I was a fairly new Christian in my mid-twenties. I was running very hard fueled by zeal and far less knowledge. To my credit I was talking to a lot of people about the gospel. To my shame I was developing a bit of a self-righteousness toward those who did not. I remember judging people and whole churches’ faithfulness based upon the appearance of outward zeal or emotion. Until one day I got rebuked without a word.
We had been going to a new church for a few months. This church had good teaching but I felt the music left something to be desired. Also, there seemed to be a real lack of passion for a people who supposedly so loved the Bible. What gives?
We would sing as a congregation and I remember offering my weekly critique of the music. In my mind then it was incremental so I did not see the ugliness of it. But, it was truly ugly. One Sunday we happened to be standing behind a gentleman that was a bit quirky in his approach to conversation. He smiled and seemed sincere but, man, he always seemed to say something that was obtuse and somewhat unsettling. I don’t mean that it was inappropriate but that it unsettled my ease. It made me uncomfortable. He had a way of getting under my skin. And now he was standing in front of me singing while I was in full critique mode. I remember looking at him and wondering how he could be so lacking in emotion. He just stood there with this hands behind his back and seemed as still as a statue apart from regular breaths of air as he sang. I observed a guy who loved to get after me but seemed not so intent in pursuing God. He seemed about as passionate as a chair. I remember thinking how sick I was of this hypocritical, hyper-spiritual church where nobody but me was passionate.
Then everything changed. As the song ended and we were about to take our seats, and incidental to him sitting down turned slightly. His eyes were full of tears and his smile was full. I was gutted. I saw the man that I wanted to be; humble, free, focused, and full of delight in God.
He was worshipping God and I was worshiping myself. I had been judging this guy based upon my standard of godliness and zeal. In my immature world everything seemed to revolve around me. I was beginning to discredit a church and even this godly guy because he didn’t look like me. The problem with all of this was it was all about me. I was self-righteous, and, for the first time that I can remember, I saw it. This man was interacting with God and I was interacting with myself. It cut me deeply. Self-righteousness can take many forms but it always has the same empty, deformed shell when it gets exposed.
This was a key lesson for me to learn early on. We can’t judge hearts simply by what we think we see as outward displays of emotion or activity. Just because someone does not have outward displays of emotion or excitement does not mean that they do not love the Lord and are not in deep communion with him.
One of the things the gospel does is get our eyes off of ourselves. Like Tim Keller has said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.” Pride is always orbiting self. And regrettably the ministry of the church is not outside of this orbit. Try not to read hearts but rather believe all things and hope all things. Rejoice in the truth and pursue unity. My hunch is if Christians spent more time subduing and slaying self there would be more watery eyes when we gather on Sunday mornings. I know this was a game-changer for me and I praise God for it.