5 Posts from October 2012

Two Truths for Coping with Suffering

I have found great help from two truths God gave me at a time in my life and ministry when I was bombarded with a series of unexpected and unfair blows (from my perspective). In my darkest hours, these principles became my anchor of stability, my only means of survival. Afflicted, confused, persecuted, and rejected in that situation, I claimed these two truths and held on to them. As wild waves, strong winds, and pounding rain in a sea of difficulty continued, I grabbed hold of the mast of God’s protective power. He took me through the storm of consequences and kept me from becoming a bitter man.

I have a couple of principles worth remembering. Because they worked for me as a pastor, I pass them on to you. At the risk of sounding simplistic, I would suggest that you not only write them down where you can read them often, but also that you commit them to memory. The day will come when you will be thankful you did, I assure you. They have scriptural support, but I’ll only list a couple of verses for the sake of brevity and clarity.

Here is the first truth to claim when enduring the consequences of suffering as a pastor: nothing touches me that has not passed through the hands of my heavenly Father. Nothing. Whatever occurs, God has sovereignly surveyed and approved (Job 2:3–6). We may not know why (we may never know why), but we do know our pain is no accident to Him who guides our lives. He is, in no way, surprised by it all. Before it ever touches us, it passes through Him.

The second truth to claim is this: everything I endure is designed to prepare me for serving others more effectively. Everything. Because my heavenly Father is committed to shaping me into the image of His Son, He knows the ultimate value of this painful experience (2 Corinthians 1:3–7). It is a necessary part of the preparation process. It is being used to empty our hands of our own resources, our own sufficiency, and turn us back to Him—the faithful Provider.

And God alone knows what will get through to us.

—Chuck

Dealing with Physical and Emotional Pain

It’s hard for me to read Paul’s words without wincing:

Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.
(2 Corinthians 11:24–25)

Can you imagine being beaten and stoned? I cannot. Here is the awful reality of physical abuse. Few people will ever know such extreme pain. But if you think the man was pretty much alone in it all, get hold of a copy of Fox’s Book of Martyrs or read it online. There is no way to get around it; God’s servants often become scapegoats. Too frequently, this is what we pastors experience . . . even today.

This is true emotionally more frequently than physically. Humanity’s twisted depravity, for some reason, likes to express itself in this way. Take the prophet Daniel, for example. Faithful, efficient, honest, and absolutely dedicated, the man served others with a pure heart. But it backfired on him. According to the sixth chapter of the book that bears his name, the very people he worked with turned on him. They set out to prove he lacked integrity. They went on an extensive “witch hunt.” They left no stone unturned.

Can you imagine how that hurt? You are the object of suspicion that leads to an investigation. You hear whisperings about your character. Stories swirl around, calling into question your words, your actions. Every move you make is being watched by frowning critics. And yet there is not a shred of truth to it. You have been a model of authenticity. You have devoted yourself to the dual role of helping others and honoring the Lord. You’ve served Him faithfully . . . and this is the thanks you get.

It takes the grace of almighty God for us to press on under those circumstances and to accept His plan over our own. Press on!

—Chuck

Paul Was Normal, Like Us

Funny, we seldom think that a great apostle like Paul ever suffered from insomnia, but he did. He couldn’t sleep sometimes because of acute deprivations, like hunger, cold, and exposure . . . and sometimes because of his concern for the many ministries to which he had given himself. “Daily pressure,” he calls it. Read his own words:

I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:27–28)

Now that’s being under pressure. Sounds like the pastorate, huh?

Paul even mentioned the disillusioning times of mistreatment and imprisonment (see 11:26). There certainly must have been times he did not know where to turn—or to whom. Doubt and questions might well have haunted him with maddening regularity.

Here was one of those great men, “too good for this world,” being pushed around, threatened, and living on the raw edge of constant danger. If you imagine yourself in those many situations and toss in several imprisonments to boot—you can start to feel beaten down and defeated. Your mind plays tricks on you. You wonder where God is. You may occasionally even doubt God. You get disoriented, “mixed up” inside. And on top of all that is the one most common experience all who have been in prison admit—profound loneliness.

Mix all that together . . . and you’ve got the picture.

Paul was normal, just like us.

—Chuck

Dealing with Rejection

If you enjoy watching and playing the game of football (I certainly do), you have observed a curious activity called a “spike.” It’s rather unusual. A team fights its way toward the goal line yard by yard. Minutes seem like hours as the offensive team plods along and presses on. Suddenly, it happens. A play works beautifully, and streaking to the long-awaited touchdown is a muscular running back or some fleet-footed wide receiver. Six points! But as soon as he crosses the line, this athlete takes the ball and slams the little thing to the ground. With all his might! The guy doesn’t so much as say, “Thanks, ball.”

I’ve thought, What if that ball had feeling? What if it could talk? Can you imagine how it would react after being spiked? It had done its job well. Stayed inflated. Didn’t jump out of the player’s arms—no fumble. And after all that, all the thanks it gets is a vicious spike. Talk about rejection!

So it is with pastors. We do what is right . . . and we get tossed aside. Sometimes, “spiked” viciously. It hurts.

I urge you to listen up! Every once in a while we are going to get kicked. Now, this doesn’t mean God has abandoned us or that we are out of His will. It just means people are people, sheep are sheep. It’s all part of the humbling process God uses in shaping our lives “to bear the family likeness of His Son” (Romans 8:29 Phillips).

“Struck down”—as Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 4:9—it’s the idea of being thrown down, shoved aside, or cast off. This explains why J. B. Phillips paraphrases it, “we may be knocked down.” Amazing thing! Even though we may faithfully and consistently do our job, help and serve and give to others, we can expect, on occasion, to be thrown aside and rejected . . . knocked down. Let’s don’t be caught off guard.

—Chuck

Our Common Struggles: Affliction, Confusion, Persecution

In last week’s post, we were introduced to four common struggles all servants of God face. Really, they’re consequences. In 2 Corinthians 4:8–9 we read them: afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down.

The first word, translated “afflicted,” comes from a Greek term that suggests the idea of pressure. This is stress brought on by difficult circumstances or by antagonistic people. In other words, when servants are “afflicted,” they feel under pressure, harassed, and oppressed. The Greek verb, thlibo, is a strong term, meaning at times “to treat with hostility.”

Paul goes on to write there are times when servants of God become “perplexed.” Interestingly, the combination of Greek terms that comprise the original word means “without a way.” It is a picture of confusion—not knowing where or to whom to turn for help. Included in the meaning of this word would be such perplexing predicaments as being without necessary resources, feeling embarrassed, and in doubt so far as procedure is concerned. We have the phrase, “at a loss” which adequately describes that uncertain feeling. There is more.

Originally, the term persecution meant “to run after, pursue.” It’s the idea of being chased, having others “on our case,” we would say. It is an active, aggressive word conveying everything from being intimidated to being assaulted, actually attacked. Servants will suffer persecution. You may recall Paul’s words, written to Timothy: “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Persecution is one of those painful consequences, along with affliction and confusion.

Finally, he names one more consequence—rejection. That’s next week.

—Chuck