Betrayal. Nothing cuts deeper, stings longer and leaves us bewildered like betrayal. If you’re in ministry for any length of time, you’ve tased the bitterness of this cup. It comes to all of those who are willing to be identified as followers of Christ and, even more, as under shepherds.
Whether it’s the echo of Julius Caesar’s “et tu Brute” or the question of our Lord to the one who’s feet he just finished washing, “betrayest thou the Son of Man with a kiss?” (The KJV kind of adds something to it, don’t you think?)
You can hear the pain of the apostle Paul as he tells Timothy that Demas had forsaken him, having loved the present world ( 2 Timothy 4:10).
In addition to the examples we have read about, we all have a couple of our own that have left us surprised, hurt and perhaps a little slow in engaging in relationship with others again.
As I consider the life of David, I see that the two bookends of his ministry contain the pain of betrayal. In the beginning it was Saul who was so threatened by David’s popularity and influence that he sought to kill him. In the latter years of his life, he was once again forced to experience the bitter taste of betrayal when his own son, Absalom, sought to take the kingdom out from under his aging father.
We have opportunity to step into David’s shoes a little as he pens what’s going on in his mind as he is fleeing his son and those who have banded together with Absalom to take David down:
O Lord, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
“There is no salvation for him in God.”
Psalm 3:1–2 (ESV)
This hurts when it is at the hands of strangers, but it hurts twice when those who are rising up against you and saying things about you are being mobilized by someone in your own house – your own son!
That Selah, so appropriately placed there gives a moment of pause to consider what was just written.
Can you see him crying out to God … Many are my foes, many are rising against me, many are saying there’s no hope for me … many, many, many!
I’ve been blessed to have entered the 25th year of ministry this past April. Like many of you, there are moments of wonder and excitement and reward that exceed anything that can be written on a paycheck. But there have also been seasons of pain, of tears, of misunderstanding and outright attacks.
Sometimes, I was on the receiving end of love, support and encouragement that I hadn’t even had the opportunity to earn yet. It was an extension of people’s love for God, extended toward me! I trust many faces are coming into your mind as you consider similar experiences. The opposite is true as well. I’ve experienced the fruit of people’s rebellion toward God, His Word and His leading. Sadly you may also have faces coming to mind as you consider similar experiences.
I’m privileged to shepherd an amazing congregation. They are gracious towards me, faithful to the church, fun to run with and they inspire and challenge me to grow in my walk with Christ so that I can better serve and equip them.
I truly love them and it is out of my love for them that I desire to learn, grow, be informed and equip myself so that I can be the kind of shepherd they need to the degree that God will allow me.
I’ve shared with them more than once that the best training I ever received for ministry was not from a leadership conference, a podcast or the pursuit of my theological degrees, but rather some lessons I’ve learned from working the service desk at Home Depot. Yes, Home Depot Theological Seminary is where much of this “success” in pastoral ministry was learned.
Prior to ministry, I worked the service desk at Home Depot. It was my responsibility to ensure that every guest who walked into the store upset left happy. It was my responsibility to turn them around, give them whatever they wanted so they would realize they were a valued customer. Not sure how much of that culture still remains, but that is what the company was founded on.
There would be times that people would come in so angry, ready to fight and would literally yell and complain to me that their blinds came in wrong, their carpet was running late, their installation wasn’t satisfactory… Whatever the case, they came in to fight and in their mind, I was the guy to blame because I represented the company.
I learned very quickly that if I was going to survive in this role without jumping over the counter and “meeting them where they were at,” I would need to employ a proper mindset.
I discovered very quickly that those disgruntled customers weren’t yelling at me, Tony. They didn’t even know me nor did they want to know me. They were yelling at the big orange apron I was wearing. Making that distinction enabled me to engage well and seek to find resolution for their problems as a representative of the company they were actually mad at. And I got pretty good at it, too!
I knew in those early days that God was training me for the many roles I’d be called to steward later on in life.
Getting back to David who is lamenting over the many many many people who are against him, he caught himself in the midst of it and declared in the verse following his cry:
But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
Psalm 3:3 (ESV)
I like that. You, O Lord are my shield! Like being identified by the apron at Home Depot, my identity is in you!
They can aim at my heart, but they can’t penetrate my shield, because you are a shield about me AND when I wrap my arms around that truth, I won’t drop my head because of what many are saying. I’ll let it hit my shield and let you define me, for YOU are my glory and YOU are the lifter of my head!
So how should you respond when you’re being attacked? Here are 7 ideas to keep in mind:
1. Get perspective!
Remember that while it may feel that way, not everyone is really against you and it’s important to find those safe people in your life who are for you, will understand you and pray for you.
2. Ask God if what they’re saying is true.
Before you write off the accusations, first consider if there is any truth to it. Just because a person doesn’t say it the right way doesn’t mean there isn’t any truth to it. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you identify areas for growth and, if need be, humble yourself in asking forgiveness.
3. Don’t respond in kind.
The best way to ensure that you don’t become like them is to guard your heart against becoming angry and retaliatory.
4. Remember who you represent.
As mentioned previously, as a shepherd you’re on the receiving end of love and rebellion that has nothing to do with you because you represent the Chief Shepherd.
5. Remember, it may feel very personal, but it’s not always.
Often times the person who is embittered to you doesn’t know you well enough to come to the conclusions they have, and in case they do…
6. Rejoice that you take part in Christ’s suffering.
If they hurt him, they’ll hurt those who represent him.
7. Pray for them.
This will guard your heart from being hardened and it will keep the door open for reconciliation if the Lord provides that opportunity.