Spirit of Grace Ministries
Spirit of Grace Ministries
-- Feeding Jesus' sheep
-- Equipping His servants
-- Proclaiming His Gospel

Messy People


By Dennis Pollock

We evangelicals are an idealistic people. We have very definite ideas about right and wrong, and mostly believe that a Christian’s life should be neat, orderly, and upright. We are commanded in Scripture to give respect to whom respect is due, to follow the laws of the land, to treat people the way we would want to be treated, to be faithful to our spouses until death, and to avoid not only sin, but the very appearance of sin. Fully believing the Bible to be the inspired word of God, we attempt to live out our faith in Jesus by following the lifestyle He commands.

If one didn’t know better, it might seem to be a fairly easy lifestyle to practice. Do the right, shun the wrong, get along with people, love your spouse, and keep your life clean, neat, and orderly. Along the way we will raise a couple of well-adapted children who love Jesus as much as we do. It turns out that this is not as easy as it might seem. Of course, we recognize that secular, unbelieving, ungodly, intemperate people are going to fail in these areas. But we are different. We truly aspire to follow the commands of Scripture and to live blameless lives above reproach. No mess, no fuss, no complications. We will live out our lives comfortably, hopefully accomplishing some good in this world and being a blessing to at least a few people, growing old, and dying peacefully in our beds with our loved ones around us.

In my twenties this was pretty much how I saw the Christian life. My intentions were great. I really and truly wanted to follow Jesus, do His will, be used by Him to bless others, and avoid any major stains or messes in my life. It didn’t quite turn out that way. I am now in my latter years, and looking back over my life I can see a number of messy areas. One huge mess was the divorce I filed for but never wanted. After thirty years of what I considered to be a great marriage, my wife became involved with another man and couldn’t let him go. I had preached against divorce, written against divorce, counseled against divorce, and now I was divorced. It was devastating personally, and I went through a period of depression such as I had never experienced before.

Should I Go On?

But there was another aspect of the devastation, beyond the emotional pain. For most of my adult life I had been involved in Christian ministry, as a pastor, evangelist, and Bible teacher. What now? Did I have any reason to go on in the ministry? Are not divorced people better off sitting in the back of the church, not doing much, not saying much, and keeping a low profile? In some ways it seemed the best response. But try as I might to “semi-retire” from the ministry, God would not allow it. Money came pouring into my new ministry and our bank account grew to such an extent that I felt compelled to do an overseas mission. It wasn’t the most successful mission I’ve ever done, but one thing I could not deny – the Holy Spirit was still anointing me. I could feel His presence empowering me to preach and making me far more eloquent than I could ever be in my own strength. Somehow God seemed to be saying: “Go on, keep doing this. I’m not through with you.” And so I did, and have been engaged in overseas missions and preaching the gospel of Christ in Africa for many years now.

The Lord graciously provided me with another wife, a woman who not only is gorgeous but is also twenty years younger than me. I’m quite sure more than a few people suppose that I dropped my previous wife to marry this “younger model.” Apart from an occasional article like this one, I don’t attempt to set the record straight. God knows the truth. But no matter how you look at it, divorce is a messy business.

Children and Messes

When I was in my twenties I had very definite ideas about raising children. My philosophy was simple and came straight from the Bible: “Raise up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” I had all kinds of Bible studies with my children, talked about Jesus and the things of God with them constantly, and every Sunday, rain, shine, or snow, we packed our family of seven into a van or car and went to church. The idea of staying home on Sunday morning was absurd. It just wasn’t right! I was sure that by giving my children great big doses of Christianity and church, they could not help but turn out to be strong, passionate, church-attending, Bible-reading Christians.

Today my “children” are all adults in their thirties, with the oldest about to turn forty. Out of our five children, two are committed Christians who attend church regularly. The other three seem to have a respect for God, but almost never go to church. Kind of messy, considering that they are the children of a Bible teacher who has preached passionate sermons about providing spiritual protection for our families, and strongly exhorted believers to “raise up a child in the way he should go…”

Great Ministers in Church History

One of the great inspirations of my life has been to read the biographies of some of the greatest men and women ministers in the history of the church. I thrilled at their exploits for Christ and the huge multitudes of men and women who were saved and blessed through their ministries. But one of the great surprises I received, especially when the biographers were determined to be totally honest and not just do “puff pieces” was to discover that even these great ministers had their issues, flaws, and family problems. Their lives seemed to be almost as messy as everybody else’s, and sometimes messier. John Wesley, the firebrand revivalist, evangelist, and founder of what would become the Methodist church, had a terrible marriage. His wife left him multiple times. Wesley didn’t try too hard to make things work, as his philosophy was that when married, a minister should preach just as much and stay just as busy as when he was single. Once a fellow minister came to Wesley’s house and found that Wesley and his wife had been fighting. I don’t mean having an argument. This was a physical fight, and Wesley’s wife was getting the best of it. (Wesley was a scrawny little man, five feet four in height.) Ultimately his wife left him for good, and Wesley lived out his years alone and in peace. Pretty messy!

Smith Wigglesworth was a British healing evangelist who preached that “healing is in the atonement.” He felt that everybody could and should be healed if only they had enough faith. And yet for years Wigglesworth suffered from the terrible agony of kidney stones. Sometimes after having prayed for others and watching them be healed through the laying on of his own hands, he would be forced to leave one of his healing meetings due to pain so excruciating that he could no longer conduct the meeting. This went on for seven or eight years, and Wigglesworth used to keep a jar with all the kidney stones he had passed. It seems kind of messy for a man noted for his powerful healing ministry to have such an affliction.

Kathryn Kuhlman was another healing minister whose life was messy. In her younger years, while pastoring a highly successful church, she married a man who abandoned his wife and children to marry Kathryn. He justified this desertion of his family with a bizarre doctrine which said that if you didn’t truly love your spouse when you married them, you weren’t really married. After marrying this man, Kathryn’s ministry sputtered and came to a halt. About seven or eight years later, Kathryn came to believe that she would never regain her ministry while married to her husband and left him to strike out on her own. The anointing she once had known seemed to resurface, and before long she was achieving great things in the ministry. The Holy Spirit was undoubtedly using her. But she told no one of her divorce and carefully guarded that secret for years because she realized that if the information ever became public, her ministry was dead. Finally, she became so successful and effective that when the truth was revealed, she survived it and kept on ministering in the power of the Spirit.

Baptist Pastor

Charles Stanley, the popular Southern Baptist television preacher, was involved in a not-too-friendly divorce from his wife, after being separated from her for around eight years. During this time Charles’ son, Andy, also became alienated from his father, and eventually left the huge church, where he was expected to be the heir of his father, starting his own church. Charles Stanley didn’t share any of the reasons for the divorce or the alienation from his son, but was allowed to continue on as pastor. It was messy and confusing for his many fans, but the church survived, and Charles Stanley went on preaching Jesus Christ and teaching the Bible as he always had. Over the years he and his son have reconciled.

In the Bible we honor David as a “man after God’s own heart.” And yet David committed adultery, arranged to have his lover’s husband killed, and then took her as his wife. According to the law of Moses, David should have been stoned, but instead God forgave him and allowed him to continue as king for many more years. David didn’t get off scot-free, however, and paid a high price for his flagrant breaking of the laws of God. Messy, messy, messy.

No Mess-Free Lives

It would be so nice if there were no messes in the lives of God’s children. If we could all live totally upright lives with no spots or blemishes, if every marriage were perfect, if all our children grew up as shining testimonies to the grace of Jesus, if we were truly “happy all the day” as the hymn suggests, surely this would bring great honor to God. No doubt it would, but life as a child of God and a follower of Christ is not that neat. We do not check our humanity in at the door as we enter God’s kingdom. And with that humanity come problems, challenges, painful seasons, and more than a few messes for most of us.

The Bible says, “Where no oxen are, the trough is clean; but much increase comes by the strength of an ox” (Proverbs 14:4). You can have clean, neat barns and troughs by doing away with your oxen, but you won’t see much of a harvest without them. And our lives could be so much neater if we lived alone on an island, never relating to anyone, never arguing with anyone, having no marital problems, and chanting hymns all day long. But we wouldn’t be doing any good for anyone either.

I know from experience that when you go through a messy time in your life, there is a tendency to want to draw back from the things of God. We even suppose that this is the spiritual and proper thing to do. And sometimes it may be, temporarily. But often the devil tells us that we must “draw back” permanently; that we are no longer worthy to do much in Christ’s service. We have become second-class or third-class Christians, and we had better leave any significant ministry opportunities for those whose lives are far, far neater than ours.

In truth this is a cop-out. The Bible tells us that the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29). With all our bruises and all our messes, we are not given the convenience of excusing ourselves from ministry, just because our lives and our histories are messy. The song says, “I have decided to follow Jesus,” and this must always be our theme. Although we may need a season of healing and recuperation, there is no permanent drawing back from serving Jesus. Our job after our messes is precisely what it was before the messes – to offer ourselves freely to the Savior that He might do with us all that He pleases, and to lift up the cross and resurrection of Jesus to the world.



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