I like to learn from the stories between the crags. It’s my kind of thing; the story behind the story. For every story told, particularly ones crafted for public consumption, there remains the untold part, and these, for me, usually forms the main ingredient for the successes or failures that are portrayed to us. This is why I like Malcolm Gladwell’s writings. He’s an explorer willing to unravel the finer details that seem too trivial for story tellers to bother about. What is obvious is usually a perfect mix of unspoken words and inactions combined with the revealed to produce the stories that we rejoice or disregard.
Once I hear of or read a story, I immediately begin to find other parts of that story not reported. This is in particular to stories of mess ups, downfalls, disgrace, and the likes. People usually do not willingly plot a path to failure or severe dishonour. Such circumstances arise from a series of bad decisions and choices for which alternatives were ignored and advice was hissed at. For this reason I seek to always find out what was ignored on the path to dishonour.
I remember when I experienced an epic fail in a relationship as a young man in my 20s. I was cultured, disciplined, spiritual, and kind of a role model for younger folks in my family. I never believed that such stupidity could befall a person of my standing. I felt invincible as it had to do with relating with the opposite sex. I was warned by two separate persons, who called me aside and asked probing questions. I flushed my answers down their throats, bouncing the questions off me as if to tell them “can’t your eyes see how pure this is?” Well…I got bitten and it was quite terrible. It was a fall from grace. Grace grassed me like some will say. Or was it my foolishness that did? In this light, I like to learn from broken people; folks who have crashed small or big time. I call it feeding from the thrash.
So let me briefly share what I have learnt from two popular persons who hit rock bottom in their professions. I have learnt something deeply personal from them, perhaps because my heart was already considering these issues but without much clarity. So here we go –
The year 2006 was a really sad time for Ted, his wife Gayle and their kids. The revelations that revealed his same sex relations and drug use was scandalous to say the least. I remember a particular church in Nigeria that had his name publicised on a flyer for a December event, had to take it off hurriedly. After several years of living the lie and denying the same, he finally came clean about his sin and asked for forgiveness from his church and christians everywhere.
Typically, a lot of noise went on about his confession and trust Americans to spin the story to even larger issues of homophobia. In all these I listen closely to see what exactly God was saying to Ted and other christians; what He was saying to me. I finally got my message when he went on two separate interviews. The first was with Oprah and the second with Larry King (I hope I’m right about the order).
While being interviewed by Oprah (who was bent on getting him to admit he was gay), he gave an amazing insight into how God dealt with him during the times of his struggle, and this is where my lesson came from. He noted that for several years he would pray about the problem asking God to help him in overcoming the pressures of the sin. At one point, after a time of prayer, he suddenly knew God had answered him, but the answer was not one he was going to like or be comfortable with. In other words, the shameful revelation about his inner struggles was the answer that God gave, and he had to accept it if his healing will happen. Very Profound. God killing you is not a loss to Him. He can do anything to you to save your soul, including handing you over to men for torment. This is exactly what happened to Ted. He would have continued in that sin if God didn’t expire his grace. Lesson: Your. Grace. Can. Expire.
During his interview with Larry King (who was pretty gracious to him), Ted shared about how lost he felt after the news broke. He struggled to find God in the midst of the storm and couldn’t because he felt such self condemnation. However, God broke through his pain and frustration one day and gave him a word in John 15:16, which reads:
You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. (NLT)
I was blown away when I heard him share that word. I had never understood it that way. The word breathed life coming from a broken heart and trembling lips: “You didn’t choose. I chose you.” That gave me instant inner healing from the turmoil of wondering if God accepted my reasonable sacrifices. Lesson: God already knew me, yet He chose me. Simple!
Rev Yonggi Cho is a celebrated pastor of the largest pentecostal congregation called the Yoido Full Gospel Church in South Korea. Of recent news broke about his conviction by a South Korean Court for corruption, breach of trust and tax evasion. That news obviously isn’t hard to find.
So many people were stunned about this and wonder how it could happen to a very respected pastor. Of course the usual arm chair analysis begun about the wealth and opulence of ‘men of God’. As usual I sought to see what other smaller stories were sharing about this and I came about an article that reported the message he preached the Sunday following his conviction and sentencing. His words were profound and heavy as a millstone.
In addressing the church, he muttered these words on February 23rd, 2014:
“Through this suffering, I’ve learned a homework. An individual shouldn’t possess anything. Besides health; status, fame, authority, money… these are all matters that are outside the body and unworthy of any pursuit.”
“An individual shouldn’t possess anything” – The operative word is ‘possess’. I was suddenly hit with the REALITY of the matter and not just the KNOWLEDGE (for that is a thing for which I am severally certified). I remember what Jesus asked the rich young ruler to do. I also remember what 1 Timothy 6:10 says:
For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. (NLT)
No doubt, for the love of money, David Yonggi Cho pierced himself with many sorrows. If he didn’t possess the money, the money wouldn’t have possessed him, thus leading to his present sorrows and having to step down as pastor after over 50 years of serving. This is a really great lesson to me that no matter how big I become, I should possess nothing apart from good health. All other things are vain and can destroy you.
Well…this was my nights’ meditation and just thought to write about it instead of simply going to bed with the thoughts. So let me also encourage you to seek out broken people. They have a whole lot to teach you. I once read somewhere that success is good, but it doesn’t teach you anything. If I reverse the coin it should read: “Failure is bad, but it teaches you a whole lot. Like the preacher says in Ecclesiastes 7:2:
It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart. (NIV)