Like most kids who were part of church youth groups in the ’90’s, I loved the Christian band DC Talk. Of course there was the general obsession with “Jesus Freak” (which, by the way, I am proud to say that I can still recite every single word of the rap sections), but one of my favorites was “What If I Stumble?” I heard it for the first time at Youth MusiCamp in the 8th grade, and it resonated with me more than any other song. The beginning line jarred me to the core: “The greatest single cause of Atheism in the world today is Christians; who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
As a young teenager, I hadn’t thought much about that, but only it took about two minutes for the truth to sink in: if I weren’t towing the line with the words and actions if I professed to be a Christian, I could be the one who causes someone else to refuse Christ because of what they saw in me. Around the same time, Chuck Tipton who was a fabulous Baptist youth pastor, was leading our Disciple Now group, and reminded us that “we might be the only Jesus our friends see. And they should see Him in us.”
Now that I am an adult, I think about this even more than I did as a teenager. When we are in high school and college, we might have different majors and be involved in different activities, but we are still on pretty similar life-tracks. We go to school with the intention of finishing and getting a job. We are looking for a mate. We are figuring out how to be adults and have responsibilities. As we’ve all gotten older, though, our lives are about as different as they could get from one another. Some of us are married, and some are single. Some have been married for more than a decade, and some are newlyweds. Some have children numbering in the double-digits and some have no children, and some are in the middle. Some of us have high-paying jobs, some don’t, some are blue-collar, and some are white-collar. Some of us don’t work at all. We are on very, very different tracks. We become friends with people who are much younger, much older, and people who we never expected to be friends with.
It seems that the more our lives differ, the harder it is for us to see outside of our own little bubble. Instead of realizing that God’s plans for each other will greatly differ for each one of us, we try and force others back into that homogeneous track we were on as children and adolescents. It is so easy to think to ourselves, “We work hard, we’ve been faithful, we seek the Lord, and we must be on track. If such and such isn’t working for that couple, well, they must not be on track. Their prayer life must be lacking, or they are not following God’s commands. If they were, this would fall into place for them like it fell into place for us.” Sometimes these thoughts get verbalized hypothetically, or even directly. Or, in the name of helping, we try and pressure “those people” into making changes or finding their own avenues to make their lives work more like ours because, “clearly, we have it all figured out.”
Well, I don’t believe God intends us to all stay on a homogeneous track. He didn’t have the same plans for Ruth that He did for Esther. He didn’t have the same plans for Paul as He had for Peter. Was one better or more righteous than the other? Did God love one more than the other? Did one do more Christian things (or Godly things in the case of old Testament characters) than another? We could try and weigh it out and argue it, but it is a moot point. Peter and Paul both made a lot of mistakes, but because of Christ, it didn’t matter. They were equally valued by Christ, and both were used in a unique way.
I believe the same applies today. Some of us are meant to be married young and have twelve children. Some of us are meant to be married later and adopt children. Some of us are meant to be single. Some of us are meant to work a certain job for a certain purpose. Some of us go through devastating sickness at a young age, and some of us are never sick. Some of us have a big bank account, and some of us barely get by, even though both parties tithe and live faithfully.
God has different plans for each one of us, just like He had different plans for each character we read about in the Bible. He allows different trials for each one of us at different times so He can use them in the way He needs to. God’s plans for us are so much bigger than just our lives, or our families lives. They are a part of the intricate weavings of His plan for ministering to a hurting world.
Christians–when we are overly judgmental on other Christians because something that has worked out easily for us doesn’t work out easily for others, we are not being Christ to them. We are forgetting that God may have different plans for another than what He has for us. We are forgetting that God’s timing is in control, and that patience is more holy than trying to force God’s hand just so that we, or others, fit into the box that looks the holiest. Abraham is described as being “a friend of God.” This honor was not bestowed on many, yet He had to wait and wait and wait for children. God promised, but made him wait until the timing was right. When Abraham tried to force God’s hand, well…we all know how well that turned out.
If we are actively seeking God’s will in our daily lives, actively praying and reading scripture, are faithful stewards of all He has given us–financially and otherwise–then we are on the right track. If we are living our lives according to scripture, then we are on the right track. Let’s be kinder to each other, and stop pushing each other into doubting God’s plans for us, simply because we don’t understand them or because they don’t match ours. God’s plans for you are not His plans for me, and His plans for me are not His plans for you. Let’s make sure our lifestyle reflects patience in the Lord, and the wisdom to realize that we are all broken, and that God has very specific plans for each one of us.
It took me sixteen years to realize that DC Talk and Chuck weren’t talking just about showing Christ to the lost. We need to be showing Christ, His trust, and His patience to each other too. If we don’t, we make it pretty easy for Satan to make his way right into the middle of our churches as we cause others to doubt God’s faithfulness. Love trumps legalism.