Parable of a Woman and a Preacher
by Deborah Brunt 1/25/2013 / Christian Living
This is a story - a parable if you will - of a woman and a preacher. To my knowledge the woman didn't know the preacher; nor he, her. Dressed in suit and tie, he stood weekly before a congregation of thousands. Bedridden, she watched him preach on TV. Who knows how much of his sermons she understood. She had long since been diagnosed with an illness doctors didn't call schizophrenia, but treated with schizophrenia meds.
One Sunday morning, the preacher preached from this text:
"If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, 'Let us follow other gods' (gods you have not known) 'and let us worship them,' you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him" (Deut. 13:14).
The woman who watched the TV preacher loved God. She had taught her children to love God. She had served God faithfully in church roles that fit her passion and her gifts. She had read, studied, and freely marked her Bible. Among the many passages she had underlined is this one from Psalm 9:
"I will praise thee, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will shew forth all thy marvelous works. I will be glad and rejoice in thee: I will sing praise to thy name, O thou most High" (vv. 12 KJV).
The validation chase
The woman had praised, loved, and believed the Lord. She had also believed a prophet named Rejection. The prophet had hammered his message home through her father, a faithful church member, deacon, and Freemason. The prophet spoke also through other personal relationships and through the people with whom she served at church. Some didn't value her or treat her with respect. Some didn't take her seriously because she was a woman, given more to expressing her emotions than to calm, rational thought. Some saw her as a threat to their status. Filled with jealousy, they talked about her, isolated and scorned her.
The woman began to swing between believing what God said about who she was, and what Rejection said. In her Bible, she had underlined and highlighted 2 Corinthians 10:35: "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh; (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (KJV).
Tragically, the woman did not use the mighty weapons available to her to pull down the stronghold of Rejection. She did not cast down the lies Rejection told. Rather, she decided they must be true. After all, the prophet had come with very convincing signs and wonders: Her own father had soundly rejected her time and again; others echoed the same refrain. How could she believe herself "accepted in the Beloved" (Eph. 1:6 NKJV), when a host of voices in chorus proclaimed an entirely different word?
For years, the woman halted between believing the truth and believing the oh-so-convincing lies. She did not rest in her heavenly Father's lavish love and, from that place, war to fulfill the birthright redeemed with her Bridegroom's blood.
Granted, it takes war to cast "down imaginations, and every high thing" that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. It takes war to bring "into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." It's impossible to wage that war in our own strength, much less win it. But God doesn't expect us to conquer such strongholds alone. He has provided mighty weapons. And he himself has entered the battle in our behalf.
The woman knew that. She had underlined, highlighted, and starred 2 Corinthians 12:9: "And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness" (KJV).
Praise God, she didn't have to be superwoman in order to send Rejection packing every time he knocked. The one thing she did need? Singleness of heart. Rejection could not have toppled her if she had stood in her Father's strength, choosing to believe him regardless how things looked. The Evil One got to her - he gained the upper hand in her life - because he was able to keep her swinging like a pendulum between truth and lies. In particular, she swung between her God-given identity and the false labels the enemy had attached.
The more she believed herself inVALid, the more she became an INvalid.
The more she let herself be victimized by Rejection, the greater the bond with that abusive false prophet. Desperate to escape Rejection, she began to pursue it. She saw it where it did not exist. She created it where it had not been. Eventually, her mind scripted stories in which everyone was against her. She firmly believed the stories true. Ultimately, she believed that those who most loved her and most wanted to help her were all in conspiracy against her.
How different, how alike!
The TV preacher stood before thousands. Quoting from Scripture, he challenged those gathered and those watching from home, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul."
What a contrast from the woman! He looked successful. She looked broken. He appeared popular. She had few friends. He spoke from an influential pulpit. She had no voice.
Yet they were alike in this: Both had declared their love for God. Both had sought to follow God. And both had done exactly what the preacher's text warned against. Instead of following God fully, both had also followed a believable, wooing voice that left them with a deeply divided heart. She had believed Rejection. He had believed Religion.
For a time, the woman had successfully hidden her double-mindedness. Then, the truth had become painfully obvious. If at any point she had quit halting between two opinions, if she had sought the Lord with all her heart, she would have found him. He himself promises it! And she would have found herself fully validated in him. Seeking the Lord and validation, she never fully knew either.
The preacher carefully cultivated a public image of devotion to Jesus alone. Yet in and out of the pulpit, he revealed a mixed allegiance - loyalty to God entwined with loyalty to a system that has promised him power and status. Yes, he too sought the Lord and validation.
As he preached that day, his words included truth, but they were singularly devoid of life. Indeed, words that should have offered listeners a deep, fresh breath of air instead seemed to suck the oxygen right out of the atmosphere.
The preacher urged people to love the Lord with all their hearts. Yet, tragically, he himself did not know how to do it. He did not know what wholehearted devotion to God looked like. He could only offer a checklist: pray, read your Bible, witness, do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together (on Sundays in a church building), serve God (in a church-sanctioned role). "You cannot love God if you don't do these things," he said.
The checklist method
You can't explain wholehearted love for God in terms of checklists. You cannot cultivate such a love by keeping rules, even seemingly pious rules.
The Galatians tried it. Paul wrote to stop them. In Galatians 3, he said, "Rule-keeping does not naturally evolve into living by faith, but only perpetuates itself in more and more rule-keeping, a fact observed in Scripture: 'The one who does these things [rule-keeping] continues to live by them.' Christ redeemed us from that self-defeating, cursed life by absorbing it completely into himself For if any kind of rule-keeping had power to create life in us, we would certainly have gotten it by this time" (Gal. 3:1213, 22 MSG).
Paul knew from his own experience the hopelessness of the checklist method:
"I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn't work. So I quit being a 'law man' so that I could be God's man. Christ's life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not 'mine,' but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.
"Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God's grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily" (Gal. 2:1921 MSG).
The way to wholeness
When you love the Lord wholeheartedly, you will pursue him in all the ways the preacher listed. You will converse with your Lord often. You'll walk in authentic relationship with his Body. You'll hunger for his Word. You'll delight in serving him. Your lips and your life will tell who he is. And yet your choices may look far different from what your church-culture thinking demands. Indeed, the more you pursue God, the more often he will put you in a position where, to follow him fully, you must do the opposite of what your particular church culture approves.
Herein lies a huge challenge. If generations of doing things a certain way have in your mind become enmeshed with Christ and his Word, you will be tempted to think God's voice is counseling rebellion, and the voice of Religion is God's. You will feel guilty for obeying the Lord! You'll find it incredibly hard to do so.
He who loves you is exposing your divided heart.
As you bring your confusion to him, he will reveal his Word, that you thought you already knew. He will teach you his character; he'll make you know his Name. As you set your heart to seek him, he will show you, moment by moment, how it looks to love him wholeheartedly. In the process, he will uncover every allegiance that competes for his place in your heart. He'll insist that you forsake them all. To uproot any attachment that reaches that deep within will require, as Tozer said, "a violent act of renunciation." You cannot do it, except by the Spirit of Christ. You will not do it, unless impelled by his love.
Adapted from "We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the Church," by Deborah Brunt, (c) 2011 Deborah P. Brunt. All rights reserved.