We’ve all seen them; the ones who come to church not looking or acting the way they once did. The smile is no longer there, and the amount of times you see them at church becomes less and less. And when you ask them where they’ve been lately, their response is typically the same, “I’ve just been busy.” But we really know what’s going on; they’re backsliding… or so we think.
I too have been a “backslider” at one point in my life. When I was 18 I allowed myself to become disillusioned by thinking that somehow what my mother and father had taught me was nothing more than a lie. I was convinced that they were trying to keep me from the real fun that life had to offer. So with a heavy dose of rebellion and a fair amount of anger towards God, I left it all behind. Yes, I was completely and utterly a backslider. My attitude was, “I’m going to show you Dad! I hate this stupid religion! Don’t try and tell me what to do you’ll get nowhere!” But how can we automatically assume that the people we see less of in our church’s feel the same way I did when I backslidden.
We only see what is happening on the outside and have no real idea of the pain that this person may be dealing with. Could it be that their actions are only a cry for help? A way to finally be noticed, to understand that they are hurting and need a loving embrace? Or maybe just some time from a friend who can help heal their wounds? We have no idea. Oh but how foolishly we make our assumptions, somehow convincing ourselves that we understand all that is going on in their lives without even taking the time to try and love them.
While writing this I’m reminded of a man in the Bible named Zacchaeus. Everyone around him despised him. They didn’t care what his feelings were, or even what his needs may be. “And why?” you may wonder, because he didn’t care about them, or what their needs or feelings may be; he only stole from them. He oppressed the townspeople by over taxing them. So when the time came that Jesus was coming to town, and as the excitement and anticipation began building, no one even considered whether or not Zacchaeus may want to see Jesus as well. I don’t believe Zacchaeus had any false pretenses about meeting Jesus, he only wanted to see the healer. But what of the crowd? Why when they saw him struggling up a tree, willing to make a spectacle of himself, did they not make room for him? Couldn’t they see his desire? His need for the savior? No. They were blinded by their own anger and disappointment with him, and it was these emotions that kept them blind to the needs that were overwhelming Zacchaeus. But Jesus saw him! Up there in the tree, alone and hurting. The people were so blinded by their own emotions that even when Jesus called out to Zacchaeus they were confused and disappointed with his decision. “Why would you eat with him, a sinner?” they cried out with dismay. But Zacchaeus, already knowing his sin and shame replied, “I will give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody, I will repay back four times the amount.” What did Jesus have to say to such a response? He turned and spoke to the people of the city, the ones who didn’t allow themselves to really see Zacchaeus, and said, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10).
The people of this town are no different than us. We look on with awe and admiration at those in the church who are doing well, and hold a good position in the church while taking little notice of those whose faces are seen less and less. And when a special speaker comes to our church, especially one who is used in the gifts of the spirit, we expect him to meet our needs first, and if there is any time left, minister to “the ones who don’t really care for the deep things of God”. We, like the town’s people, wouldn’t be able to understand it if the guest speaker only ministered to the one person who is the least deserving of it. We would murmur to one another, “if the minister only knew!” We would feel as if we had been cheated! “What about my needs, don’t you care God? And why him! He doesn’t care! Just look at him, he doesn’t even try to look or act holy anymore!” Oh how foolish we are. Oh how blind we have become by our own righteous pride. Did not Jesus say, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31, 32 NIV)
Could it be that the ones who first need a change of heart is us? Maybe the beam in our own eye has prevented us from truly seeing the hurt all around us in churches? It has prevented us from seeing them with love and compassion, rendering us unable to minister to their needs. Could it be that God desires to use us but we are just too unwilling to change ourselves first? I leave you with this scripture. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:37, 38 NIV)