I moved to Washington, D.C. as a 21-one-year-old fresh out of a Christian college with a degree in public relations. I was naive, assuming that conservative and Christian and Republican were synonymous. Consequently, I thought that if I found my dream job, I would be fulfilled. After all, I would be working with Christians advancing Republican policies.
By God’s grace, my first DC job was terrible. I was nothing more than a secretary for a self-described political consultant who supposedly subscribed to conservative ideology, but I never really knew. All I did while he chain-smoked cigars was answer phones, run errands and babysit. And neither he nor anyone else in the office was a Christ-follower. I found myself leaving at the end of the day, reeking of cigar smoke and craving interaction with Christians. I had taken for granted the Christian family and college community back home, not understanding the role of church membership.
God directed me to a vibrant church community where I understood for the first time the purpose of the local church. Not only does it provide community, but a regular diet of biblical instruction, opportunities for service, prayer support, accountability and the constant necessary reminder that we are all sinners in need of grace.
I didn’t last in my first job for long. I quickly moved on to more rewarding work in the realm of communications, but I wince thinking about how different my life and career would be if I hadn’t gotten plugged into a church early on.
I share this because the majority of my 25 years of communications experience has been serving faith-based organizations and churches through their ups and downs. I have both witnessed and professionally responded to a great deal of crises and moral failures that could have shipwrecked my faith. Church membership, by far, has been the biggest factor keeping me from despair, but several high-profile scandals rocking Christendom in recent days (Ravi Zacharias hit me the hardest) have forced me to reflect on what other practices have kept me, and I believe other believers, from discouragement – or far worse, from abandoning the Christian faith altogether.
1. Guarding my heart. Proverbs 4:23 states, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” This is exhausting work, for our hearts are deceitful and “prone to wander,” as the beloved hymn says. If I’m not regularly getting into the word, engaging in quiet prayer and repenting daily, my heart is likely to steer me in the wrong direction. I’m more inclined to cherish my comfort above all else, be overly critical of others and even to respond incorrectly to someone else’s failure with "Woosh, glad that wasn't me!” 1 Corinthians 10:12 says, “Let the one who thinks he stands watch out that he does not fall.” When I witness moral failure with a guarded heart, I respond with, “Oh, God, that could be me. Please keep me close to you!”
2. Praying for those on the frontlines of ministry (some of whom have been or are my clients or bosses). Pastors, missionaries, Christian authors and speakers. These men and women are sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, and nothing angers the devil more than that! So, after I read an encouraging blog post, I try to pray that the author would stay close to Jesus. After I view that YouTube video from my favorite Christian musician, I should pray for God’s protection over him or her. While my pastor is preaching, I must pray that he remains faithful to the word he is preaching. I should never just see myself as a consumer of Christian content, but a warrior engaged in a cosmic spiritual battle between good and evil.
3. Checking in with my Bible study and small group members. In my case, that includes co-workers. I should not assume that I or my brothers and sisters in Christ are all processing bad news well. Have a listening ear. Discuss questions you have and seek the answers. Remind yourself of God’s goodness and faithfulness even when men fail. Pray for and with your brothers and sisters so that no one is left drowning in a sea of despair. Christians need each other.
4. Keeping cynicism at bay. The Bible contains examples of God-fearers who failed miserably, but it’s also full of people who served God well. Jesus warned us repeatedly that we will encounter false prophets and the self-deceived. However, he also told us to love as He loved us. Though I have seen many mess up royally, I have seen many more who lived with integrity. There will always be the faithful in the land.
5. Meditating on heaven. This is a newer practice for me, borrowed from the Puritan Richard Baxter who credited 30-minute daily meditations on heaven with sustaining him through years of chronic physical pain. Even after being healed physically, he never stopped his “heavenly meditations,” as he called them. If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us don’t know much about our eternal home. We were taught in Sunday school about streets of gold, pearly gates and living forever, but it’s a mystery otherwise. Yet, if we look for clues, the Bible is full of information about heaven. It’s also replete with exhortations to think often and deliberately about this very real place. Though I have yet to achieve the goal of half hour daily meditations, I am learning that this discipline is helpful with persevering through discouragement and disillusionment. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth thrown in: aim at earth and you will get neither.”
We all are prone to doubt, temptation and moral failure. All of us. It’s vitally important that we actively guard against the lost of trust inside the faith and the allure of cultural trends outside the faith. We must actively practice spiritual disciplines and remain transparent and accountable within Christian community. No matter if we’re a lowly staff member of a ministry or a CEO of a large Christian nonprofit.
Heather Cirmo lives in the Washington, D.C. area and is a communications professional serving faith-based nonprofits, with over 25 years of experience.