The Rev. Clay Smith: The safest place to hide from God


Samuel's boys got into the family business of serving in the tabernacle. They did not, however, see it as a holy calling. For them, it was an opportunity to create a good life for themselves. The rule was the choice parts of the animal being offered were to be burned up as an offering for God. Samuel's boys sent a servant in to spear the good parts for themselves. They used their positions of power to seduce and sleep with the young women who served at the entrance to the tabernacle. They were not the first nor the last "servants of God" to abuse their position.

The same thing happened with the chief priests in Jesus' time. Collaborating with the Romans ensured they retained their positions of power and wealth. Backed by Roman military power, they continued to operate a money-changing scam in the Temple. They required all offerings to be paid in "Temple money." All other money had to be exchanged (for a high fee). The money changers got a cut and so did the chief priests.

You would think Jesus' followers would be above this sort of thing. We're not. The papacy was bought, sold and traded in the Middle Ages. The church sold "indulgences," which supposedly suspended the punishment for sin by giving an "offering." In reality, funds were needed to pay for a new St. Peter's church in Rome. Indulgences were a different way to raise money for the building fund.

It seems like hardly a week goes by without hearing that another pastor has used church funds to buy a jet or to build himself a mansion. On a smaller scale, I heard of one pastor who insisted on ordering the food for church suppers. He always ordered extra, then took the extra home because he "didn't want it to go to waste." A ham here and there adds up.

I've heard pastors make all kinds of excuses through the years. One pastor said he didn't tithe because his church didn't pay him enough. Another pastor told me he found it difficult to pray because he was too busy for God. Then there was a pastor who served a church that averaged about 80 people. He told his deacons he didn't have time to go to the hospital because he needed to "spend time in the word." The deacon who told me this added, "He needs to spend less time in the word and more time in the world."

At our church, we once had a man who was chairman of the deacons, chairman of the Stewardship Team and chairman of the Personnel Team. You've heard of the girl "who just can't say 'no?'" He was the deacon who just couldn't say no. I told him it was too big a load for one person. He insisted it wasn't. I asked him how his prayer life was. He said he prayed every night when he went to bed. I asked how many times he fell asleep during his prayers. He was honest enough to say every night. I gently told him if he was so busy for God that he fell asleep talking to God, he was too busy.

What I have come to realize is the safest place to hide from God is to be busy for God. We fool ourselves into believing our effort for God is the same as having a relationship with God. It's not. We need time to be still and know he is God. As Dallas Willard said, "God's joy is you becoming the person he made you to be." Doing for God is good; becoming who God wants you to be is better.

To become the person God wants us to be, we must spend enough time with Jesus to be like him. Not only do we need to know his teaching, but we also need to talk about his teaching with him. It is not enough to read, "Love your enemies." I must then talk with God so I can identify my enemies. I must think through what it means to love them. Then I must ask God for help in actively loving my enemy.

Unfortunately, I can serve God without growing my character to be like Jesus. This seems to be the safest way to hide from God. But when pressure comes - and it will - my true character comes out. If I have been hiding from God and not doing character growth work, what comes out can be Ugly, with a capital "U."

If you find yourself busy for God, be sure to ask, "Am I really serving, or am I hiding?"

The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter. Email him at