People this time of year joke about Christmas letters and fruitcake. Folks roll their eyes and grumble about both. Okay - I'll grant you that there are some bad Christmas letters. Full of so much boasting and bragging that you can barely make your way to the end of the note. And there are some bad fruitcakes. Still, I like them both...Christmas letters and holiday fruitcakes.
So I've been reading notes from friends. It's been fun -mostly- hearing what they're up to. How life is going for them. There have been a few stories of pain and loss, too.
One note nearly dropped me on the floor, though. It's from a friend I have known for over twenty years. She is a pedal-to-the-floor Jesus follower. She talks a lot about the Holy Spirit. Some might say she's a Pentecostal Christian in Methodist clothing. My friend is more conservative, theologically, than me.
She has been a tremendous blessing to me. She has offered words of encouragement to me in my life and ministry. She has prayed for me and with me. She has loved me better than I deserve.
Last year, in her Christmas letter, she said she wasn't sure their church's new pastor was going to get the job done. Because he was so unlike his predecessor. I sent her back a note and reminded her that God wires us all differently, and that every pastor -no matter how much we may love and respect them- has weaknesses. One pastor goes and another pastor arrives - the strengths of one complementing the weaknesses of the other.
So this year I open up my friend's Christmas letter and she says something like this: "I meet with Pastor Devon and Pastor Sandy every Sunday between services and pray for them. Still haven't made up my mind but continue to support him."
Okay. Does this strike you as odd? Should I be thankful that my friend, despite her reservations about the lead pastor at their church, is still praying with him...and for him? Or should I be bothered by the disconnect of a person who prays with a pastor, week after week, but is still leaning back, withholding judgment, and not sure?
The New Testament -1st John- says people will know we belong to God by the way we love one another. Jesus says the same thing in John's gospel. Praying for one another, tossing around the Holy Spirit's name, and then waiting to say, "Naw, you don't meet the qualifications I have for a (fill-in-the-blank) just right friend...neighbor... teacher...counselor...youth director...choir director...pastor...Jesus-follower" strikes me as evidence of a critical spirit and love that is conditional to the extreme.
Love doesn't mean we don't hold one another accountable. Christian love doesn't mean we shut off that part of our mind that utilizes wisdom to evaluate people and situations.
But to show up, week after week, praying for someone while inside we are still gathering information, still weighing the evidence, still seeing whether they match up with the list of qualifications we have put together for a parent, friend, coach, teacher, or pastor -there is a disconnect here.
I'm going out on some thin ice, here, but I think my friend's prayers are shallow. Only half-real. It would be more loving, more courageous, more faithful, and more prayerful if my friend would ask to sit down with her pastor. Talk honestly with him about her struggles...her concerns...and risk some honest communication. Take a risk and get to know his heart...how the world looks from where he sits. Now that would be a prayer.
When you pray for people, when you tell them you're pulling for them, when you say they can count on you, are you telling the truth? Or are you just settling for the appearance of prayer...friendship...support?
To support someone is to risk honesty.
That's where it has to start.