When we were children we had malaria shots every year, as, like clockwork we fell prey to the dire doings of the anopheles mosquito year after year. We knew the symptoms, once the feverishness started and that strange feeling of wanting to lie in the sun all day, joints aching, we knew what was in store for us – a trip to the doctor’s for the dreaded injection. The doctors, sensing our dread would often try to put us at ease, even try a joke or two, but needless to say, save rare exceptions, neither they nor their syringes were very popular with us. The course of treatment would also include some Nivaquine, the bitter pill par excellence to be taken morning, afternoon and evening over several days. Cough mixtures we could deal with, they were sweet, but this, aarghh. The remedy was painful and bitter but if the course of treatment was followed, we came out on the other side, first weak, then strengthened and finally back to vibrant health.
Similarly, people are apt to be afflicted by sicknesses and malfunctioning of the soul which will sometimes require the administration by a pastor or other spiritual leader of a truth injection, and a prescription of assorted pills of of repentance, submission, obedience, forgiveness, discipline in prayer and the word, which to them are pills indeed most bitter. You know the injection may hurt, but you also know that without it the disease will continue to fester and even worsen. So you administer it and prescribe the treatment. The matter is out of your hands at that point and the outcome depends entirely on whether or not people acknowledge their need and the rightness of your remedy and follow the treatment. Unfortunately they don’t always do and would often seek some alternative course of treatment that would be sweeter to the taste or even accuse you of not loving them by not giving them one such.
Interestingly not one doctor ever ventured to substitute a sweet tasting cough mixture or even some caramel (or other) sweets for the feared bitter malaria tablets, although more enjoyable and certainly more likely to cause the doctor’s approval ratings to go through the roof. They had a consciousness of the sacredness of their calling to save lives and knew that nothing else would help us but that temporarily painful method. Why then are spiritual leaders dancing to the tune of the people they lead by prescribing spurious treatment that requires no repentance, no commitment, no discipline in prayer and the word, in essence no Jesus, while they mouth empty encouraging motivational drivel that makes them look good, make the people feel good temporarily but leaves them empty in the long run and ill equipped to live as they ought in Christ.
When we as leaders don’t know God and have God’s approval on our lives we end up playing to the gallery and offering platitudes and solutions that don’t hold water, and don’t offer long term deliverance. We will say anything but what is likely to upset them and cause our approval ratings to drop. This is seriously sick because we are not in ministry to be loved by people but to serve the Master and help the people to become as the Master wants them to be. He also has a manual, a method and the means. If we love Him we will do it His way not the people’s way. We will work to help them to love Jesus, to obey Jesus, to serve Jesus, to revere Jesus, to clean up their lives so as to honour Jesus. We will help them, not to feel good, but to be good.
It was only after I grew up that I realized just how many people actually die of malaria; either because they had no access to treatment, did not follow their course of treatment ( too much hassle, too expensive, whatever ) or because of resistance to the remedy. How many walking dead surround us, how many chronically ill who year after year just hang in there, barely, as we cajole the life out of them rather than administer the remedy, and some, rather than take the remedy go from fortune teller to fortune teller, read prophet, seeking a word?
We have a sacred trust, it is the health of the people we are after, not a large following. So we must encourage, we must love, we must bless, and we must rebuke, correct, and insist that they do what God says, that they discipline their flesh, hold their tongue, pray, read the word, forgive, love; not commiserate with them that of course they cannot. When we do that, we are unwittingly saying that God is unreasonable and difficult and is demanding the impossible. We take sides with people against God, consequently they love us and distrust God. We have betrayed our Master. There is something very disturbing about believers who have no great love for God but who think the world of their pastor. That pastor, if indifferent to this, has failed woefully. He is preaching for his own reputation and not for the glory of the Son of God. He is setting Himself up in competition with His Master for the affections and devotion of the people.
We only succeed in the measure in which we draw people to Jesus, not to ourselves, in the measure in which we help them to see Jesus as infinitely valuable, as precious, as indispensable to their lives, in the measure in which they become obedient to Jesus and become like Jesus, free of soulish afflictions and spiritual torpor. We need to re-ponder the sacredness of our calling, ‘the perfecting of the saints’, to help make men more like the Master. And at the end of the day, whether they think highly of us or not is totally irrelevant. If they leave us loving, honouring Jesus more than they did when they came to us, we can rejoice. We have done what is required of us. And that is when we sense the approval we truly need, that of the Master.