Mission Aviation Fellowship Copywriter and Editor Gary Clayton looks at some of the foibles and failings God’s people fall into.
I’m a hypocrite! Although I spend much of my time writing about God’s grace and God’s work in Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, I was recently annoyed with someone who upset me.
And yet I’m very much aware that the Bible tells us to forgive those who sin against us (Luke 11:4). “If you are offering your gift at the altar,” Matthew 5:23-24 reminds us, “and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you… First go and be reconciled.” And that, with God’s grace, is what I’ve tried to do.
My wife Julie is quick to point out the irony of having a husband, who has encouraged others to ‘step out of the boat’ and yet is himself risk averse. It amuses her that, although I work for Mission Aviation Fellowship, I’m actually very nervous at airports.
Julie is equally amused at couples who arrive at church – beatific smiles on their faces, but who she’s just heard quarrelling loudly with each other and yelling at their children – frantically pretending that all is well.
And yet, as 1 John 1:8 tells us: ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’ “No one is good – except God alone” (Mark 10:18).
As someone people sometimes refer to as a ‘professional Christian’, ie. a follower of Jesus who works professionally for a Christian organisation, I’m paid to write encouraging articles about the life-changing work done by Mission Aviation Fellowship’s 128 light aircraft in 27 developing countries.
But, when I recall what recently happened when something went wrong, and I totally lost it at home, I have to ask myself whether I practise what I preach. I might make a living doing Christian work, but do I actually live it out?
I might talk the talk (or write it!) but, as the cliché has it, do I actually walk the walk? Do I spend too much time writing and editing – including this article for Keep The Faith – and not enough time with my wife and children?
People are fallible. As James 3:1-2 reminds us, ‘We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.’
But there’s another problem we Christians can have – our attitude to work.
Whatever we do, or whoever we work for, let’s make sure we don’t make work our ‘god’ – turning our activity into an idol that we can’t stop worshipping, even when it’s the weekend or time to stop. Our friends, family or children will lose out if we don’t.
Sadly, in this 24/7 media-connected, goal-oriented age, we don’t always know how to take things easy, or take a break for the sake of our health. Yet God loves us for who we are, not what we do. He’s our heavenly Father, not the head of Human Resources.
Of course, there’s work to be done if we’re to serve Him, as John 14:15, Matthew 28:20, 2 Timothy 4:2, Mark 16:15 and 2 Thessalonians 3 make clear, but the relationship between father and child is completely different to that of employer and employee. Jesus is Lord, not personnel manager.
And yet sometimes we suffer from a martyr or a Martha complex (Luke 10:38-42), refusing to delegate or be still, and bearing burdens we should either lay down, share with others, or put at Jesus’ feet.
I once knew a pastor who was so hands-on, he not only conducted and led the singing, made the announcements and did the children’s talk and the preaching, but he’d even get down from the pulpit so he could turn on the tape recorder to record his own sermon, before getting back up to preach!
But the desire for control or perpetual motion can have a powerful hold, resulting in us becoming the kind of Christians – at home or at work – who try to prove that we’re counting the cost, but then produce the invoice and get others to pay for it by making them feel guilty!
Yet Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest… For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). So let’s learn from Him, and find rest.
We can often take on too much – spending our time fretting about what hasn’t been done, rather than concentrating on what the Lord asks us to do, and thanking Him for enabling us to do it.
So, whether our ministry takes place at work, at home or in church, let’s follow Paul’s example in 1 Corinthians 11:1: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”
Our homes, churches and workplaces need servants, not slave-drivers. God’s people escaped Egypt to avoid all that!
But bosses can be slave drivers. I’ve had 11 over the years (my current boss at MAF is great, by the way!), and have had vastly differing experiences depending on their behaviour, demeanour and people management skills.
One gave me the freedom to take risks, innovate and learn from my mistakes. Another was so hands-on that my work was painstakingly monitored, and time taken in the toilet by another colleague queried!
One created an environment where creativity and initiative were encouraged. Another mixed flattery with thinly veiled threats; seemed to suffer from an advanced case of ADHD, and appeared to have joined the company as part of a particularly spectacular mid-life crisis.
So, although the Bible tells us to submit to those in authority (Romans 13:1, 1 Thessalonians 5:12, Hebrews 13:17, 1 Peter 2:13), it doesn’t mean we should purposely blind ourselves to the faults of others – or our own!
But if we are suffering, then I wouldn’t necessarily suggest that we do so in silence. Pray with Christian friends about it. Go to HR, if it’s appropriate to do so. Check with other work colleagues to see if the particular member of staff who’s causing you grief has a pattern of difficult, controlling or abusive behaviour.
In one organisation, I discovered that the painful problems I was having with my boss had caused many others to leave. One, still working there, was serving in a different department because she’d asked to be transferred.
So when I pointed this out to a sympathetic senior manager, my controlling boss was moved sideways, and I eventually got a much better boss, a pay rise and a promotion.
A Christian leader once said that although ‘burn-out’ may appear more honourable than ‘rust out’, it’s those who ‘last out’ who generally accomplish the most!
So although the Bible refers to us running a race (Acts 20:24, 1 Corinthians 9:24, 2 Timothy 4:7), the question is, who’s in the driving seat? Us, Lewis Hamilton – or God?
1 Corinthians 3:7 reminds us that ‘neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.’
So is it possible that, in all our anxious striving – which at times makes the Protestant work ethic look like a charter for slackers – we’re not allowing the ‘land’ (ie. our lives) to rest, while God attends to the growth?
Perhaps everything isn’t all rosy in our garden, whether at home, at work or in church – however hard we try to pretend otherwise. Perhaps we need to treat our own little patch with pesticide, root out the weeds, or allow the garden of our lives to lie fallow for a season – to let go and let God attend to its growth.
Perhaps we’re not allowing the allotment allotted to us to be tended as it should. Perhaps it’s choked up with the worries, weeds and cares of this life (Matthew 13:1-8, Mark 4:1-8, Luke 8:4-8).
But if we don’t know how to rest or be kind to ourselves and others, then the results can be unfortunate. We can drive those we know into the ground, over the edge or out of the church – which I’ve sadly seen happen!
So let’s take care how we labour and be aware of what we do. Instead of tending to a flourishing garden, we could end up labouring in an ugly wasteland – and it would be hypocritical of me to say otherwise.
Gary Clayton is married to Julie, and father of Christopher (14) and Emma (11). He is Copywriter and Editor at Mission Aviation Fellowship. To learn how MAF’s 128 aircraft help poor and vulnerable people living in Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, visit www.maf-uk.org.