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There is something growing in all of us – what are you nurturing?

One of my favorite books by C. S. Lewis is The Great Divorce, a fictitious story about a man given the opportunity to leave hell and visit heaven, along with a bus filled with other souls. While on their heavenly tour, these guests encounter someone from their past who begs them to stay, but astonishingly many of them refuse heaven for hell. Why would they choose the inconceivable? Not because hell is more glorious than heaven, but because these visitors have become so self-obsessed and loathsome of a God who might require something of them, they would rather spend eternity alone in their self-justification than in the glory of heaven. And then Lewis adds this now famous quote:

Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others... but you are still distinct from it. You may even criticize it in yourself and wish you could stop it. But there may come a day when you can no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself, going on forever like a machine. It is not a question of God "sending us" to hell. In each of us there is something growing, which will BE hell unless it is nipped in the bud.

Ouch. I’ve always known grumbling, complaining and playing the “blame game” were unbecoming characteristics to be avoided, but I never looked at them as attributes that can completely corrupt the soul. Whether or not you agree with Lewis’s depiction of hell, the truth of the matter is that there is something growing in all of us, outside of a life surrendered to Jesus Christ, that is “hell-ish” and will lead us to a self-absorbed, deplorable end.

We are far too comfortable with our sins, at least the ones that don’t seem overly offensive. A grumbling mood, a complaining heart, a critical spirit—these we let slide, because they don’t reek of the stench of really “bad” sins like adultery or murder. But all sins reflect one’s choice of self over God, hell over heaven. And all sins left unchecked and unconfessed begin to harden our hearts and darken our souls. This is why a Christian who has attended church for many years can actually be more critical and hateful than a pagan who has never darkened a church’s door. Just because someone professes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God does not mean spiritual formation has occurred.

To experience the depth of heavenly transformation means we choose to grow beyond an initial reception of Christ Jesus the Lord by walking with Him, “rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:6-7). Receiving Jesus as Lord is not the culmination but the origin. We are to be built up “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13), which is a pretty tall measure.

The Church, therefore, is not a place to coddle the saints in our spiritual lethargy. We are not to fuel others self-absorption. Nor should others fuel ours. The Church is not a country club where we placate the whims and wishes of paying customers. It is a called-out community of people under the loving lordship of Jesus Christ. He is the only One who can save us from ourselves and the growing darkness found within. He is the only One who can turn us from self-absorption to Spirit-transformation. Through Him our grumbling turns to praising, our complaining turns to celebrating, and our blaming turns to blessing.

Then and only then will the Church of our Lord Jesus appear as the beautiful Bride “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27). The world—our friends, family, neighbors and beyond—will see such a stark contrast between light and darkness, beauty and repugnance, heaven and hell, that people from the nations of every tongue will take hold of us, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you” (Zechariah 8:23). And what a day of rejoicing that will be.

No One Said Life Would Be Easy

There are times in life when we all have to make hard decisions, and we know that whatever decision we make, not everyone will agree. Some will question our motives. Some will protest vehemently. Some will react with anger and vitriol. Others just walk away. It may be that you have to decide whether or not to take a new position, go through a divorce, or allow your child to face painful consequences from bad choices. No one said life would be easy.

Theodore Roosevelt was a man who faced hard decisions throughout his entire life. On April 23, 1910, just one year after his presidency, he gave a speech in Paris, France called, “Citizenship in a Republic.” Most likely he reflected on his years of challenge as he faced critics and pundits alike when he spoke these words:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.

Another Leader, far greater than Theodore Roosevelt, also gave a speech about spending ourselves in a worthy cause and devoting ourselves to eternal principles though they be met with great resistance and opposition. After this speech, given by Jesus, John records, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (John 6:66). If we follow in the footsteps of our Master, should we expect something more?

How do we find the fortitude to do what we believe is right? How do we stay the course so that in the end we can say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7)? As I consider these questions in light of some recent decisions our elders and I have made, may these insights help you as you face some hard decisions in your own life.

First, the weight of the decision should be balanced by the weight of time. If the decision you have to make is significant, then give it significant time. Too often we spend more time on insignificant decisions than we do on significant ones. We spend more time in family discussions, board meetings, staff meetings, etc. dissecting the most trivial of detail, and then rush through a more meaty decision, simply because we want to “be done with it.”

Second, include prayer in the decision-making process, not as a conclusion to a decision made. In other words, don’t just ask the Lord to bless your decision, ask Him to guide your decision. “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2).

Third, seek godly counsel. Anybody can seek counsel, but make sure you are getting godly counsel. Proverbs 24:6 says, “For by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory.” The Lord Himself is the source of wise counsel. “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6). Seek counsel from those who are walking with the Lord.

Fourth, be aware of the risks. Pray for the best, prepare for the worst. Who is affected by your decision? What are the potential ramifications from your decisions? As much as possible, without compromising core convictions and biblical truth, work toward a “win-win,” but recognize that in the real world some people will disagree, and some will walk away. They did with Jesus (John 6), and they will with you as well.

Fifth, let love rather than fear be your guide. Is your decision based in love or fear? Are you looking not only to your own interests “but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4)? Fear of rejection, uncertainty, or ridicule should never overcome a loving obedience to do the right thing. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).

Sixth, make a decision. To decide not to decide is a decision. But a “non-decision decision” can only get you so far. At some point you have to pull the trigger. You’ve weighed the decision, included prayer in the process, sought godly counsel, made yourself aware of the risks and implications, and let love overcome your fears. And now don’t let the “paralysis of analysis” keep you from doing what you believe is best. Make your decision with humility and grace balanced with fortitude and strength. But make the decision you must.

Seventh, move on. Don’t get shrouded by the doubts of others. Don’t keep looking back. Learn from your mistakes, make mid-course corrections as necessary, but give it time, and see what God is going to do. Listen to everyone, but don’t heed everyone. Stay close to the heart of the Father, and follow Him with surrendered obedience. And in the end, the Lord will sort things out according to His plan and purposes that He has for you in Christ Jesus. May it all be to the glory of God!

 “He grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God” (Romans 4:20).

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