It’s not fair that things don’t go well. It’s also not good that he takes full responsibility for things that aren’t his fault.
The church is falling apart.
The pastor has left.
People are angry.
They are looking to the young leader.
Isaac is failing.
Isaac wants to leave.
“Is this your fault?” the Man In White leans up towards him with eyes as big as the ocean. Isaac stands back, hesitating, and sharply breathes in. Two choices; honest answer or one that he thinks his God wants to hear – defence mode.
“Wait,” whispers Holy Spirit. “lean into His presence before you speak”.
The Man In White approaches him and surrounds him with the Presence.
“This is like jumping into piercing ice cold water” he muses, biting his tongue. “I never want to get in”
“It’s always warm after the initial shock” Holy Spirit reminds him.
Isaac blanches as the Man in White gazes at him. He succumbs to the presence and begins to let his spirit speak.
“Not all of it is my fault,” comes his trembling reply.
The Man in White leans over, close enough that Isaac instinctively welds his eyes shut. The Man in White moves back to allow him to catch his breath. Immediately Isaac senses the distance and his heart leaps inwardly to draw the Presence back again.
“Do you remember the Garden?” the Man in White asks gently.
“Yes,” Isaac groans, bracing himself for rebuke, something about deception and how all should be ignorant to sin and not worry about any kind of evil.
“Come with me,”
Isaac stands in the middle of the Garden, scuffing his shoes in the thick grass. He’s aware of the beautiful surroundings but his heart refuses to rejoice in the lush celebration of life in perfection.
Yes, once it was beautiful, but since the day of deception this Garden is just a painful reminder of the man he will never be. He will always make mistakes. He will always lose some of the precious sheep to the serpent’s vices. His bible college lecturers are ringing in his ears – “the heart of a man is deceitful above all things… we all like sheep have gone astray!”
“Your bible college taught you about this Garden”, says the Man in White, picking up perfectly ripened fruit from the forest floor. Isaac stiffens, unable to bring himself to reply. He saw his pastor passionately preaching about the power of the enemy to his 40 person congregation.
“It is our duty and responsibility to wage war against the powers, the principalities, the deceptions of the enemy!” He had yelled, the teenagers snickered when a bit of spit came out.
“We cannot let the kingdom of darkness rule!”
He had looked at Janice and Dean, married for 30 years and experiencing severe marital issues.
“Are you loving your spouse the way Jesus loves your church? Are you reading the bible over her and washing her with scripture?” was the mid-sermon question. Janise went red with embarrassment and Dean harshly stared back.
“Are you speaking negatively about your leaders?” He had directed at the stubborn deacon in the second row, who awkwardly cleared his throat.
“How many ways are we bringing the enemy’s curses into this very church?”
The congregation was silent in fellowship after that sermon. Isaac was embarrassed, pained, ashamed that God was being painted as such a harsh and critical ruler.
Back in the garden, the Man in White moved walked quietly through the orchard.
“It was my fault, Jesus”, Isaac finally spoke. “I shouldn’t have let fear into the congregation. There was so much pain. People were hurting. The last thing they needed was such harsh judgement – ”
“Isaac, you were never going to be a perfect shepherd,” Jesus interrupted. “Only I am the perfect shepherd.”
“Yes, but there is no way in hell I’ll ever get close. In every area of leadership I cause pain. I can’t make anyone happy. I speak the word, people get offended. I prophesy, people are grieved”. Isaac sat down, dejected. “I can’t help those people”.
Jesus came close. “Let me ask you a question. Whose enemy destroyed that congregation – yours or mine?”
Isaac held up a dandelion and absent-mindedly picked it apart. “Yours”, he replied strongly. “It was your enemy”. It felt so good to say that, he couldn’t explain why.
“Yes, it’s my enemy. It was my enemy who came into this garden. So why are you fighting it alone – no help? Are you strong enough to take on my enemy?”
There was a long silence. Isaac remembered heading into a pastoral counselling session with Janice and Dean. The stories of the abuse had pierced his heart. There was painful conversations about others in the congregation and Isaac had no way of reconciling anything. He had gone in prayer that day and decided his call to ministry was false.
“I don’t know why I did it, Lord!” he cried. “You must be so disappoint –”
“Isaac!” the voice roared through the garden. He quietened, so quiet he could hear his own heart beating.
“I am the Lion and the Lamb. My enemy has deceived the church, and it will be me who fights. Come into my rest, as I fight the battle. It is true – you will never be strong enough. There was much deception in your congregation. There was much offense. But it was not your duty to fix that flock. It is mine, as the perfect shepherd.
“Salvation was not so we could come back to this garden now, with no problem of pain. There will always be problems, pain, damage. But your giving your life to me is declaring that you have given up the fight to me – have left it to me to fight the battle already won. You are abiding in my timing, in my wisdom, in my truth.
“Let me take this flock to the next season, and you – come with me. I have plans to restore you, to give you a hope and a future. Though you have been through the fire, you shall come out as gold!”
Isaac bit his lip as hurt and offence rose like hot lava in his chest. What a waste of stupid time! Had he fought, waited, surrendered to bad leadership for nothing? He thought he was doing God proud by staunchly sticking it out! His flesh wanted to struggle and fight – painstakingly outline each decision he had ever made and prove there was rhyme or reason to create the distress in the congregation. There had to have been something he did to cause this. This couldn’t have happened by accident. He didn’t fight hard enough. He didn’t wear the armour. He didn’t to Matthew 18 conflict resolution correctly. Something, anything to prove that someone was at fault – and it was probably him.
Every time he rose to speak to prove his sinfulness there was a blanket of cool refreshing water-like substance which washed over him. A mixture of wind and rain. Cool enough to ease the burning sensation. Mercy, comfort, peace. Again, two choices, this time one was to run and the other was to stay in this strange sensation.
“I cant – it’s not, it was my fault – Jesus, I – ” he stuttered, gasping for breath, frustrated at the war between the flesh and the spirit.
“My friend,” Jesus said, stretching out his hand and placing it gently on Isaac’s shoulder. “You are not the saviour. I am.”
They locked gaze, as Isaac began to recognize his friend. The lava sensation disappeared and was replaced with a sense of kinship, like “we’ve been through something together, this guy and me”.
“Your sin is not that you did not fight hard enough. Your shortcoming is this – you didn’t trust that you weren’t able. You didn’t surrender your capabilities. You haven’t been perfected in love, for there is fear.
“Come back into my strength, friend. We’ll do this together”.
Something clicked, something deep within his spirit. A sense of unlocking, a deception turned to truth. Without any thought, Isaac suddenly leaned on the chest of Jesus.
“I surrender”, he confessed, tears streaming down his face. “I surrender, I surrender…” the words repeated in the garden and rang through the vast forest. Hours of painful memories of prayers and struggle were washed away and replaced with memories of sweet communion. Angels began to cheer – invisible creatures dancing in the celebration of a surrendered heart.
But for Isaac it was just another meeting with a friend, another daily prayer, another encounter with the Man In White.
“You were a servant. But I call you friend. Come into your rest”.