A neighbor of mine is miraculously recovering from acute leukemia and a stroke. One of the unfortunate effects, especially for this former triathlete, is that he is legally blind and has major blind spots in his vision. If he was a boxer, he wouldn’t see the left hook coming until it was too late.
Blind spots. We all have them.
Recently, I received an email concerning my preaching, specifically about the growing number of vocal pauses in my sermons. I thought about it for a little then contacted a couple of close people who hear me preach regularly and they confirmed that “uh” I have “uhm” been punctuating my “uh” sentences with vocal pauses more frequently. Preaching is supposed to be my craft, my expertise, yet here I was committing the blunder of a neophyte orator. At first, I felt a slight blush of embarrassment come over me, but that passed pretty quickly. What I ultimately felt was gratitude for people around me who cared enough to tell me the truth.
It’s been a little over a year since I left Champaign to do a church plant here in Naperville. One of the things I miss about my former church are the band of brothers I served with. After every sermon, regardless of who preached, the pastors would sit in a cluster and evaluate the sermon. It was sometimes very painful to hear about my shortcomings as a preacher. But here I am, a year later, with no one to regularly critique me. It’s become more clear than ever how golden those post-sermon times were. Now with a staff of one (me!), I have to be much more vigilant in my self-examination and much more proactive in getting feedback from others. Maybe that’s why I was so thankful for the brother who was able to point out a current blind spot. He helped me to see something I was not able to see for myself.
I had two thoughts concerning this idea of blind spots:
1. The only way we will truly see our blind spots is if we preach the Gospel to ourselves daily. If we don’t come face to face with God’s Word regularly, we will not recognize our blind spots; in fact, we will simply become blind. If we examine ourselves and strive to become better people but we do it without the lens of the gospel, it will end in either self-loathing (because we are dissatisfied with ourselves) or hubris (because we think we’ve improved on our own). Either way, it’s self-absorption. The Gospel radically frees us to humbly admit we have blind spots that we can’t see without His Spirit’s revelation and it also frees us to thankfully accept the power we need to change those sinful tendencies, those blind spots, so that we can be more like Christ. The Gospel shows me that Jesus is my ultimate accountability partner and unlike a human being, He will never leave me, He will always be honest with me, and He will supremely encourage me.
2. I need to surround myself with people who will utterly support me but honestly critique me. Some of us are like the naked emperor in Emperor’s New Clothes. The tragedy in that story was that the emperor had no shortage of yes-men constantly telling him what he wanted to hear and no one to tell him what he needed to hear. The result of such a defective relational dynamic was that the emperor’s court was filled with sycophants who operated on the basis of fear and not love. If they truly loved their disrobed leader, they would’ve told him to cover himself up for goodness sake! This is an anti-gospel culture because it has a wrong king (self) and a wrong love (self). When the Gospel invades people, the very opposite thing happens: we are able to be utterly honest with one another yet utterly gracious because that’s how God treats us in Christ. We become a people who live at the foot of the cross exclaiming, “Thank you for opening our blind eyes to our sins; thank you for cleansing our dirty hearts through the cross; thank you for rising from the dead to give us power to follow you.” Judgment goes away, self-protection dies, gratitude overwhelms, and love reigns at the foot of the cross. A community of honesty and encouragement is formed there.
Questions to ask ourselves:
1. Am I examining my heart with the lens of the cross? Am I preaching the Gospel to myself daily? Do I love the Lord? Do I love people? Do I have character issues? Am I hungry to change? Am I spending time with my ultimate accountability partner-Jesus?
2. Do I have people around me who can hold me accountable? Am I open to their accountability (just b/c you have people asking you the right q’s doesn’t mean you are open to accountability)? If you are married, is your marital dynamic one of utter honesty and utter encouragement? For those in ministry, are you living in ministerial isolation or are you proactively seeking out partners in the gospel to encourage as well as be encouraged by?
3. Am I developing a culture of accountability at my church? in my family? When someone’s missing from church, would anyone notice? If someone looks upset at my home, do we have a culture of talking through it and praying for each other?
4. Is my accountability balanced with both critique and support? Do I love my brother/sister enough to honestly tell them things that might be uncomfortable to talk about? Am I quick to point out the faults of others but not as quick to forgive and support? Is there any hint of pride in me when someone is struggling and I am not? Do I have the attitude of “we all live by God’s grace”? Am I both honest and gracious? Do I have evil motives? Do I seek to unnecessarily expose others to public ridicule? Do I ever gossip with the private information that was shared with me? Is the goal of my accountability Christ-likeness for all who are involved?