Did you know pastors occasionally hold parties? We do. Sometimes we welcome people into our homes to eat, talk and enjoy one another’s company. These can be blessed times. Actually, doing this is one sign of being qualified to serve as an elder (pastor is an elder). 1 Timothy 3:3 and Titus 1:8 both say he must be hospitable. Well, last night I threw a party, but of another variety—one not very hospitable. This party, also, is one seldom people believe their pastors would have. However, it is one quite common among us. It was a pity party.
Last night, I found myself feeling some of the pressures of the fishbowl. You see, pastors are constantly under scrutiny. If you think the internet is quick to get offended at even the slightest perceived discretion, try the average American church goer. We mastered offense and shaming far before there was an internet. Well, last night I found myself just wishing to be able to simply share what I feel and think without the constant need to filter it through how it will be perceived as by others. I have a good friend who is very blunt, apparently holding nothing back. If he is thinking something, everyone knows it. If he is upset about something, it is not hidden. Of course some of my friends are going to be shocked because they doubt I hold much back—if they only knew.
This pressure can weigh quite heavily on a pastor. Many people will share their experiences of the church trying to force compliance upon a church member, of judging them and condemning them for every little discretion, no matter how slight or even if imagined. Actually, many of the people to whom this is most commonly done are pastors. This is why in some segments of the church the average pastorate only lasts nine months. Actually, of all the men who enter into pastoral ministry a large group will not continue more than a few years.
I say all this not so you will join me in my pity party. I say it because it is the foundation for my sharing something from the Word of God that I think He gave me. I was, in my pity party, getting very tempted to just drop the filter and just spew forth what I was feeling—to vent my spleen about something. However, this morning while praying for my church and reading scripture I read Isaiah 38 and 39. In Isaiah 39, Hezekiah was visited by an envoy from Babylon because his king had heard of Hezekiah’s deathbed recovery. Hezekiah, being proud, and perhaps overconfident showed him all the wealth of his household and of God’s temple. The prophet came to him warning that within the lifetime of Hezekiah’s sons all that treasure would be plundered and carried off to Babylon.
You will again be surprised to hear that this spoke to me about my pity party and my desire for the freedom to simply show my feelings without a filter. Hezekiah should have filtered himself and limited what he showed the envoy. That would have been wisdom. We can actually see some of the same foolishness of Joshua and the treaty with the Gibeonites (Joshua 9). Hezekiah thought Babylon was so far away he discerned no danger in showing them everything (Isaiah 39:3c).
Though I wanted the freedom to openly share feelings and opinions without thought of consequence, it would be unwise. You see, God is working on me. All humans go through these times. We get depressed. We get upset. We want to simply let rip and pour out whatever we feel or think with no regard for what people might think. This can actually be cathartic. I do it regularly in prayer. When feeling really down I go into a quiet private place and yell prayers at God. I demand he respond. I play the part of Job and insist that he show me why he isn’t doing what I expect. Every time he soothes my heart and comforts me. By the way, if you think there is something wrong with doing this you should read the Psalms, where David—the man after God’s own heart—does this same thing.
What today’s reading did was remind me there are things we would be wise to keep private. When I am upset with someone, it is usually best to keep it quiet—something I am still learning. When I really want to chime in on something that will upset a person for whom I care, it may be best to keep it to myself. Perhaps you will say, “But wait! Hezekiah was showing off treasures. How can you apply this here?” Well, these areas that I want to spill and these times I get down are areas and times where God is working on me. He is turning these negative feelings and qualities into virtue, a far more important treasure than gold. When I share these things before wisdom would have it, I simply end up with more work needed—and relationships possibly ruptured. When this happens, the blessings which this relationship could have been are metaphorically carried away. I have allowed myself to be plundered. I have opened the store room of my heart and let the enemy carry away my blessings—and even helped him carry away the bigger more valuable ones. Believe me, this is a lesson I do not want to learn. In my pre-Christ flesh I had two emotions: anger and not anger. Occasionally, old dead Ken shows up and wants to wreak havoc.
This doesn’t mean we never share. This doesn’t mean always wear a mask blocking anyone from seeing the true us. Actually, this means the exact opposite. To protect the store room of our hearts we need trusted friends to share with—those friends with whom we can share the key. We need people with whom we can pour out the bile that builds up. People who will listen and respond in love no matter how self-pitying we may be.
Do you have someone with whom you can share? Have you tried spilling your guts before God and simply telling him what’s in your heart without the phony pretend piety? He won’t be surprised—since he already knows what’s in there.