By: Elisha Lawrence
In 2018, I want to see Murfreesboro and the college campus with new eyes. I realized some coldness has crept into my heart. Slowly but surely, as I saw brokenness in the world, my faith began to waver. I wondered if God could really change our city or MTSU campus.
I expected the brokenness to continue: binge drinking, poverty, sexual immorality, spiritual apathy…that’s just the way things are. And that’s how it will always be. I was getting cynical. I forgot what Scripture said about living by faith and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7).
I let the sin in the world beat me down until my expectations of what God could do were shattered.
I’m thankful for a sermon Trevor preached on cynicism and the emphasis on prayer that City Church has taken. Both of those have been tools that God is using to soften my heart and open my eyes. I started this year with a lot of questions and few answers.
The most significant question I have is this:
What is broken in the world around me?
Some follow up questions I have are these:
What do I see that I assume God cannot change?
Where is the area where the gospel is most needed in our city?
If Jesus came to Murfreesboro, where would he be ministering?
Armed with these questions, I have been peppering MTSU students, administrators and teachers for the past two months. These questions have been my prayers to the Lord for insight. God has shown me my lack of faith, and I want to understand better what He wants to do. I don’t just want to say, “this is just the way things are” anymore.
While I am nervous, because I know my own inability and sin, I am also excited to think about a world where God’s power breaks in to change patterns and systems of sin and injustice.
Two months into seeking for more profound insight, God has shown me lots of things. I’ve heard a lot of statistics that show the brokenness: revealing a deep-seated struggle with anxiety and depression among college students and adults. Suicide, binge drinking, and sexual abuse are other areas where darkness reigns.
The more that I learn about the brokenness in our city and on the campus of MTSU, the more I want to do something. I want to start working harder, volunteering more, or engaging in areas of need. But I know that the brokenness is bigger than me, it’s far more than I can handle.
I’ve been asking the Lord what I should do and how I should give leadership to college students. “Where should we throw our lives to make a dent in all these problems, Father?”
The answers have come slowly, and I am still praying for greater clarity. I want to share with you what I feel is the greatest and most surprising insight I’ve gained up to this point. It comes from a Scripture in Matthew 7:1-5:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure, you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but does not notice the log that is in your eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.
I have been asking the question to God, “What is wrong in the world around me”? And that is a sincere, good and honest question. But while I have sincerely wanted to know what I can do to change the world, I haven’t been as eager to see a change in myself.
There is an old story about British journalist GK Chesterton regarding these matters.
It is said that a newspaper in Great Britain published an article calling for people to answer the question, “What is wrong with the world?” Chesterton gave a very simple reply less than ten words:
“Dear Sir: Regarding your article 'What's Wrong with the World?' I am. Yours truly,”
― G.K. Chesterton
The point Chesterton was trying to make is the same as what Jesus made in Matthew chapter 7. While there are significant problems in the world, which need to be addressed, the first place to start in dealing with those problems is in our own hearts. This is a recognition that sin is not just a problem out there in the world, but inside of you and me.
What I have been recognizing is that a revival in the world begins with a revival in my own soul. In an article about whether we should pray for revival, John Piper said this:
“I know I am experiencing a fresh touch of God when I stop confessing everyone else’s sins and start with my own. Too many of us are better at expressing our opinions on social media than focusing on what the Spirit is saying to us.”
Isn’t it amazing how much easier it is to ask what is wrong with the world than it is to ask what is wrong with yourself? We tend to be blind to personal sin. We are great at picking out specks in other eyes, but not so good at noticing giant Redwoods in our own.
This wasn’t where I expected to go when I started asking these questions, but I’m genuinely thankful for God’s mercy to take me here. In light of this, I’d like to offer a few applications for us as Christians.
1. Ask God to reveal your sins and confess them to Him and to other brothers and sisters in Christ
Without personal holiness, we cannot see the Lord (Heb 12:14). God is faithful and just to forgive our sins as we confess them to Him (1 Jn 1:9). Personal revival will always precede public revival. We often don’t acknowledge our sin, because we like it. We don’t want to change. How can we hope for change in the world, when we are unwilling to change?
Acknowledging our hardness of heart to the Lord is the first step to seeing Him clearly. God can handle our honesty and our hard hearts. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Ps 51:17)
2. Accept rebuke from brothers and sisters in Christ
This is an area where we all struggle mightily. In a society where we shout out, “Accept me as I am” we’ll never experience profound change. While the Lord does accept us as we are, He always intends to change us. This isn’t because He is unloving, but instead that He is indeed loving.
“My son, go not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives…For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Heb 12:5b-6, 11
A loving father will speak truthfully to his children, and God is THE loving Father. He will speak truth into our lives that call for change through both His Word and His people.
I struggled to see rebuke as loving in college, so I memorized this verse, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” (Proverbs 27:5-6)
Hear from faithful friends who lovingly speak into your life. Rebuke proves that the Father loves you very much!
3. Pray for Spirit-filled revival in our church that will spread to our city
Matthew 7:1-5 does tell us to start by removing the log from our own eye, but it ends saying we do that to be able to remove the speck from our brother’s as well. I want personal revival and corporate revival. I want revival for myself, but also for my Church family.
I want us to experience an outpouring of the Holy Spirit where He convicts and reveals to us with greater clarity the beauty of the gospel. I want us to experience the peace only the Holy Spirit can bring to us. And I want to receive the power to be bold witnesses in our city. (Acts 1:8)
That will start as we seek to be in a close personal relationship with the Father: confessing our sin, praying for heart change in us and in our city.