confessions of a failing radical: challenges of walking the way

This post was inspired by an amicable challenge set forth by my friend Simon Moyle, a peace activist and worthy Twitter followee, in the comments section of a recent post of mine.

But even prior to this challenge I have struggled with listening to Christian activists speak about their journeys and their perspectives. This is not because they are wrong, or uninspiring, or bad people. On the contrary the vast majority are beautiful, compelling, godly people.

But at a few points this year I have found myself secretly wanting them to share a specific kind of message. They will often speak about their theology, their most impressive stories of activism, living radically and following Jesus, or their well-articulated views on particular issues of the day…

…These things are important and valuable!…

… but I am often left feeling that these people are superhuman, and as a result I feel like I could never do what they do.

The truth is that what I really want to hear from these people is a message about failure, and losing hope. I want to hear a message entitled “The things that have gone wrong”, or “The things I have messed up”, or even “When I don’t feel like giving a shit anymore.”

(I don’t imagine I will hear that last one any time soon…)

Maybe it’s that I want to get past the celebritism of Christian activist circles and see who these people really are. Maybe I want people I respect to seem a little more human, and not so much like they have everything together. Maybe I want to learn from their failures and heartbreaks.

Maybe it’s just me and my insecurities.

Whatever my motives might be, I sense that I am not the only one who feels this way. I think that people want to hear the stories of hard times so that they can be encouraged that others go through the same deserts, valleys and battlefields that they do.

For the remainder of this post I want to share some of my struggles in attempting to live the radical life of discipleship that I believe Jesus calls us to. Hopefully you will identify with some, feel a weight lifted off as you realise that you are not alone, and begin to feel the permission to be open to talk about these things so that together we can try to overcome.

1. Wanting to fit in
I don’t know about you, but the more I become like Jesus, the more I find myself looking less like those around me. This is good of course, but there is still a part of me that wants to fit in with others, and it can feel very alienating in those times when you don’t. Deep down I want people to like me, not the opposite.

2. Loving comfort and security
By global (and even Australian) standards I am well off, both financially and socially. I am a beneficiary of the dominant culture of consumption and wealth accumulation in our world today. I am comfortable. I lack for nothing. There is a part of me that desperately wants to cast such security off, but another part that desperately does not want to let it go. It is easy for me to trust in my relative wealth, finding security in it even though I am not called to this kind of trust.

3. Loneliness
I suppose this is very similar to point 1. When I turn on the TV, or listen to the radio, or read Facebook posts I can feel very lonely when I reflect on the perspectives and concerns of most people around me. Often it seems nobody is willing to work to make the world better. This is a completely false conclusion, of course, but perhaps you will identify with these feelings. It can often feel like you are striving and working and giving your all for nothing as change can seem so painfully slow.

4. Desire to be important
The reality is that in the kingdom of God the people who nobody knows are just as important as anyone else. Yes,we all remember the names of the leaders and the speakers, but these people are nothing without the countless and nameless faces who work tirelessly to see social causes come to fruition. Knowing this I still have desires to be one of those well-known people. I still desire to be important, to feel like I have made a difference in the world. I often wonder how much of this is pure ego, or worse, idolatry…

5. Jealousy
No matter how much I do not want to be like this, I constantly find myself wishing I had the same opportunities and positions as other people. Whether it be a particular speaking/writing/teaching/etc. opportunity, a position of prominence, or even a depth of knowledge on a particular subject. I am daily finding myself coveting the things that others possess.

6. Insecurity
This is obviously a struggle that is present within most of the others I am listing, though it is worthy of its own mention. It seems that daily I am confronted with my own limitations, and my response is often to become insecure, doubting who I am and what I do. There is always someone who is more talented, more intelligent and more respected, and often I feel I am not skilled, smart or likeable enough to be a part of changing the world. One part of me knows this is foolish (for so many reasons!), but it is a feeling and a thought that I struggle with constantly.

7. Impatience
Activism and discipleship take time. In fact they take a long time. One of the biggest challenges is to be content with slow, incremental changes and growth. Often I want to change the world NOW!, and I want people to become mature NOW! But this is a problem in me whereby I take on values such as efficiency, certainty and productivity over patience, endurance and care.

8. Wanting to please God
I want God to like me. Grace is forgotten as I strive to serve him in the ways I believe he calls us to. This service is important, yes, but we should not undertake it because we want God to love us more. Too often I forget this and fall into the trap of walking the path of discipleship to please God rather than walking the path of discipleship to love God.

9. Community
Community is hard. When it is good, it’s good, but when it is bad, it’s terrible. Everything in community, the good and bad, is amplified. Yes, it is true that other people can be jerks, and they can be wrong, but what is more often the case is that in community I learn about my own shortcomings as a person. I learn I can be selfish. I learn I can be authoritative. I learn I can be mean and insensitive and self-righteous.

10. Discouragement
Because doing activism requires so much patience it is easy to become discouraged, particularly when nothing changes for a long time. All those hateful articles on the internet that oppose your cause bring you down. All those conversations with those “less enlightened than you” (I use this phrase ironically) deflate you. All those campaigns that seem to lead nowhere leave you feeling like you have nothing left to give. As a Christian I know taking the time to pray is the best way to retain my passion, but in those moments of discouragement often the last thing I want to do is pray…

11. Failure
I don’t want to fail. I don’t want to have to bear the burden of missing the mark. I don’t want to have to face the crushing reality that I could not finish what I set out to do, whether big or small. “What if this sermon/lecture(/blog) doesn’t hit the mark?” “What if I spend a lot of money and nobody comes?” “What if we start this project and it doesn’t change anything/anyone?” “What if I pour my life into this person and they relapse/remain unchanged/betray me?” I know that failing in life is necessary in order to learn and develop, but often I just want to set the bar so low that I can guarantee success (whatever that might be).

12. Hypocrisy
I am a massive hypocrite. I feel the weight of my hypocrisy all the time; I teach people how to follow Jesus and live as a kingdom person and then fail at it minutes later. How can I be a teacher in the kingdom of God when I am such a messed up person? I know the evil inside me and it isn’t pretty. I protest for peace and then hate someone in my heart. I combat climate change and then I go and live way above what could be called “simplicity”. I represent refugees and then exclude others in my world. I criticise capitalism and then spend my money on something frivolous and unnecessary. Yes friends, I am full of evil.

This list could go on, but you would probably get sick of reading it.

In case you hadn’t noticed I have not included any solutions to these struggles, nor have I added a heartwarming anecdote for each to show how I am overcoming (and how you can, too!)

The truth is that I don’t necessarily have such a solution or heartwarming story, that I struggle with these things constantly, and that in life there is not always a pithy Christian one-liner to make things OK.

I confess these things for two reasons; the first is so that I can publicly acknowledge my own sin and shortcomings, and that I may seek forgiveness; the second is so that others may feel that they are not alone in struggling with such issues.

Perhaps you have some struggles you want to share and discuss. Hopefully together we can journey on this difficult road of discipleship called “the Way”, struggling together with our sins, failings and shortcomings, trying to live in the power of the Holy Spirit, and holding each other up as we do.


Posted on August 19, 2011, in Haphazard, Mission and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Interesting post Matt. It highlights the fact that Christianity is not about a once off conversion experience….rather its a continual journey of discovery within a framework of identity; both on a individual and corporate scale.

  2. For the first few elections, I vowed never to run again. Then, in the first Council election I didn’t run in my own seat. When I went to vote there was no one I wanted to vote for. That was all the inspiration I needed – not just for me, but I didn’t want anyone (especially like-minded people) to not have someone to vote for.

    All you can do is what you can do – with all the wanting to give up, burn out, failures, insecurities, etc.

    Would coffee be a good idea? Will we invite any reader of the blog who wants to come along? Could be a good recoup.

    Thanks for this post, it isn’t always easy, wins or good, but we can always be there for each other.

  3. Hey Matt – thanks so much for this. There’s a reason the Scriptures tell us to “confess your sins to one another”, it’s formative and humbling and accountable. It is also a great gift to the church, and requires great vulnerability. Thankyou. I like it so much I’m going to try to find some time to respond on my own blog. And I don’t do that very often anymore. 🙂

    As a side note, I’m interested in where this ended up – my original question was: “I wonder if you could do a post exploring that first part – what are the justifications – theological and otherwise – that allow us to continue to choose comfort and security? And to push the challenge further, to write it not just in the abstract sense – but you personally?” I think that I’m usually very good at noticing such justifications in others, and less in myself.

    Looking forward to catching up in person to chat it through more.

    • You know what Simon? I completely ignored the first half of your challenge… Not that I did it on purpose, I guess I was more compelled by the second half. I think this is healthy for me, since I also see the problems in others very easily.

      I look forward to your response. I’d love to throw it on this blog too.

      Looking forward to seeing you in a month!


  4. *Puts hand up*
    I suffer from all of the above too (You know, like its a plague or something). 🙂 We all do.

    But (Matt), you are part of a minority that I like to call real christians.

    Those who are willing to think and who aren’t afraid of putting Gods word to the test, who don’t think that it’s blasphemy to ask the big questions and put the bible into real world contect, and who take the step to question the authority around them.

    It took me a short time to realise that there were different types of christians. It took me much longer to realise that christians put empasis on different things because they all ave different reasons for becoming a christian. Some want freedom, others love, others truth, acceptance, deliverance, some come out of fear (death, sin, etc), some out of respect, some out of love, trial, opposition, loss.

    I know christians who have come to Christ from most of the above.
    i know christians who remain with Christ for all of those reasons.
    Reasons can change over the course of our walk with God.
    None of these are wrong. In fact they are VERY right. 🙂

    Unfortunately though, I think we tend to get lost in what we came for and we forget that God offers all of this as a package. If you really read your bible and start asking questions, then you end up playing a juggling game with everything that is above and more. All there are are more questions, all there is is more sin, more catching up to do.

    Were stuffed. Were stuffed because we are human. Were stuffed because we are children of heaven living in imperfect bodies with imperfect minds in an imperfect world. We can’t reconcile this ideal of complete deliverance with the reality that we face here in this lifetime, so most christians choose to live in a little bubble pretending that it’s heaven where we praise God and learn things about Him.

    The Christian walk was always published as a struggle. If churches were honest then they would put that in the marketing too. Christianity – forgiveness, love and heaven (fully claimable after death. Please see the fine print on suffering during your stay on earth).

    But thankyou for putting it down in writing. It made me cry. And made me realise just how much i’ve been ignoring me best friend.

  5. So You are human after all, Lol. I have often admired you at Kingsway, leading Worship with such confidence and musical talent, not to mention your great academic abilities. God has Blessed you in so many ways. But when we, the miner’s, at the coal face, see a fellow servant rewarded for his or her Obedience to His Word. We should rejoice because we can also have the same + MORE Blessings IF we are also Obedient to His Word. We should Never feel inferior or worthless in God’s Kingdom, for we all have a important and critical role to play, and the words we speak, impact the lives of others, whether we know it or not.

  6. I don’t want people to get the idea here that I am some kind of manic depressive case. I don’t necessarily mean all I have said in despair; rather I mean to be open and vulnerable about my own perceived failings. I don’t think this should be courageous or extraordinary in any way, but rather I want to see it become a more normal part of life in the Christian community. I just want to see more people publicly talk about their failings and struggles; this is my attempt to embody what I say.

  7. OK, here is a questiion: What does it mean to be a “Redemptive” son or daughter of God?

    To adopt a mindset that is victorious with all the authority and power, (miracles and guidence of the Holy Spirit) OR To maintains an attitude of a sinner, and remain a weak and an ineffective “christian” ?

    The attitude that we are “stuffed” because we are human, negates resting in the strenghth of Jesus and performing our christianity in our own strenghth, not in His strenghth.

    We must be aware that we have an enemy who seeks to destroy us through his lies. If we believe his lies them we will be ineffective and “stuffed”. We must know who we are before we can attain our full potential.

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