Recently, I attended the MLK50 conference in Memphis, TN. I was happy to go and looked forward to learning more about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as how the gospel informs and empowers us to be, as Tim Keller says, “just persons.”That is, those changed by the gospel should be persons of justice, particularly in reference to racial issues. In God’s secret and gracious providence, and and unbeknownst to me, he wanted me to attend this conference where he would expose some serious deficiencies (read sin) in my heart.
Candidly, I was spiritually unprepared for much of what was shared, both in keynote addresses, breakouts, and short testimonials. When I say “spiritually unprepared,” I’m specifically referring to the nature of my heart. The heart is the place where our choices, intentions, and feelings come from. There were many times where I affirmed the speaker’s words with a hearty amen or looked to several friends and stated, “wow.” The “wow” was in regards to a statement that dripped with such gospel clarity and power that it was almost stunning. And yet, disappointingly, there were many times when irritation sprang from my heart and even, at times, dismissiveness.
Why did this happen? What was going on and, still goes on, within me? Let me share several reasons why I believe I reacted the way I did during the conference.
I failed to see the reality of spiritual warfare.
I failed to keep in mind the reality of Ephesians 6:12, where Paul writes, “for we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against rules, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” A good friend reminded me earlier this year that our struggle is not against one another but against a very real demonic presence and power that seeks to bring disunity, bitterness, and chaos. Spiritual warfare is alive and well. He wants to wage war on this front. We see this rooted in the truth of Genesis 3 where the root of enmity and relational and ethnic tension is found. We see it in the very next chapter where Cain murders Abel; the downfall of humanity failing to see one another as created in God’s image is frightening. Today, as image bearers fail to see the beauty and awesomeness of God’s image in one another in our racial distinction the same insidious scheme of the devil is palpable.
My irritation and dismissiveness were playing a part in giving “ground” to the devil, as I was choosing not to see the urgency and seriousness of the issue at hand. In doing so, I was not only failing to love my neighbor, but it necessarily meant that I was not loving God with the totality of my being. Love is always action-oriented; it is never passive.