In 1978 I worked as a cook at an all-night restaurant along I-5 in Red Bluff, CA. One morning around 7:30, I was headed home on my bicycle when I saw a man who was already drunk, sitting on the stairs in front of the post office. Suddenly, the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Go and tell him that I love him.”
So, naturally, I began to argue with God, giving Him every reason I could think of why I shouldn’t do what He asked of me. “I am very uncomfortable with this, Jesus,” I told Him. ”I don’t know this man. Besides, he is going to think all your children are fanatics if I just walk up to him and tell him You love him. I don’t think that is the image you want to give him. So for your own sake, Lord, I am going to have to tell you ‘no’ on this one.”
I kept pedaling down the street. I was not struck by lightening. God did not take my name out of His book as He does not obligate us to do that which is right. He respects our free will.
Grace is much less stressful than legalism. It is better for our health, both for those of us in spiritual leadership and also for those who work with us in the church.
I did go back that morning in 1978 to where the drunken man was sitting and I did witness to him. But this does not indicate that God did not give me the freedom to make a mistake, to refuse to obey, or even to rebel. It even goes further. Through His grace, He has already provided for my repentance1 and for His forgiveness.2
I just read a secular biology book. I enjoy reading science books. One of the chapters dealt with biology and stress. Stress is such a plague in our generation that there have been numerous studies done on it from every angle. One study showed that if you give two groups of people the same task, the group which is given strict directions and deadlines will experience far more elevated blood pressure and a marked increase in stress hormones than the other.
There are many factors that exert pressure on us— things that limit our options when we have to make decisions. For example, genetics. I have a personality that is much like my mother’s. This conditions how I approach stressful situations. I have many responsibilities to fulfill and my job can be very demanding. Then there are my family’s needs. Socially I have a group of friends that I want to like me. And let’s not forget that the clock is ticking, that my health could fail and that my resources are limited. Many things exert pressure on me every day.
We in positions of spiritual leadership can add to people’s stressors using things like guilt, shame or intimidation. When we do this, we are being very unfair to those who are under our spiritual care. It is a sin for spiritual leadership to coerce people in order to “help” them do the right thing or by forcing them to avoid making mistakes.
1- Romans 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:10 2- Ephesians 1:7; James 5:5; 1 John 1:9