"For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down." Proverbs 26:20
Last night, during our Pastor Appreciation Dinner, Dana and I were honored with gifts of letters, love offering and a trip to a beautiful mountain retreat. At the end of the presentation, I was handed a mug. It was a gift from a man who is not a member of our church, but I am his pastor. You preachers know how this works. We have become friends as a result of two hunting trips to Colorado. He had a mug made for me that had my name on it, and the inscription, "Keeper of the Flame." I loved it. He was making a good humored jab at my obsession with keeping a fire going in camp 24 hours a day. I have to admit I earned it. Believe me it takes alot of wood to keep Colorado warm. "Keeper of the Flame" was one of those left handed jabs men give to each other to let them know they are accepted into the circle of friendship. It was my favorite gift of the night, and I will use it for morning coffee. BTW: I was writing this blog on Pr.26:20 before the gift of the mug. God's timing is perfect when He delivers a line he wants me to get.
"I guess you're just another one of those preachers who believes if we don't like it then we should just leave." I was caught off guard by the remark. I had just finished preaching for a pastor friend who was out of town. The accusation was coming from a man with a red face and a v-shaped vein on his forehead. I responded with , "Whoa. You are going to have to take me to school on this." I admit I knew what was on his mind. There had been some mumblings and grumblings about a new worship format being introduced in the church. I was buying time trying to diffuse him with humor. I laughed and said, "Usually, my wife is the only one I can get this angry at me." He wasn't in a mood to be humored. With a stern voice he said, "With this new disco music in the church, we might as well require a cover charge." I told him it had been a while, but I was familiar with the disco, and doubted it would ever make a comeback. I was still trying to buy time with an another attempt at humor. Meanwhile a crowd had gathered around us in the foyer. This "keeper of the flame" had been active and people could smell the smoke. A personal grievance was building into a pubic hazard.
After a comment about my pastor friend that I just couldn't receive, I remembered the words of Oswald Chambers. "Discernment is given for intercession, never fault-finding." I asked him if God had given him discernment about this issue, and if he believed our pastor hears from God. He said he believed that he did. I shared the Chamber's quote with him and added "I believe he hears God too. So, who's going to pray for him first, you or me." He was a real man and said, "If you get us started I'll do my best to finish up." We bowed our heads, and stood side by side with our arms around each others shoulders. We had an unscheduled prayer meeting right there. We asked God to give our pastor strength and wisdom to guide us. We admitted our reaction had been worse than the offense we had with our pastor or with one another. We asked God to let us learn what we needed to learn through this. When I looked up no one was around. Prayer had bonded two men into friends, protected a pastor's back and dispersed a crowd. I sometimes get a note from this man, "Thanks for helping me get over the disco thing."
"I've come here to whip your @$$!" Standing on the other side of my desk was an older man who I had considered to be my friend. So much for the gift of discernment. He was hot, and I didn't have a clue what he was fightin' mad about. I told him to stop where he was before we did something both of us would regret. I warned him I had a gun in the desk drawer and I knew how to use it. I was bluffing. It was a staple gun, but he didn't know that. He calmed down a bit, and took a seat. In a short while we were able to talk and pray our way to a healthy appreciation for one another. He later put a tank of gas in my car. It wasn't unleaded so it burned up my engine, but his heart was in the right place.
Both of these good men had become "keepers of the flame" ignited by a tiny spark of resentment. One had found fault with a friend of mine. The other had become critical of me. Each had taken the log out of their eye and had placed it on the fire in their heart. What had once been small had increased in size as more and more oxygen was put to it. The more they shared their concerns with other people the bigger the flames of resentment grew. The wind of many whisperers fanned their resentment until it became a powerful force with momentum that could overrun the firebreaks of even the strongest relationship. Resentment had smouldered inside of them long enough for others to notice. They had begun to talk more and more about their irritation. The breath from their own mouths had caused the initial flare up, but fuel from the lips of others was keeping the flame alive.
It is not unusual for people to disagree. If three people get together they can usually form five differing opinons. What is the wisest way to handle this fact of life? Prayer is a great flame retardant. When applied to the initial flare up of resentment, it can restrict the whispers that add oxygen to fires of disagreement. Discernment is a gift from God. Fault-finding is not. Chamber's call for intercession is crucial to maintaining the right motive for prayer. The role of the Risen Christ is our best role model for life. Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, and He intercedes for his followers. He does it because they are in need of it.
"Christ Jesus...is at the right hand of God...also interceds for us." Rom. 8:34
Most of the time women get a bad rep over the gossip thing. Whispering campaigns among men are just as relentless. Proverbs holds a dim view of gossip hiding under the thin gauze of senstive, whispered sharing. More fires have been started and stoked in "share groups" than anyone wants to admit. Sharing and caring are not synonyms. Jesus cares enough to pray. His followers should do the same. With your next breath be a "keeper of the flame" of prayer.
"Discernment is meant for intercession, never faultfinding." Oswald Chambers
Who's going to pray first? You or me?