In praise of Christian misfits:
Maladjusted Christians? Yes, in the eyes of the world this will always be the case. And before you think I am going off the deep end again, let me remind you of 1 Samuel 22:2: “All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander. About four hundred men were with him.” As I remarked in an earlier piece:
It is interesting that David, who at the time was not on the throne, but was being hounded and chased around the country by Saul, found himself to be a magnet for those who were on the fringes of society, those who did not fit in, those who were discontented and in distress. The really amazing thing about this motley crew of rejects, misfits and outsiders is that they went on to do many mighty things for God and David. We read about these men later in the Old Testament narratives. In 2 Samuel 23, 24 and 1 Chronicles 11, 12 we learn about “David’s mighty men”. billmuehlenberg.com/2009/11/29/david%e2%80%99s-mighty-men-godly-discontentment/
So we have biblical precedent here. Indeed, a study of the Bible and church history will also reveal this truth. God’s people will always be outsiders. We will always be seen as misfits and oddities and even freaks. That is how the true son or daughter of God has always been considered, by both the world and by worldly Christians.
Here I want to discuss this further, utilising an important Christian thinker I have just featured in my last two articles: Os Guinness. His book Prophetic Untimeliness (Baker, 2003) is discussed here: billmuehlenberg.com/2022/06/16/prophetic-passion-and-resistance-thinking/
Today I want to further explore Chapter 5 of the book: “The Price of Faithfulness.” It begins this way: “A French resistance leader was once asked how he explained the fact that his men had been so heroic. He thought for a while, and then answered: ‘We weren’t heroic. We were simply maladjusted enough to know that something was seriously wrong’.”
He examines unheeded messengers such as John the Baptist, Churchill and Solzhenitsyn. Despite their differences they shared some common virtues:
Discernment of the times; courage to repudiate powerful interests and fashion; perseverance in the face of daunting odds; seasoned wisdom born of a sense of history and their nation’s place in it; and—supremely with the Hebrew prophets—a note of authority in their message born of its transcendent source. No feature of the unheeded messengers, however, is more common than the link between the brilliance of their perspective and the burden of their pain. . . . Both are the result of being outsiders, and for any Christian who would speak out today in a time of the church’s deepening cultural captivity, prophetic untimeliness carries a clear cost.
He lists three such costs. The first is “a sense of maladjustment.” Says Guinness: “When society is increasingly godless and the church increasingly corrupt, faithfulness carries a price. The man or woman who lives by faith does not fit in. . . . C. S. Lewis referred to himself in his inaugural lecture at Cambridge as an “Old Western man,” a “dinosaur,” and a “Neanderthaler.” In short, praised prophets are mostly dead prophets, though in their lifetimes they were skunks in the parfumerie or heretics in the revival meeting.”
Although he goes on to make this important point: “Though faithfulness may entail maladjustment, maladjustment does not necessarily indicate faithfulness; we may just be odd and using maladjustment to rationalize our oddness.” Quite so: some believers think they are suffering for Christ when they are really suffering because they are so off-putting, quarrelsome and difficult to be around.
The second cost of faithfulness is “a sense of impatience.” As he says:
When society becomes godless and the church corrupt, the forward purposes of God appear to be bogged down and obstructed, and the person who lives by faith feels the frustration. At such a moment, untimely people see beyond the present impasse to the coming time when better possibilities are fulfilled. Their response to any delay of the vision is impatience – raw, bit-chomping impatience. And their natural cry is, “How long, O Lord?”
He continues: “Is it ever too late to be what we might have been, and to do what we might have done? For followers of Jesus, the kairos moment – the right time in all its fullness of opportunity – is in God’s hands, not ours. And this earth, this life, and our endeavors are not all we have.”
And the third cost “a sense of failure.” As the world and the church continue to go downhill, “the prospects of good people succeeding are significantly dimmed and the temptation to feel a failure is everpresent.” But he goes on to say that we should not worry about our own success or legacy:
If we define all that we are before our great Caller and live our lives before one audience – the Audience of the One – then we cannot define or decide our own achievements and our own success. It is not for us to say what we have accomplished. It is not for us to pronounce ourselves successful. It is not for us to spell out what our legacy has been. Indeed, it is not even for us to know. Only the Caller can say. Only the Last Day will tell. Only the final “Well done” will show what we have really done.
He concludes this chapter with these words:
God knew the times in which he called us to live, and he alone knows the outcome of our times as he knows the outcome of our lives and our work. Our ‘failures’ may be his success. Our ‘setbacks’ may prove his turning points. Our ‘disasters’ may turn out to be his triumphs. What matters for us is that his gifts are our calling. So every day our work is like a prayer. And everyday we give back all we can of God’s gifts to him – with love, and trust, and hope.
Quite right. So Christians, just do it. Just keep on with what God has called you to do. And don’t worry about the results. Don’t worry that you may not seem to be making any headway, or that you are making any progress. Just be faithful.
For example, you may have been called of God to start a blogsite. But it may get just a handful of readers each day. So you might get discouraged and think: ‘What is the point?’ Well the point is you are doing what God has called you to do. That is the main thing. And secondly you will be having some impact, even though you might doubt this at the time.
It will only be in the next life that we discover how much of an impact we really did have. But even that should not be our main concern. Our real aim must be to love God fully and seek to do his will. And yes, to do his will fully and fervently will mean that we will be misfits.
Certainly the world will see us as misfits, as outsiders, as weirdos. But sadly, and far too often, many if not most Christians will feel the same way about you. They will think that you are so very maladjusted. Well, so be it. If we are to be misfits for Christ, then wear that as a badge of honour.
He also did not fit in very well.