Only when it's the best thing for you!

I started today rejoicing in some wonderful answers to prayer yesterday. An opportunity to explain the gospel over lunch. A couple of encouraging conversations. But pretty quickly the glories of the world wide web meant that social media and my inbox provided me with some dollops of discouragement.

So I went to the Bible to spend time with the Lord. I was hoping for a couple of passages that might comfort me in the toils of being a pastor. Perhaps something that would justify my self-righteousness a bit. Or tell me about the way God's people are always grumbling.

Imagine my joy when I saw that my first passage was Exodus 17; the Israelites grumbling at Moses in the Desert of Sin. I felt confirmed in my self-pity as I read Moses responding to the people demanding water: "Why do you quarrel with me? why do you put the Lord to the test?" (Exodus 17:2)

I sympathised with him when he cried to the Lord, "What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me?" (Exodus 17:4)

(As an aside the folk of Chessington Evangelical Church are generally very supportive and no one has been seen clutching a rock anywhere near me. But in the normal run of Christian ministry you can't please all of the people any of the time.)

So feeling sympathy for poor old Moses I read to see how the Lord would sort out the grumblers of Israel. A rebuke? A bit of discipline? No. He gives them what they ask for! He graciously and miraculously responds to their needs. Even though they've been particularly ungracious in the way they've asked for them.

I set off to the New Testament praying through gritted teeth, "Lord make me more gracious like you." Whilst secretly hoping that I'd find something that was more about commitment and sacrifice. I was delighted to see the heading in my Bible for Luke 17 that I was due to read: "Sin, Faith, Duty." That sounds more like it I thought!

The problem was that the emphasis in Jesus' words was on the duty to keep forgiving those who sin against you when they repent.

"Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” (Luke 17:4)

Jesus first followers clearly think that this is going to be hard work, because they immediately say, "Increase our faith!" (Luke 17:5)

Jesus encourages them by telling them that tiny amounts of faith can do extraordinary things. He then backs this up with a little parable about servants. The punch line of which is, "So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” (Luke 17:10)

So whilst God gives us the ability to forgive others as we ask him in faith, once we've done it we're not to think, "Well done me!" But rather we're to think, "What a huge privilege to be able to serve Jesus by being gracious towards people."

So the Lord's answer to self-pity, isn't the world's answer. The world's answer is to say, "There, there. Poor you. I'm sure it's not your fault."

The Lord's answer is to say, "Look how gracious I am to people who grumble at me. You're to forgive and forgive and forgive. I'll give you the strength to do it. But don't move from self-pity to pride, by thinking how gracious you're being. You're just an unworthy servant doing your duty."

It's the kicking I needed!