Blessed are Those Who Know They’re Bad
My wife and I recently got back from a trip to Pontiac, Michigan. I was invited to spend three days at Grace Centers of Hope (formerly known as Pontiac Rescue Mission) and their associated church, Grace Gospel Fellowship.
Pastor Kent Clark and his wife Pam have been there for over thirty years; faithfully ministering to severely broken and desperate people who have completely bottomed out due to things like drug addiction, alcoholism, and prostitution. They have given their lives to serving the most challenging people who are in the most desperate places imaginable. There are currently over three hundred men and women going through their recovery program with thousands more who have been helped and rehabilitated over the last three decades.
So, when Pastor Kent asked me to come and spend the weekend speaking to those in the program, I immediately said, “Yes.”
Three or four years ago, that wouldn’t have been the case.
Back then, I was getting more invitations to speak than I was able to accept. Life was very busy, and I had to be really picky about what I said “Yes” to. As my Assistant and I would work through the Speaker Request forms, we developed criteria that would help me decide what to accept and what to decline.
The criterion was simple: I said “Yes” to those places and events which would have the most far-reaching impact. Large events in strategic cities, big fundraisers for important causes and ministries, conferences for leaders and pastors, college campuses, and so on. These were the kinds of things I would say “Yes” to because they had the potential for reaching the most people with the most potential influence. It made sense. Therefore, a Rescue Mission in Pontiac, Michigan, (especially in the winter!) would not have met my criteria.
But things have changed.
As you can imagine, I don’t get as many invitations as I used to. Not even close. And that’s understandable. I hurt and betrayed a lot of people because of my own sin and selfishness, and I ruined my own credibility and trustworthiness as a result. As someone once said, “Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair.” That is true. And that is fair. I accept that. So the fact that I would be asked to speak anywhere to anybody is an undeserved gift from God.
However, what was particularly interesting about this recent trip to Pontiac is how God has unmistakably turned the tables on my “criteria.” Before I crashed and burned, I chose where to go based on the impact I would have. But now, God chooses where I go based on the impact it will have on me!
Spending the weekend with people who are desperate, people who know how much forgiveness they need, people who (like me) struggle daily with guilt, shame, and regret because of the decisions they have made and the people they have hurt—was life-giving. Because they comprehend something profound about their own messiness, they comprehend something profound about God’s mercy. And as a result, they had a far greater impact on me than I had on them.
What I’ve been learning is that my success always connected me TO people. But my failures are connecting me WITH people—in ways that my success never did. We may impress people with our success, but it is our failure that bonds us with others.
Sometimes we think that “goodness” is what qualifies us to have a powerful impact on people. But the truth is that none of us are “good.” And our impact on people becomes powerful when we acknowledge our badness and live out of our brokenness. In fact, the more honest you are about your fears and failures, the bigger your effect on people will be. It is, without question, our failures and not our successes, where God’s grace shines the brightest through us into the lives of others. Like I’ve said about Brennan Manning, every person I have ever known who has crashed and burned, and as a result, come to terms with their own powerlessness, has taught me something about God’s grace that I would’ve never known otherwise.
Being there reminded me again and again that brokenness and desperation are a gift—that the best distributors of grace and forgiveness are those who know (really know!) by experience just how badly they need both.
Spending days with people in recovery showed me how much more refreshing it is to be with those who know they’re bad, rather than those who think they’re good. There was a revitalizing realism being around people who don’t fight their need for grace and who truly see themselves (and no one else) as the “Chief of Sinners.” In fact, the whole time I was there I couldn’t help but wonder what churches would be like if they were all filled with people who knew their desperate neediness as palpably as my new friends in Pontiac.
So, to all of you that I had the privilege of spending a few days with, I can’t wait to come back and see you again. The way you flagrantly flock to Jesus because you know down deep, just how urgently you need him, ministered to me more than you can possibly imagine.
I love you guys. Thank you! A thousand times—thank you!