On the matter of the eye of the needle
"And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. (...) But Jesus looked upon them, and said unto them: With men it is impossible; but with God all things are possible." (Matthew 19:24,26)
"Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you: Inasmuch as ye have not done it unto one of the least of these, ye have not done it unto me."(Matthew 25:45)
"No one can serve two masters: Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be attached to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."(Mt 6:24)
My dear friends, dear women of God,
Splendor, glamour, red carpets.
Public recognition, enthusiastic seminar attendees. Always beaming, healthy, beautiful faces.
And on the media screen, the happy, Christian family on their yacht beaming at the camera.
10 step programs to successful, Christian living.
New mindsets, redesigning the online presence, professional photo shoot, airbrushing before the performance, and under the pants pinch the Bodyshaper.
I did something crazy a while back:
I obeyed to God's impulse to get up at three in the morning to intercede for a successful, radiant, recognized, wealthy, admired Christian leader at a live performance. I thought that was quite strange, a little silly, because what should my prayer matter, what difference should it make? Better to stay in the cozy cushions and watch the live broadcast the next morning.
But Jesus gave me what is called a prayer mandate- be by her side- and as much as I tried to ignore it- I just couldn't fall asleep that night. And so I grudgingly made myself a cup of coffee and sat drowsily in front of the computer as the live broadcast began with an eight hour time difference.
She didn't look well that day, tense, unsure, hit.
The setting was a small, familiar, informal one that she had been in charge of for a long time. What was missing from this transfer was the glossy magazine, the makeup artists and styling consultants, the filter and the cut of the video, the podcast that allows everything to be polished once again, edited- so that it becomes as pleasant and trouble-free as possible for everyone- just like the perfectly arranged dinner at the five-star hotel.
And then it happened.
In the middle of the speech, in the middle of the lecture, she was overwhelmed. The self-doubt, the tension that chronically lies on those who stand so much as a glittering ideal image in public- it was suddenly visible to all:
"I can't do it! I always screw up! I always fail!"
The sobbing came from the abyss of her soul-and suddenly I knew why I was called to get up and pray for her.
Jesus' love for this woman washed me away completely. I prayed that He would give her the strength to persevere. To persevere for the duration of her talk, for the time of publicity, for the time when all the demands, expectations, projections, criticisms, expectations of salvation were upon her, calling out like the bloodthirsty plant in the little horror store, "Feed me!"
No, she had nothing to feed. She struggled with her breath, she struggled with what was raging inside her, but there was no room for that in the blank "the show must go on" facade. It wasn't appropriate. So shortly after, she straightened her shoulders and continued as if nothing had happened.
Rarely have I been more aware of the damage we do to our souls when we win the world.
Personally, I have been struggling for a long time with the question of how Zion's Daughter should be presented. I struggle with it because I am all too aware that the glitter world facade of the perfect leader, the successful, self-actualizing Christian is being pushed forward like no other.
And yes: it has its appeal: conferences, outside exposure, meetings, adventures. Influence and self-affirmation. Lattes and business flights.
You know, the only problem with it is: it's a make-believe world. It's not the truth.
Not everyone is beautiful, young, healthy, and confident. Not everyone has boundless confidence in supply, and no, not everyone is surrounded by supportive and positive people. Not every prayer is answered, and the demands placed on those who step out of the supposed confines of mediocrity into the public spotlight are so high that most of them break down inside. Sometimes we experience it: the marriage that fails. The Christian leader everyone so admires who falls into alcohol. The eating disorder that explodes just as much with an exploding schedule because every attack, every fiery dart, every deliberate misunderstanding hits the soul, the personality.
Because not the message, but the private person is drawn into the center of the attacks. Because salvation is sought in the person, not in the message.
Celebrity makes lonely. It limits.
On the outside, the villas glitter, the presentations are perfect, and yet. You never know if the person across from you is friend or foe. Whether one is loved for the name one has, or the person one really is-with all strengths, weaknesses, unanswered questions, and wounds. Whether it's the fame and advantage others want to get out of you, or whether it's your own heart. So one walls. You build protective walls around an inner core that eventually degenerates like a secluded village where everyone intermarries.
No undetected shopping. No freedom to be in a bad mood in public. No failure, no open confession of life crises before they are back in decent waters. The death of the best friend - it's a private matter, business must go on. And those who cannot pay, those who hunger for the message- they are not beneficial, they are not profitable, and they remain standing in front of closed doors- again not seen, again not wanted, again excluded from the colorful, colorful world of successful business networks and mindset facades.
In the last three years, there have been times when my husband has stared at me and said, "Yeah, okay, you need to pray, but is this private or ministry now? It's all about ministry now. It's all about what God supposedly wants anymore. But your son would really like to go swimming with you again sometime."
Zion's Daughter is not even big business. Its tiny.. It's not lists of 50 names a night that I'm supposed to (and often want to) pray for. It's not 300 emails a day that you can't even check for authenticity. It's not a schedule of 80 hours of work for two weeks of vacation.
As if gasping for air, they race through business, these Christian leaders. "Lord, I give you all that I am, now, between this meeting and the next."
I was once in a live online event hosted by Max Lucado.
The crowds clamored for his prayer like fans of boy bands, Justin Bieber or GNTM for autographs and "a child of yours"
John Eldredge once said, "It has to be small. You have to be able to eat together, know each other, go camping and hold each other and endure each other. It's much easier in big churches- there you're not challenged at all to love the other person. It all stays noncommittal."
I think he was right, back when he said that.*
The question is not whether we can market Christianity. Of course we can. Nor is the question whether God wants to bless those in His service-of course He does.
The question is: what is the goal, and who is the target audience?
Is it about truly living community or about self-fulfillment? Is it about creating offerings for those whose hearts need to be connected, those who are coming out of captivity or need to be led, is it about those on the margins or is it about making the strong even stronger while leaving the weak on the margins as those "who wouldn't?" Hopeless, overweight, depressed, anxious, attachment disordered, fatherless, abused, tormented, starving?
Zion's Daughter stands with the latter.
I don't know how to reconcile one with the other. But maybe it's because Jesus said, "You cannot do it without harm to your soul." Because the one who promises to give us everything-countries, mansions, the treasures of this world-was the one who said to Jesus, "All you have to do is worship me."
Yesterday God gave me another prayer assignment. The prayer flowed easily. Joyful, full of gratitude. There were 40 men meeting to grow together and with each other. Outside, around the campfire. With Jesus, asking for healing. It must be small.
Where there is no room for difficult questions behind smiling facades, where there is no real encounter anymore, where no one has the courage to talk about problems and life is always glamorous, smooth, joyful and without doubt, where suffering is marginalized and the message of salvation recedes in favor of 10 step plans, where God is strong in our strengths and not in our weaknesses, and where the yardstick for blessings is success and ideals of beauty, I no longer find Jesus.
For he met me in my weaknesses. In my failures. In my fears, in my sadness. And in my longing for that kingdom where there is fish and bread instead of caviar.
All that glitters is not gold.
And when we set out to serve, it is good to put our ear to the heart of Jesus. What do you want, Jesus?
The tears that I saw flowing down that face so admired, did they bother or offend me?
No, not at all. Honestly, if God's Word is no longer allowed to take hold of us, then everything is going wrong. I thought, "Oh, there you are!" And the successful leader turned into a sister I can love.
Sibyl/Daughter of Zion
Bible. Luther 2017, quoted here from: www.bibleserver.com
*John Eldredge on church: https://www.simplechurchjournal.com/2004/07/eldredge_on_hou.html
Worship: "May she rest"- Gavin Luke.