I once attended a rather toxic Charismatic church in England. There was a sentence you heard rather often there, and it was, “Don’t tell anyone.”
The leader’s wife (untrained, and not particularly intelligent, who proudly and accurately publicly described herself as a “rhino,”) was then the paid women’s “Pastor.” She was always meddling in church affairs and politics, causing messes and dramas , and then acting abusively and sadistically.
And then, after something cruel or stupid she said or did, came her trademark sentence, “Don’t tell anyone.”
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I was chatting to a friend who had been emotionally abused and isolated by this woman, which seriously affected her health. Sure enough, she was asked “not to tell anyone” while the woman “sorted things out.” Which, of course, she had no intention of doing. My friend obeyed. So did I for a while when told the same thing, but then, I finally told my blog!! Obliquely, but not too obliquely!!
So there’s an example of a secret you should never keep: If you’ve suffered spiritual, emotional, verbal or physical abuse, or know someone who has, never agree to keep it secret. If you’ve been bullied to promise to keep the bad behaviour, abusiveness and wrong-doing of those in power secret, sin boldly, and let it be known. Appropriately and effectively though—and these aren’t always the same thing in a circle-the-wagons culture.
Keeping the secret of other people’s abusive behaviour will only enable them to continue and accelerate their spiritual or emotional abuse of other people. Never do so.
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And when should you be silent? And secret?
Perhaps about sharing things which put you in a very good light. Which might make people envious of you.
And this does not come easily to me. Chronologically, I am middle-aged. Inwardly, I am a happy child. If I make unexpected money, or have unexpected success, or something wonderful and exciting happens, it comes naturally to me to bound up to all my friends and tell them. To tell my blog. And my facebook.
And expect everyone to rejoice with me at this magical event. Even if, well, windfalls are not falling around them too.
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This excited expecting-the-whole-world-to-rejoice-with-you got Joseph into trouble.
He was the favourite son, who alone had a richly ornamented robe. His brothers hated him. And in this atmosphere, he excitedly shares his dream with them—his brother’s sheaves bow to his; the sun and moon and eleven stars bow to him.
Exciting dreams. Dreams which shouted out to be shared. But dreams which should not be shared. There was nothing to be achieved in sharing them; all that would happen is that the owners of the eleven sheaves would be put out and cross and feel insecure.
Which is what happened.
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Joseph’s dreams were given to him for his own future preparation. And to strengthen him in the decades during which the destiny tarried. They were not to be shared, because there was nothing in them to build and strengthen anyone else. They were meant to be a private heads up and encouragement to Joseph.
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And the reason that God sometimes reveals the dreams and destiny he has for us in advance is that dreams can be deferred—can take decades to be fulfilled.
Heidi Baker shares how God gave her a powerful vision of her destiny when she was 16, and some of those things took decades to be fulfilled—and some things have still not been fulfilled. But they are the North Star of her life.
For myself, I felt God tell me what he wanted me to do when I was 21—and it has still not been fulfilled, though I have proceeded more or less steadily in that direction.
Last summer, I spent a day lying on the rocks on the beach in Sweden where we were on holiday, and the sense of the presence of God was very strong. I could almost sense Jesus lying next to me, smiling, telling me his plans for the rest of my life, and smiling, almost laughing at my surprise.
I shared it with Roy, who told me not to share it, as some of my friends might not necessarily be pleased. And so I didn’t. That prophetic vision was given to me, and for me, and it’s changed the way I work and organize my life. It was not given for anyone else.
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I have been reading R. T. Kendall’s brilliant book, The Anointing, which he defines as the presence of the Holy Spirit which makes difficult things easy when you are operating in it. And so I have been praying for an anointing, a filling of a Holy Spirit, on my life and work.
And I felt God give it to me, though not in the area in which I was praying for it–but in an area in which I am a whole lot less confident and more diffident (though in which I have worked successfully in the past). Again, I feel I received this to help me with bold, confident and decisive action—but that the specifics of this “anointing” are for me alone, and not to be shared.
I wonder if this is almost a rule of thumb in the spiritual life. The wonderful Norwegian writer, O. Hallesby, said that one’s secret life with Christ in the secret places of prayer is like a cosy, warm Norwegian cottage in a blustery winter. If you talk about your prayer life, you open the door, and cold wintry blasts enter.
Things which build other people up: share them. But things which make you look good—“Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips.” Proverbs 27:2.
Children, of course, are unabashed about sharing their excellencies. Your own children will always happily tell you how great and marvellous are. And the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.
So I guess, we need to strike a balance between a childlike, happy spirit, and sharing too many things about which we are glad—but which might, by the very contrast, make other people feel sad. And so we might escape the traumas that Joseph’s jealous brothers put him through!!