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Honest to God and Others
by Joel Comiskey, Ph.D.
Small Group Network, September 2000,www.smallgroupnetwork.com
"Joel, there are very few entryways into your life," my brother Andy said to me. "You have a tendency to make yourself look good--always putting your best foot forward. It’s hard for people to relate to you, " he said. The painful truth of my brother’s words dug deep into my soul. He was right.
My brother Andy knows the importance of an honest, transparent lifestyle. God delivered him from homosexuality twenty-four years ago. Now Andy and his wife Annette constantly magnify God’s grace in their lives by helping others overcome sexual problems. For Andy, this means sharing his testimony continually. Open and transparent communication helps him to minister God’s grace to others.
The words of my brother Andy continue to speak to me today. I’ve tried to apply Andy’s counsel by creating entryways.
Entryways. Synonyms include: door, entrance, access. Over the last several years, I’ve had to confront my tendency to erect doors and barriers instead of entryways. I like to look good. I have an inbred inclination to impress and magnify my accomplishments. I want others to say great job, Joel. Honest living before God and others doesn’t come natural for me.
Actually, there is nothing in the Bible that talks about creating entryways. There are many examples, however, of transparent living before God. In effect, my brother Andy was saying, "Joel, you need more transparency in your life."
The words of the apostle John have helped me to understand transparency. John says, ". . . if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). Walking in God’s light enhances transparency and vulnerability. God’s penetrating light reveals who I really am and removes the need for pretensions or false expectations. When God’s penetrating light is present, transparency and honesty abound.
My good friend, Bill Mangham, excels in transparency. Others feel relaxed in Bill’s presence because they know he’s real. Just last week, Bill walked into my home and showed me two photos. One revealed his son successfully surfing a wave; the other showed Bill falling flat on his face as he tried to do the same. "A typical example of Bill Mangham," I thought to myself.
Bill creates friends by creating entryways. He doesn’t try to impress others. In fact, I’ve never heard Bill boast about his accomplishments. He doesn’t need to because they are so evident. Bill is respected by all and is constantly elevated to leadership positions.
Living a life of transparency first begins by acknowledging that God knows every aspect of our lives. The writer of Hebrews declares, "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (4:13).
Bare. Naked. This is the reality of my situation before God. My wife Celyce knows me well after twelve years of marriage. At times, she can even read my thoughts. Yet, her knowledge pales in comparison to God’s ever-present gaze at every aspect of my life.
Although God knows me intimately, the good news is that He declares me righteous through Jesus Christ (Romans 3:9-26). Paul spends considerable time in Romans chapters 1-3 highlighting our sinful condition. He then recommends that we acknowledge our sinful condition (rather than impress God with our good works), place our faith in Jesus Christ, and receive His unmerited favor. Paul concludes, "Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith."
I’m discovering that God’s grace eliminates boasting in my own accomplishments and merits. It helps me strip away the barriers of pride and superficiality and exposes the folly of trying to impress God by our good works. The more I acknowledge God’s unmerited grace toward me, the less I need to prove myself before Him and others. I’m liberated to live an honest, transparent lifestyle.
Honest to Others
The book of James elaborates on the transparent lifestyle and shows us how to practically live it. James says, "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (James 5:16). James is writing to believers in passage. He affirms that a certain healing takes place when believers share sin and weaknesses and then pray for one another. Mutual concern for one another is the way to combat discouragement and downfall.
I lead a small group in my home each week. During one lesson, we discussed the passage in Ephesians 4:32 that says, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." I knew that Michael was struggling. He claimed that once a seminary student had raped his daughter. Our church dealt with both Michael and this young man, yet Michael continued to hold deep bitterness toward him. That night, I asked each member to quietly search his or her own heart.
Michael broke the silence saying, I need to confess my bitterness toward Jim (not his real name). I’ve been holding resentment, and I’ve become a slave to my own sin. Please pray for me this evening.
That night, we cried out to Jesus on Michael’s behalf. Michael confessed his sin to the entire group, and that night he received healing. Since then, Michael has experienced a new freedom in his life. God healed Michael as he walked in transparency before God and others.
I admit that discernment is needed. There is a time and a place for everything, and you don’t need to share every detail of your life with everyone you meet. You also need to know that what you share will be kept confidential. What is shared in the group goes no further than the group.
Although caution is in order, I’ve discovered that we as believers have the tendency to error on the conservative side. We expose too little of our lives, thus erecting barriers instead of entryways.
A few weeks ago, we discussed Psalm 46:1, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." Paul, who was leading the discussion time, asked the question, "When have you had a crisis and how did you handle it?" Paul followed with another application question, "Share with the group how God has been your refuge through a difficult time."
Everyone had something to share. "Many years ago I administered the most successful tailoring business in the country," Jim began. "I loved my job and even made suits for the president. At the height of my success, the doctors told me that it was either my health or my job, so I had to leave it. But God. . . ." Then Mary shared, "Recently, my daughter Nancy said she’d be home at 10 p.m., but at 1 a.m. she still hadn’t arrived. I’m a nervous person anyway, but this time I was beyond myself. Yet, through prayer God began. . . ."
Our group shared deeply that night. We bore each other’s burdens. We went away edified, encouraged, and eager to come back for more. Honesty before others means sharing your trials, hurts, and weaknesses—not only the victories and joys.
We’ve all experienced "fellowship" times when everybody tried to impress each other. You feel pressure to perform. You only reveal those areas of your life that make you look good in the eyes of others. True Christian fellowship, on the other hand, is transparent and honest. You don’t feel inhibited to express your true feelings. You share the good as well as the bad because there is nothing to hide.
Open sharing and transparency work well to cement relationships. In The Art of Mentoring, Shirley Peddy says,
Tell your story first. So often we make the mistake of asking the other person a question, and putting him on the spot. "How did you like the meeting this morning? Did you stay until it ended?" This is more an interrogation than a "trust" builder. No wonder the other person feels exposed and vulnerable. He wonders why you are asking. How should he answer? Is this a test? To avoid this reaction, always start with your own story, making sure it isn’t something that puts you in a highly favorable light. Maybe when you attended the meeting in the morning, you slipped out a few minutes early. "I can never stay awake in meetings anyway," you tell him. By disclosing something personal about yourself, you take the initial step toward creating trust.
Vulnerability has a way of disarming others. It’s a way of saying, "I’m no better than you are. I have my problems too." Recently, I spoke at a South African seminar on small group ministry with 1,500 people present. Those attending saw me as Dr. Joel Comiskey, author and cell church expert. I sensed, however, a distance between the participants and me. They had placed me on a pedestal. Toward the end of the conference, I shared my testimony how God delivered me from a wild past and many of my own weaknesses. The next day, I noticed a dramatic change. The pastors and lay leaders felt the liberty to approach me and ask questions. Suddenly, I was a real person with entryways into my life.
I’d encourage you to begin the journey of honest living before God and others by taking action:
Ask God to make you honest and transparent as you spend consistent time in His presence.
Find one or two close friends with whom you can meet on a regular basis (weekly, bimonthly, or monthly). Make it a point to share your weaknesses and trials with this person. Encourage the same from him or her. Pray together for the needs expressed.
Get involved in a weekly small group. This will help you to develop accountability with others. Share openly with the group members about your own life and struggles.
Make it a goal in your daily relationships to share your own weaknesses and trials. Don’t feel that you always have to look good before others. Don’t justify yourself. Allow God to be strong in your weaknesses.
Andy’s words continue to speak to me today. I’ll admit that I haven’t arrived. I still have the tendency to impress and hide behind a veneer of strength. Yet as I meditate on His grace and realize that He is glorified in my weakness, I’m encouraged to live honestly before God and others.
Now it’s your turn: Are there many entryways in your life?