Interesting conversation, it was. A dear friend of mine asked if we could meet and talk about his need for repentance. Curious as I was, my heart was instantly heavy, imagining what might be on his mind. I’ve always admired him for his utter transparency and I know his heart for what’s right and good, but it still seemed a bit ominous. Imagining some kind of looming crisis, I prayed for peace and moved forward to the meeting. Now, there are two kinds of imagination: One is a holy imagining where, by seeing a bigger picture beyond the immediate, we’re empowered as we slog through the muck of our lives with peace and confidence because we know the Father’s faithfulness. The other, much less holy, takes our thoughts to a negative and anxious places, leaving us full of dread or loathing. Yes, that’s where I went.
I should have known, of course! Leave it to my dear brother to bring something completely unexpected. It was a simple, but profound, insight. Typically, his request for forgiveness was untarnished and without condition: Simply that the Lord would restore him back to humility and forgive his desire to be recognized for his skills in the performing arts. Let me interject here that he is greatly gifted in these ways. He had, in his typically humble way, come to realize that his desire to be recognized was quietly siphoning away credit from God. I wouldn’t have known. His prayer concluded by declaring that all that mattered to him was his identity as a son of the Heavenly Father... and nothing else. It was priceless, and, as I said, profound.
Listening as he poured out his heart in prayer, reminding himself (and me) that all of his skills, abilities and gifts were from the Lord alone, I felt a twinge of holy guilt resonating in my spirit. How easy it is to imagine that us getting recognized is somehow good for God’s Kingdom! In fact, just writing that reminds me how ludicrous that really is! As he prayed, I began doing a bit of self-inventory. It really didn’t take long, as I was immediately reminded of my own battle with the same temptation. So, our meeting became a time of mutual confession and repentance, ending by exchanging reminders to keep our pride and desire for recognition in check through prayer and accountability. Certainly not what I expected, but that’s the way of our Father. He loves us too much to let us stay distracted or in sin. And, concurrently, we love Him so much that we are humbled to listen and obey when He illuminates an issue.
As I reflect on our meeting, Solomon’s familiar saying came to mind, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). That simple idea was at work in that meeting. My brother, in his humility and through the Holy Spirit, drew me to a clearer understanding and deeper conviction of my spiritual gifts and the defective attitudes deep in the recesses of my mind. Thus, we both left stronger and sharper than before we met. The writer of Hebrews says a similar thing, but with an even a more deliberate quality, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). In other words, purposefully tune your mind, ponder, consider how to help each other move closer to Christian maturity.
When it comes to being disciples of Jesus, fostering a few of these deep, trusting peer-to-peer relationship is essential to growing. One who walks out your journey alongside you. One who knows your stuff. One who has your back, but from whom you can’t hide. One who loves you as you are, but has been given permission to call you out when you need to hear it. One who reminds you of the Father’s heart and the ways of Jesus. Deliberately. On purpose. By design.
My old friend Leonard and I started this process together back in 1990 by asking each other four specific, ‘can’t squirm out of it’ questions each week. We asked about our devotional life, about our marriage, about the purity of our private thoughts, and then concluded by asking if we had lied about any of the previous questions! One guy joined us but then quit because he didn’t like to answer for his stuff! Over time, we didn’t even have to ask the questions because we would come primed to discuss where we were going in each area. When one of us confessed, the other would follow up with, “How are you going to take to deal with that?” The next time we met, we’d start with a report on how we followed through. Over the course of 9+ years, a lot of garbage got cut out of our lives because there was no comfortable way for it to stay.
Sound a bit intimidating? It is. It think it’s the vulnerability that gets to us. But we gotta’ have it. We flounder without it, too easily glossing over the stuff that’s getting in the way of God’s intentions, and finding it easy to ignore the Holy Spirit’s prompting. It takes a bit of time to get to the place where we were, but oh, was it is good. Give it some thought. It’s time.