Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Just Politics or Life Lessons?

Running for political office can seem a very unusual and foreign experience. Recognizing that there are political battles that need to be fought and won is not necessarily unusual. Deciding you should be the person who leads the troops in the political battle is another matter. Placing yourself before the public and appealing to them to allow you to lead them is the kind of role that definitely requires a sense of calling.

In 2004, I believed God had called me to run for school board. I had no idea the saga that would play out from that initial decision to run. I did not recognize the many ups and downs that would ensue. I did not recognize the multiple victories, popularity, accolades, and new friends I would gain. I also did not recognize the many misunderstandings, the notoriety, the gossip, and the new enemies I would gain. In the sheer magnitude of life events that surround political involvement, I would agree that it is definitely unusual. Being well known and adored and hated with a high level of intensity by people you have never met is definitely unusual.

I would not agree, however, that the life lessons from politics are foreign or unusual at all. The lessons may be painted on a public canvas, but they are not lessons that apply only in politics. My goal is to list some lessons I have learned after 6 years of crazy ups and downs in political life that I believe have universal application:

1. Don't believe your own press

Success in political endeavors inevitably brings good press coverage. Winning the approval of voters and having people speak exceedingly well of you is a powerfully intoxicating experience. This carries over into everyday human existence. There are few cups as addicting to drink from as the cup of human approval. We find great personal happiness drinking deep from the cup of our own adoration. We love men to love us. Apart from the grace of God graciously bursting into our lives, we are incurable self-worshippers. We believe our own good press because it affirms what we already want to believe about ourselves.

The primary problem with believing your own press is that we often don't raise our gaze above the headlines and look to the Cross. When the press we are getting is good we get carried away with self-exaltation and lose sight of the truth that we are sinners. When the press is bad we get lost in self-pity and lose sight of the truth that we are Christ's. The truth is that we are no more and no less than someone for whom Christ gave his life that we might be saved! Yet, drinking up man's approval can be so terribly addicting. The Bible says that wine is a mocker; so too is the cup of human approval.

2. Thank God for bruising you as needed

In my time in politics I have watched my friends lose many elections. Providentially, I have only lost one small election, but I have felt the pain of the losses of others. I have reflected much on how political losses are not terribly different than any other kind of suffering. It can be exceedingly painful and humiliating to lose politically. When a politician loses a political race it can also cause an identity crisis. These are realities that apply to every other kind of suffering. For example, when a marriage falls apart it is also painful, humiliating, and can cause an identity crisis. How do we handle this kind of suffering?

I would contend we need to be thankful for all forms of suffering. Suffering is God's gracious work of bringing an end to an idol in our lives. I am not suggesting that God directly acts to bring suffering in our lives. However, I am arguing that God so purposes and superintends all circumstances so that he guarantees the suffering we are enduring. He does this so that we will come to an end of ourselves, utterly repent of all idolatry, and joyfully look to Him in faith. He brings suffering into our lives so that we recognize our continual need for Him, which is our good! The Puritan divine, Richard Sibbes, has said that "God bruises a reed so he will know that he is not an oak." Suffering is the gracious bruising God brings into our lives so we know we are not oaks! This temporary, faith-building, joy-inducing, and praiseworthy bruising is God's gracious design for our lives. We should not despise the bruising but be thankful for it.

3. Be careful with fair-weather friends

I remember my first campaign for political office quite well. I ran in 1998 for a central committee seat and I lost horribly. No one endorsed me and even less people voted for me. I also remember my second campaign. I ran in 2004 for a school board seat. I gained little support from any political establishment. I had no significant endorsements, little money, and according to pundits little likelihood of winning. Yet, in a shocking turn of events I overwhelmingly won the election. I was amazed at all the new friends I gained. Suddenly, people who would not give me the time of day wanted to go to lunch. I was now a hot commodity politically.

I remember saying to one of my friends the night I won that this new found popularity is fleeting. I told him we need to note those who stood by us before victory because they would be the ones left after defeat. Proverbs 19:4 says, "wealth brings many new friends, but a poor man is deserted by his friend." The fact is that we all love to run with those who have money and power. We love to sit near the seat of power. We are also a people who love the taste of the words of a gossip (Prov. 26:22). So, when the political winds shift the chatter begins. When the popularity wanes we dine on the reputation of our friend.

Thus, we should be warned that we must be exceedingly careful with fair-weather friends. Loyal friends are hard to find. How do you know the difference between loyal friends and fair-weather friends? I think you can apply two tests:

a. Who are your friends before victory? Who was there when you were still poor and who is only around now that you are rich?
b. Who are your friends who tell you the truth, rather than just flatter you? We love the profuse kisses of our enemies and don't always care for the wounds of our friends. However, the wounds of a friend are faithful.

4. Courageously pursue your calling and not outcomes

On a rainy evening in the Spring of 2004 I stood quietly dejected with a group of friends in a parking lot. We had just lost a battle over what we considered an important moral issue and had been betrayed by people we supported. We were stunned and defeated (Incidentally, this is a scene I see portrayed every couple of election cycles).

As we stood there wondering how such injustice could happen and wondering where we go from here, I heard wisdom that I strive to live by everyday. An older Christian lady said to us, "Tonight we lost. But, we did not come out here to fight because we knew we would win. We came out here to fight because we believe the cause is just! Tonight we lost. But, tomorrow we will get up and fight again because the cause is just. Whether we win or lose we will continue to get up each day and fight because the cause is just!"

Whether the calling God has put in your life is politics or something else, you get up everyday and fulfill your calling because it is what He has given you to do. It is right to give God glory by vigorously pursuing your calling, regardless of whether you receive the outcome you hope for in doing so. I fulfill my pastoral calling because God has called me to it. I let God take care of the outcomes. I believe God has given me a mission to water and sow. I believe God will give the increase. This same principle follows in every area of our lives. We know what God calls us to but we don't know what outcome will occur. Our responsibility is to simply get up everyday and do it because it is right. So, I encourage you to take courage and fulfill your calling no matter what the outcome is each individual day.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Nice perspective, Chad. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. If only all politicians would look to the cross instead of drinking from the cup of human approval. That is a great little phrase to meditate on.