Where Are the Saints?
by Kris Coffin Stevenson | 05 April 2020 |
She was so annoying. When I saw her coming, I’d feel a shiver of repulsion. I would discreetly try to remove myself from her path and find other people to talk to or “important” things to do. I didn’t join any group that she was in.
Don’t judge. You’ve done it, too. You cringe when you encounter that certain person who’s like “fingers on a chalkboard” to you; too loud, too quiet, too persistent, too accusatory.
You rationalize: “They started it!” “I’ve never done anything to them.” “I think they have serious issues.”
After a while, it becomes a “thing.” Just the sight of them sets you off; the way they purse their lips when they think they’ve made a point, the grating sound of their uncleared throat when they speak, the hitch in their walk, their unmatched clothing, the tick-tick of their nervous shoes tapping. When they approach, your smile grows broader and less sincere and you subtly turn aside as soon as possible, hand them over to someone else, redirect.
And then there’s this.
“Love one another.”
Oh, and this one: “If anyone says, ‘I am living in the light,’ but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is still living in darkness” (I John 2:9 NLT).
In a community that Christ formed, where He is the head of the body and the Cornerstone of the living temple, what do we do when the index finger keeps poking the left eye and the knees refuse to cooperate? What do I do when an irritating person makes me clench my teeth or two of my friends don’t play well together?
Messed Up Saints
I have been wrestling with the fact that I see people I respect, love, enjoy who are messed up, to put it politely. These aren’t just people who’ve gone deep into addictions or been raised in a horrific home. These are also conscientious people who are grappling with insane stress, unknown pollutants, seesaw relationships, an overload of information, ridiculous expectations, and physical pain, disease, and dysfunction that have contributed to their less-than-stellar performance as a follower of Christ. And that’s all before COVID-19.
In the midst of these fellow Christian believers, at whom I shake my head and roll my eyes and whom I’d like to discard, dismiss because of their dysfunctions, I see Jesus working. I see a loving, caring, sharing Spirit at work. And I’m confused.
What is God going to do with us?
Then there’s me.
As my trembling, pointing finger turns toward me, there’s that realization, hidden deep under layers of rationalizing and justifying, that I’m just as broken as the people I scorn. I’m peering past the plank in my own eye to scratch at the spec in someone else’s eye. I know my instant reactions to stressful situations are often ugly and uncontrolled. I know I have blind spots as to how I interact with people. I know I instantly rush to judgment. But I also know that my heart is turned toward God like a sunflower to the sun and my greatest desire is to bring Him glory. So how on earth can He “finish the work” and bring a unified, loving, character-of-God-exhibiting group of last-day saints back to heaven with Him? How do we handle the concept that people are damaged, even those people who are part of God’s kingdom? How can we have unity when we are all dealing with mental illness and physical degradation?
How can God do anything with such, well, human people? This is my dilemma.
One day I realized, “Why is it my dilemma?” And that resolved my dilemma.
I have been looking for a group of spiritual giants that were going to emerge from the fray, faces shining, exhibiting all the characteristics of God. And although I don’t believe in the idea that God’s last-day saints will be perfect without an intercessor in the last days, I guess I have been operating with extremely high expectations for fallible humans. This is what I’ve found instead:
- I’ve stood at the bedside of a dying young man who has prayed and prayed for healing and is angry and scared about the future, but yet he whispers that he will let God decide.
- I’ve seen a lady overreact with paranoia to a misunderstood slight, yet give generously and unexpectedly of her time and resources.
- I’ve watched a leader who, in his passion for ministry, offended some of the leadership group and made it right with a personal and public apology.
- I’ve listened to the story of a woman whose husband betrayed all of his God-given responsibilities as a husband, father, and minister of the gospel. And yet, after years of grief and struggle, she and her children can lift their hands to God and sing His praises.
- I’ve embraced friends literally and figuratively whose views on religion or politics diverge from mine.
- I’ve pointed the mental finger at someone I thought was “less than,” only to end up with them as a loyal friend and discover that, although they struggled with reality, they were a good listener and an excellent helper in ministry.
I haven’t found one of those idealized spiritual giants I imagined—a cross between C.S. Lewis, Mother Theresa, H.M.S. Richards, and William Wilberforce. Where are the saints?
God Uses Shattered People
The point is how God uses shattered people. It’s about Him not us. We don’t have confidence that God can use our broken pieces to bring glory to Himself. We can’t imagine that He can heal us while granting us the opportunity to access His power. The more damaged we realize we are, the more it proves the point that God is making about Himself. He can take our rubble and make something brilliant from it. He can craft the shards from our broken bottles into a sparkling mosaic of Himself.
In this COVID-19 world, it’s time for each of us to be a piece of the puzzle, engage our part of the body, and be placed into the living Temple. God needs what He has given to each of us to make up the whole. He fits these fragmented pieces together and we shine like a disco ball on prom night.
When I’m irritated by a Christian brother or sister, I’m looking at the human side. I’m focusing on the part that’s a hypochondriac or is easily offended or gives imperious directions or is too emotional or doesn’t follow through on a promise. When I doubt myself or other Christian brothers and sisters, I’m denying God’s omnipotent ability to mobilize us corporately and give each of us superpowers that we deploy together for His glory.
Just like with Job of old, the Devil is throwing everything he can concoct at us to devastate and destroy any reflection of God. He’s had a long time to experiment and hone his methods. He’s spitting in God’s eye–just as he literally did with Jesus–and trying to hijack us to do it. He uses discouragement, disease, degradation. He wants division not cooperation. He wants accusation not encouragement. He wants fingers pointing and stones being thrown instead of a healing hand holding a cup of cold water. He wants to isolate us with a virus that prevents us from using our hands to help one another.
But what does God see when he looks at us miserable wrecks, worn out by anxiety, stress, anger, terror? When God looks at us, He sees the sweet, sweet spirit of Jesus. He sees flashes of self-sacrifice, self-denial and sharing in full defiance of the kingdom of this world. The loving, giving, caring character of God is still being manifest through people who are experiencing intense physical, spiritual, and relational pressures. God re-forms our jars of clay so that they pour out the healing essence of Jesus. The beauty of the fragrance is not in the packaging. It’s only released when the jar is cracked open and God Himself flows out.
The Apostle Paul references the cloud of witnesses we have to encourage us: Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David (Hebrews 11). They were all people with blind spots, bad decisions, serious family issues, regrets and stumbles. They had those issues all their lives. But they ran with endurance the race that God set before them. They kept a tight grip on God and He made their lives shine like the noonday sun. Paul tells us how this is possible; “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish” (Hebrews 12:2).
Don’t give up.
Here’s one more thing. “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love” (Eph. 4:2,3 NLT).
And another thing, “The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both” (I John 4:21 MSG).
Grab ahold of God and don’t let go. He says, “Look at Me—chin up, eyes straight ahead, focus, focus, focus! Keep your eyes where they belong, not on your own screw ups and certainly not on anyone else’s. Just trust Me, love generously, hang on and I will do the work.”
Love one another. And love on another.
Be the Love.
Kris Coffin Stevenson is an author, teacher, editor, and scopist. She loves living her eternal life starting now. She and her husband reside in Santa Clarita, California.