03 December 2012
Leading when disillusioned with God
The email asking me to write this article pinged into my inbox out of the blue, swiftly followed by a second assuring me that there was nothing implied in the request. Encouraging to know, and yet the request resonated with me.
Twenty-six years ago, when I was training for the ministry, and we were longing, hoping, praying for a second child, God seemed very silent for a long period. In recent months that same sense of silence has descended once again, raising questions: Does prayer work? What difference might it make if I took God out of the picture? How can I continue to lead God’s people with integrity when my experience doesn’t match what I may be telling them?
Classically, the Psalms are often seen as a good place to turn at times like this, with their searing honesty and permission to tell it like it is – ‘Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favour again?’ (Psalm 77:7). Yes, the day may well dawn when his favour is shown once again, even though it may seem a long way off, with little indication of its appearing. Experience (in the shape of a son!) tells me that personally, as does the evidence of Scripture. But what can I do in the meantime to keep going in leadership, when there seems to be little to encourage? In recent months, I have found the following to be helpful:
- Lift my eyes off the problem. I am conscious that it can be very easy at times to get dragged down by the situation around me. Jeremiah found the same – Chapter 20 finds him complaining to God that He has cheated and deceived his prophet – so much so, that Jeremiah is tempted to give up. Then, in the midst of the turmoil comes the declaration ‘Sing to the Lord! Give praise to the Lord!’ I’m not sure that Jeremiah felt much like doing that, nor that it was his experience that God rescued the life of the needy. But he declares it as a truth, even if it is not a reality in his life. There are times when I need to declare what I know objectively about God, even if it doesn’t match my experience, and to remind myself of whom God is.
- Be part of a praying community. I’m fortunate to be part of a staff team that meets together each morning to read the Bible and pray. That discipline helps carry me at times when I may be struggling in my own prayer life. They don’t need to know what is going on inside me, but they help keep me going.
- Have someone I can be honest with. As a leader, telling others how we feel about God is not always easy (or necessarily appropriate). But having someone who I can trust, who knows me, and who I can be honest with helps keep things in perspective. For some, that may be a spiritual director, for others a close friend, or prayer partner.
- Be open to being surprised by God. Earlier on this year, my wife and I attended a conference aimed at providing spiritual refreshment for leaders. We went because it fitted the diary, and (at worst) the setting and venue looked attractive. But from the opening session, it was as if God was speaking only to us, and (for a moment) the clouds parted, and light streamed through. They would close again, but what happened there has stayed with us, and encouraged us to go on putting ourselves in places where we might just be surprised by the voice of God.
by Mike Talbot, chair of the board of the Evangelical Alliance