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The joy of being a sinner

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Every once in a while, like 20 or 50 times a day, I wonder if I’ll ever get better.
I wonder if my faith will ever grow deeper or stronger, if I’ll ever have more passion for God, more desire for holiness.
Sometimes I think I must surely be the sorriest excuse for a Christian in the history of Christendom.
Sometimes people ask me when my next book is coming out, and I tell them probably never. I explain that the publishing market has changed dramatically, which is true, and that people don’t buy books the way they used to, also true.
I tell them that maybe God has me in Time Out, which may also be true. That happened once before when I was full of arrogance and pride and God let me embarrass myself publicly. I don’t know if I got any better while I was in Time Out, but ever since I’ve been scared to be arrogant — I still am, but now I’m scared when I am, which might be progress. I don’t know.
But the real reason that I am not writing any more books is that I’m waiting to get better, for my faith to grow deeper, for me to have more passion for God, for my lukewarmness to heat up. I’ve been waiting for a while now.
Times like this, when I wonder if I’ll ever get better and be usable for God, I remember a pastor I met years ago.
When she was younger, she joined with a traveling evangelist and went all over the country preaching seven days a week. Eventually, she burned out and also became disillusioned by some things she witnessed, “phoniness behind the pulpit,” she said, and left the ministry for a while.
During her “time out,” she got caught up in a cocaine whirlwind, using and selling.  Here’s the best part of her story: The whole time she was getting high, she was also sharing the gospel and praying with her druggie friends who would come to her with their spiritual questions.
She never stopped her ministry; it just took a different route.
One day during a five-day high, she was pulled over by the police. She said that’s when she came face to face with the mercy of God. Even though she had cocaine all over the seat of her car — and a gun — the officer let her go.
That scare was enough to shake her up, and eventually she stopped using drugs and returned to full-time ministry as a pastor.
What I love most about her story is how, even when she was high, God still used her to minister to others. She “had church” even when she seemed far from God.
You may disagree that God can use someone who is steeped in sin, and no church should allow an adulterous or illegal drug-addicted pastor to lead them. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make here.
I’m talking about how God uses sinners, for that’s what we all are, to reach other sinners with the gospel of grace, and he doesn’t wait until we reach a certain level of sinlessness.
Even the Apostle Paul, the greatest Christian who ever lived, called himself the “chief sinner” (1 Timothy 1:15).
A few months ago, I came to church early and sat in the parking lot debating stuff with myself. Without a whole lot of faith, I asked God to please show up for me, telling him that I needed his mercy in my life, because without it I’m toast.
Frankly, I didn’t expect him to answer my prayer, because I felt I didn’t deserve it. But he graciously humbled himself and showed himself in so many ways, but most personally in the songs we sang: “If you tarry till you’re better, you will never come at all...Not the righteous, not the righteous; sinners Jesus came to call...Let not conscience make you linger, nor of fitness fondly dream; all the fitness he requires is to feel your need for him” and then finally, “He has washed us with his blood.”
The truth is, if I tarry till I’m better — well, I’ll never be “better enough.” I will always have need for improvement.
Even so, just as I am, wherever that may be in my spiritual process, God can use me. After church that night, with the hymns still echoing in my mind, I hugged my bulletin all the way out to my car. God is so good.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via email at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.