Some years ago, I was invited to speak at a statewide conference for pastors of mission churches. Northbrook Baptist in Cedar Rapids nearly quadrupled in size within a few years, so I was asked to share what we had done that others could do to grow as we had. I was to share the methods and strategies we employed so that Iowa mission pastors could see what was working and imitate it at their churches. Such a Baptist thing to do, right?
I found the entire premise of the conference somewhat silly – whatever was happening at Northbrook was a unique work of God that could not and should not be copied at other churches. But I almost never turn down an opportunity to preach, so I drove over to Winterset (you know – the Bridges of Madison County).
As I drove, I prayed and mediated on what I should say. The Spirit began to make clear in my mind what I should say. I certainly claim no inspiration or the mantle of prophetic authority, but I was convinced that God was shepherding my thoughts. I prepared my message, preached my heart out, and sat down, feeling pretty good about things. There were three of us who spoke, and after we were all done, the pastors broke up into discussion groups. An hour later they met back to have a forum on what they had learned.
That’s when things got uncomfortable. One of the groups had evidently spent an hour dining on “Roast Dave.” They reported to the group how strongly they disagreed with both the tone and the content of my message.
I drove home in a state of confusion. I had never felt more strongly that I was stepping into the pulpit with the precise message God wanted me to deliver to a group of people. And I had never had such a negative response to any message I had ever preached. I could not understand what had gone wrong.
Then, I realized the truth. The problem was my expectations. I thought if I were doing the will of God, everything would be okay. People would respond. Everyone would like me. They would agree that a man of God had been among them.
The Bible is full of examples of people who faithfully obeyed God and found their lives disrupted. Peter, in Acts 10, responds to God’s command to minister the gospel to Cornelius, a God-fearing Roman. God’s mighty power saves Cornelius and his family, and the Spirit is poured out on these Gentiles.
Then the Jewish Christians in Judea heard about what had happened. Do you think they rejoiced at the display of God’s redemptive power? No. They criticized Peter. They called him on the carpet for not observing Jewish traditions. Peter obeyed God and got roundly criticized for it – by his brothers in Christ.
You are probably familiar with Isaiah 6, in which Isaiah sees the Lord high and exalted, displaying his glory and power. Isaiah cries out, “Woe is me” and an angel comes and cleanses him with a burning coal to his lips. Then, God someone to go and do a job for him. Isaiah says, “Here am I, send me.” What most people do not know is what the job is that God assigned to Isaiah. He called him to go before Israel and pronounce God’s judgment.
Just a guess. Proclaiming God’s judgment did not win friends for Isaiah. Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Micaiah, and other prophets had a similar negative response to the message God gave them.
Remember Moses? He was sent by God down into Egypt with a message for the Pharaoh. He delivered the message and the response was brutal. Pharaoh punished the people of Israel and they wanted to kill Moses. Moses did everything right and the whole world came crashing down around him.
Oh, and in case anyone forgot, they crucified our sinless Savior.
Here’s my point: You can do everything God leads you to do, you can be relentlessly obedient and faithful to God’s Word, and still experience rejection or hostility. Doing God’s will does not guarantee that everything will work out okay. People may reject you, criticize you, ignore you, belittle you. All for doing the will of God. You cannot judge the favor of God by the response of people. We should never seek to offend, but we should also never be surprised when obeying God and following his Word causes offense to sinners.
When you turn over a rock and let the sun shine on the critters than live in darkness, they never thank you for the light. They burrow for more darkness.
Your reward for serving God is the pleasure and blessing of God. If God is pleased, does it really matter what people think?