join the Conversation.