My friend was telling me about this really good guest preacher at a recent retreat he attended — one I had preached at several times myself — and immediately my puny wicked mind tried to find flaws in the preacher’s theology. It was so automatic I felt the criticism go up my throat like acid reflux.
Why did my mind jump to this right away?
Why so jealous?
The whole time, my friend was saying how great this preacher was. I should’ve been thanking God for working through the guy. But my pathetic little brain was itching to play “gotcha,” looking for ways to poke holes in the sermon illustrations, finding an easy weak spot to conclude some horrible character flaw.
“Well if he talked about impurity, he must be a porn addict. You know, these passive-aggressive preachers are just exorcising their demons in the pulpit.”
Seriously: I was ready to say something this awful.
What if the preacher had actually sucked? Would I have been happy about that? Because part of me thinks: Yes, I would’ve been thrilled.
Suddenly the truth bubbled up through my conscience:
I don’t want anyone to be better than me.
It was violently disorienting. I felt sick to stomach. Finally I forced my mouth to say, “I’m really glad you were convicted by the sermon.” The words barely made it through my clenched contorted teeth and I seethed it through my pursed lips.
Why was it so hard to compliment this preacher I’ve never met before?
The thing is: I have probably done this hundreds of times. We quickly dismiss someone’s God-given potential by finding the tiniest crack in their ability — and if we look hard enough, we’ll find something. It will somehow make us feel okay again, because we’re always threatened by someone who is slightly better than ourselves.
This is just twisted. It is wrong. I am guilty.
Sometimes a friend will share a post with me, some blog, some sermon — and I get so smug and uppity. I throw a suffocating filter on other peoples’ ministries until I mentally strangle them into a worthless heap. I hate doing this, and it’s exhausting.
Can any of us simply be happy about another person’s excellence? Do we always have to hunt for those weaknesses? Of course we have the right to criticize. Of course we must discern when something is off. Of course we shouldn’t receive everything as good and God-ordained. But maybe we can take the extra minute to really show grace from the get-go. Maybe we could find reasons to celebrate instead of downgrade. Jesus does for us too, you know.
Really: I am in no position to hater-block the sovereign work of God through the amazing talent of others. If their theology is a little sloppy or their illustrations are weak or their personality bugs me: show me one person who is perfect at these things, and I’ll show you a six-legged unicorn.
I mean does anyone meet our standard of hyper-perfection? No — most especially ourselves. If you held your own standard to yourself: you would instantly burst into flames. Me, too.
We all know the guy who constantly finds problems with someone. “I like this guy, BUT the only thing is …” or “Yeah the guy was good, BUT my problem with him is …”
Do you know what God’s kind of “but” is?
We were dead in our transgressions, BUT because of His great love for us, He sent His Son to give his life for us.
We were once far off and enemies of Christ, BUT God drew us near by the cost of the blood of His Son.
Jesus doesn’t have “Yeah but my problem with him is –” because the heart of Christ doesn’t turn that way. So neither must we.
If someone is good at what they do: I will celebrate God working in them. If someone is bad at what they do: I will celebrate God working in them.
I don’t want to play these jealous-haterade games within the grand scope of God’s glorious power working through the least likely — because if God can work through a dummy like me, surely He can work through everyone else.
I want to get out of my own way and give God the glory.