Last week, I wrote about the cliches expressed by those who practice a wimpy faith, and I promised that I’d use the next column to address the wimps who believe they are suffering for their faith.
I can call them wimps because at least on one occasion, I was one.
In 1971, Rev. Billy Graham preached a crusade in Oakland, California. As a13-year-old boy who thought he’d follow in Graham’s footsteps, I was eager to help spread the word.
The opportunity came when I joined a church team to distribute crusade fliers in my neighborhood. We made quick work of our sector and were preparing to return home when someone noticed we’d missed a short block.
Anxious to wear myself out for God, I sprinted the block to drop off our remaining fliers. Like the Blues Brothers, I was on a mission from God.
Under orders “not to engage” residents, I swept under the radar to put the fliers on doorsteps or pinch them into screen doors. I was leaping porches in a single bound, flying in my Keds High-Tops.
My job easy: a little FBR — Fly-By Religion. However, somewhere in the midst of jetting for Jesus, I lost my balance and fell spread-eagle across a porch. At that point I did two things.
First, like any healthy junior high boy, I sprang to my feet to make sure no one was laughing at me.
Second, I examined my wrist and found it broken. No matter, I thought. I was determined to finish my grid for God. I immobilized my arm by sliding it inside my half-buttoned shirt, and like a little Napoleon, I conquered my remaining territory.
According to the sermons I’d heard in church camp, this was the kind of thing that could add an extra star in my heavenly crown. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, I learned there would be a great reward for suffering.
But, it wasn’t until years later that I realized my “suffering” didn’t count for much.
The scripture actually says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
The little word “because” gives a stipulation I hadn’t counted on. Yes, there is a blessing on those who suffer, but only when the suffering is “because of righteousness.”
It’s the kind of suffering that Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi endured. But it wasn’t the kind of suffering I had experienced.
I wasn’t suffering because of righteousness. I was suffering because I’d been a righteous fool – an impatient show-off.
I was suffering from a complex we all suffer from on occasion — a martyr complex. It’s a complex we get by tricking ourselves into thinking we are suffering for our faith instead of our poor personal choices. The truth is, it always has more to do with our pride than it ever has anything to do with our faith.
When I returned to my group, arm in shirt, I found my mom waiting in our family station wagon. I got in and proudly explained to her what I had done and how I had suffered for God.
“Pride goes before the fall” she said, quoting Proverbs 16:18 “Now, let’s go to the emergency room.”