Have you ever met someone who is loyal? I mean really loyal. Loyal to the point of being indignant on behalf of other people. You’ve probably had those friends. You know… good to have on your side, to stand with you through thick and thin, to have your back and to stick up for you to defend you. Maybe you’d even consider yourself that kind of friend. I tend to be like that for my friends. In fact, I used to look at my faithfulness to my friends as a badge of honor.
Sometimes the loyalty I have for my friends goes beyond faithfulness. Sometimes it is expressed through righteous indignation, a deep need to defend, sticking up for a friend at all costs. Somehow, in these times, I can make it about me. Let me share an example.
When we joined our first church years ago, we had “the” pastor. You know… a great orator who loved God and loved people, and the church members came in behind him with love and support. It was like his friendly, outgoing personality rubbed off on all the members there. Consequently, our church membership grew, giving was good, and we were seen positively by most everyone in the community. As it sometimes happens, the popular pastor was moved to his next assignment, and a new pastor came to serve. This new pastor was cerebral, deep, an intellectual. I always found great insight in his sermons, and my husband and I took the time to get to know him and his wife. We became friends.
Unfortunately, because he wasn't as outgoing and personable as the previous pastor by nature, he was seen by many as aloof or unfriendly. Parishioners didn’t seek him out to talk about their problems. Church members didn’t linger after church to visit or praise his insight. No one was greeted by this pastor with a hearty slap on the back and a huge smile. Consequently, attendance was down, giving was way down, and our church’s reputation in the community had diminished. Overall, members didn’t brag about how great their church was so much anymore.
The grumbling started, slowly but steadily. Because this pastor and his wife were my friends, this made me, well, angry. I was hurt for them, and at any opportunity afforded to me I did my best to defend them. I tried to reason with the complainers, persuade the grumblers that if they’d get to know this pastor, they’d see that he wasn’t cold and unfeeling. His wife and children were lovely people. I did my best to stick up for them. That’s what a loyal friend would do, right?
Here’s the thing though: in sticking up for my friends, I took on the role of God, who is our Defender. When I couldn’t change others’ minds about our pastor, I became resentful of those who had complaints about him. These people had done nothing to me personally, but I took their gossipy mistreatment of my friends as a personal affront. These were Christians, after all; they're supposed to know better. There was all kinds of scripture to back me up! At the very least, I believed, they were supposed to feel convicted and ask for forgiveness.
In loyalty to my friends, I sought to form a coalition of other supporters who would take up the cause with me to defend the pastor. And guess what? By this time, the pastor I was defending had moved on. Literally. He was moved to another church and we had a new pastor assigned to us. But like a dog with a bone, I was unrelenting. I wouldn't give up feeling angry and resentful on their behalf. I was determined to right this wrong, to persuade the dissenters of their misdeeds. Ask me how successful that was… It began affecting my relationships with my church family. And the people I was most angry with didn't have a clue that I was carrying that resentment and conflict in my heart.
One day I was on my knees, praying about this in my room. Rocking back and forth, I petitioned before God, saying, “God! I just want peace!”
God responded in my spirit, “Do you want peace, or do you want to be right?”
This simple question literally knocked the air out of my lungs. I gasped audibly, realizing in that instant, that in my fierce loyalty to my friends, I didn’t just want to be right; I wanted to be seen by others as right. I was waiting, counting on my assumption that there would be a line of my fellow church members coming to me, recounting the errors of their ways, saying, “We were wrong in our assumptions about the pastor. We should’ve listened to you.”
“You. Were. Right.”
God, in his mercy, showed me how I had allowed my loyalty to my friends and my need to be right to become a stumbling block to His grace. People who did nothing to me personally became my enemies. I assigned the role of defender to myself, forgetting that it is God who defends. In Psalm 7:10, David tells us that, “My defense and shield depend on God, who saves the upright in heart”.
Jesus calls us to love one another, to pray for one another, to pray even for our enemies (Matthew 5:43-44). If I had understood that my role was to pray for my friends and pray for those who had hurt them rather than assign myself the task of defending them, I would have had peace. Praying for our enemies changes our perspective of them, allowing us to see them as children of God who are as beloved to Him as we are. Praying for our enemies also allows the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts, to lovingly convict them, or show them how they are wrong, and lead them to repentance. Repentance literally means “to change one’s mind”, so repenting means that they’re walking one way (in wrongdoing), and they change their minds, turn around, and begin doing the right things like they should.
Praying for an enemy when we would by nature want to loyally defend a friend is not easy and does not come naturally. With God’s help, however, we can lay down our natural response and obey what Jesus commanded us to do. Then we can be sure that God is defending them, and we can have peace.
Do you want peace, or do you want to be right?