Friday, June 29, 2012

I Want To Encourage You Through Your Suffering

The following is a slightly edited excerpt from a letter I wrote a friend years ago…

I want to encourage you through your suffering.

The prophet Habakkuk witnessed and endured suffering on a great level. Habakkuk 1:2-4 reads “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?  Or cry out to you “Violence!” but you do not save?  Why do you make me look at injustice?  Why do you tolerate wrong?  Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife and conflict abounds.  Therefore the law is paralyzed, and just never prevails.  The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.”  He is not shy in his conversation with God.  He lays out his complaints, and asks for an explanation.  Job was also not shy to share the depths of his suffering.  Job 30:26-28 says “Yet when I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness.  The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me.  I go about blackened, but not by the sun; I stand up in the assembly and cry for help.”  The Bible is not silent on suffering, and it certainly does not pretend that suffering is not a part of life.

As I write this, I imagine it is very probable that somewhere in the world two men are currently experiencing stab wounds; their bodies experiencing great suffering.  The first man has endured a stab wound as a result of street violence.  It is a senseless, pointless injury.  A waste.  The second man endures the puncture of his skin as doctors aim to remove a cancer so venomous that it will kill him should it remain in the body.  He gladly suffers the wound.  In this case we see that the wound is necessary for survival.  And therein lies the framework for trying to make sense of suffering.  No one likes to endure suffering, however, many will endure, even gladly so, when there is a known purpose for it.  Suffering for a purpose is celebrated.  It is, however, when suffering seems to serve no purpose that we become distraught.

James and Paul both write us and tell us that our sufferings do serve a purpose and are in fact productive (James 1:2-4, Romans 5:3-5.)  Both you and I have seen this play out in the lives of many people over and over.  We have seen endurance grow into something so much more.  Of course, I don't contend, and frankly neither do James or Paul, that this process is easy, or that we go through it without blemish.  In fact, I believe that we come out of it with scars.  Though strength is our gain for perseverance, scars come along in the process.  Scars serve as the evidence that wounds have healed.  Every scar that we acquire can be used as a bridge to find healing in the suffering of another.  Soon a time will come, if it has not already, where we will be called to use these scars to speak healing into the lives of others that God may be glorified. 

Know that your suffering does serve some purpose.  We often find ourselves praying that God would relieve our suffering; remove our burdens and afflictions.  And sometimes he does!  However, would we interrupt a surgeon mid-surgery? No.  Rather, we would allow him to finish despite the desire we may have to quit.  To stop midway would be to incur both the wound of the procedure while keeping the cancer the procedure was meant to remove.  I fear the same would happen if God were to stop refining us.  Perhaps, then, our prayer should be that God would give us comfort in knowing that our suffering will produce fruit should we see it through.  Perhaps our prayer should be that God would reveal the fruit of our suffering, rather than alleviate it from our lives.  Paul claims in Romans 8:28 that God uses all things for the good of those love Him (let us note that it says he uses, not causes.)  Our sufferings are used for good!  Only our God could take such painful matters and turn them into something of benefit.

I also encourage you to take heart!  Our sufferings aren't forever.  Through his death on the cross Jesus not only frees us of our sin, but also refreshes us and rebuilds us from the ravages of heartache and suffering.  These words from Revelation 21 are familiar to you I am sure; "Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” The day will come when sorrow ceases to exist and pain's effects will no longer be seen.  I pray that God would begin to work that peace into our lives this very day and that he would continue to strengthen us with it.  Let us hold on to the hope that Jesus gives us.  Death is a defeated enemy.  Suffering only has a temporary hold on us.  The fruit of our victory in Jesus is ahead my friend!

After Habakkuk says his peace, God replies in verse 5 by saying “Look at the nations and watch and be utterly amazed.  For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.”  Though our eyes and our hearts may be blind to the purpose behind our own sufferings, may we trust that God will work in ways we would not expect and could never explain outside of His power and glory. I promise you this; God in his faithfulness will use our sufferings and experiences to produce far more than we ever imagined should we remain faithful and endure.  I don’t contend that it will be easy, but rather it is my hope that by keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus that we will endure.   

May we continue to endure.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Beliefs That Will Destroy Your Minister, Pastor, or Ministry Leader: I’m The Only One Capable of Doing ________.

There was a time in my youth ministry days where I experimented a bit with doing a youth worship service.  This meant getting people to help with different aspects of the service.  One of the key ingredients was music.  I wanted to have someone leading worship.  I had a couple guys who were willing to lead this aspect of the project and rotate the responsibilities. The only problem for me was that I too am a musician, singer, and worship leader.  The two guys who were wiling to serve were considerably younger and lot less experienced than I, and whether it was true or not, I always felt like I was better at it than them.  There were moments when I felt like they weren’t capable of doing what I was trying to accomplish.  I yielded those feelings and didn’t step in, but there was such a huge desire in me to just push them out of the way and take over.  I felt like I was the only one who was able to do what needed to be done.

Whether we are talking about a volunteer leader, or someone who is on paid ministry staff, if your ministry leader believes they are the only one capable of doing _____, it will destroy them.  Pride sneaks in in one of two ways…

Pride can give them an ego complex.  This brand of pride leads them to a lower view of others.  They begin to think that they are the greatest gift of God to ministry since Paul.  Ok, maybe that is a little extreme, but they can begin to think that they are better than the rest of the people who are associated with their ministry.  And they are certainly likely to think they are above the ones they serve.  You’ll notice that they start taking over.  They may relieve other workers in their ministries of their jobs and responsibilities and take it on their self.  And even as their stack of stuff piles up, they will revel in it because it continuously strokes their ego, makes them feel more important than they are,  and builds up their perception that they truly are the only person who is capable of doing _____.

On the other hand, pride can give them a martyr complex.   This brand of pride leads them to a lower view of their self.  This is more of a pride in their work as opposed to pride in their self. They see their ministry as something that is so important,  and believe that no one is else is capable of doing the work.  This belief lead them to frustration.  Their pride actually end up getting hurt because they believe if other people cared, they would make their selves able to do what is needed.  In other words, other people are not capable because they don’t care enough to become capable.  As a result they end up a workaholic out of their obligation to the ministry (as opposed to their personal pride.)  They may start to assume others don’t value the ministry, and wile on one hand they work to death for its success, on the other hand they begin to question the value of the work altogether.  They spin out into a “woe is me” depression.

So how do we challenge this belief?  This one is a little harder to intervene in because a lot of the problem rests in what is going on inside the minister leader’s heart, but here are some ideas.

1) Help.  You may not be capable of doing certain things in a person’s ministry.  However, you are probably more than capable of helping.  Can you find some task that you can help with?  Maybe it is something that falls outside of the spectrum of that particular ministry, but is helpful to the ministry leader nonetheless.  The tech savvy or the handyman are often very helpful to those in ministry.  By being helpful, you are both showing that you are capable of doing something, and helping them to recognize that maybe they do have shortcomings.  It helps to keep that pride in check.

2) Learn.  If there is a ministry that you are passionate about, but the leader is actually very correct in pointing out that you don’t have the skills or talents needed, then learn.  Go to workshops, find information on the internet.  But make that effort to learn.  This will show that the ministry is important enough to you that you want to be capable of helping.  Unless your ministry leader is completely wrapped up in his ego, he should be able to point you in the right direction in regards to learning.

3) Do Something.  Just get involved.  Don’t wait to be asked.  Make yourself known and get your hands dirty.  It is easy to get stuck waiting to be asked to help, but if our ministry leader already feels like he is the only one capable of _____, then he is not going to look for help. 

Now, let’s be fair to us.  If your ministry leader is enveloped in this level of pride (in either direction mentioned above) the root of the problem is most likely in their own heart.  So on top of trying to get involved by helping, learning, and doing, we ought to really spend time praying for them; asking God to bring them to a place where they are confronted with the problems of their heart and leading them to a better place.   The scriptures are littered with passages warning us about pride.  We are told that pride comes before destruction (Proverbs 16:18.)  We are also shown that pride is the reason Satan himself fell from the heavens (Ezekiel 28:12-18.)  Pride is a bad thing.  It is the sin above all sins because it leads to other sin.  Any other sin one commits can be traced to personal pride. 

Leading a ministry already subjects one to struggles with pride because the work is generally considered important by many, but if your ministry leader believes they are the only capable of doing _____, it will destroy them.