By Dr. Brad Brady
Whether we like it or not, we all live a public life. Someone is always watching us. Often many people are watching us simultaneously. The reality is that our witness is always showing!
While John Wesley taught that we are all going on to perfection, none of us want to be a barrier to any who might be on the verge of connecting with God. I certainly desire to be one who helps steer people toward God.
Because our witness is always showing and because none of us are perfect, we all need to be constantly seeking to close the gap between our Christlike aspirations and our human imperfections. We can only do this only through God’s help.
Self examination and introspection should be regular parts of a Christ-follower’s prayer life. Through prayer we pause in the presence of our loving Lord to allow the Holy Spirit’s light to reveal areas that need to become more refined in the image of Christ.
The season of Lent heightens the invitation to prayer, self-denial and self-examination. The Psalmist’s words from Ash Wednesday guide my reflections this Lent, “Create a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).
Like the Psalmist, I begin with the awareness that my life is not in total sync with God’s will and way. I want to test my heart and actions against the life of Jesus Christ.
I seek to confess sins that immediately come to mind, but even more, I want to have the Holy Spirit expose other aspects of my life that need attention because those sins create barriers to my fully experiencing God, create impediments in my relationships with others, and create mixed messages that confuse those watching my witness about God’s ability to impact a life.
True disciples long to represent the awesomeness of God’s love in such a way that others will “come and see.” A mature disciple of Jesus Christ is heartbroken at the thought that he or she would turn someone off to God.
Most of us have gone through that stage in life where we noticed hypocrisy in others and that always raised a question about whether their faith was authentic. This experience always seemed to deter us rather than draw us toward God.
I remember back in high school when I had several opportunities to observe some adult men, many of whom were known to be active leaders in their churches. Some of what they said and what they did made we wonder if there was any real connection between the faith they professed and the life they lived. Like many before and after me, I said, “The church is full of hypocrites.” I was turned off and any sense of urgency to be part of the church was diminished.
Thankfully, there were other witnesses to observe. God placed men and women in my path whose lives more closely matched the faith they professed. These folks were not perfect, but they were going on to perfection in ways that reflected an authentic relationship and journey with Jesus Christ.
As I came to faith and have had opportunity to live as a follower of Jesus, I have longed to have my words and deeds match my declarations of faith. Sadly, I have failed. I am one of the hypocrites that I complained about in my youth. That realization shakes me to my core.
I do not want to be the reason someone uses to turn away from God and to delay her or his experience with our gracious God. I do not want to be the one whose inauthentic witness radically confuses people about what Christlikeness is all about.
I do want to be a person of integrity who does no harm, who does good, and who continually focuses on falling more completely in love with Jesus. I do want to be a person in whom others will see the fruit of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control). In short, I want my constantly showing witness to honor God and give witness to God’s ability to redeem a sinner.
Just typing these descriptions of what I want to avoid and what I want to represent causes me to seek the mercy of God to blot out my transgressions (51:1). Each day, I fall short. Each day, I am a mixed bag of results. Each day, I seek to be more like Jesus.
Will you continue to walk this journey of self-examination during Lent? As you pray backward through your day will you pay special attention to how your words, deeds and motivations impact your witness? Can you reflect upon how others are drawn toward God or repelled from God because of their interactions with you?
All this prayerful examination and soul work is intended to deepen our experiences of God’s abundant grace and to position each of us to be the “aroma of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:15), which is at the heart of being a disciple who makes disciples of others.
Dr. Brad Brady is the Assistant to the Bishop for Connectional Ministries.