When we became vocational ministers, we envisioned leading people to Jesus; we anticipated families finding healing; we dreamed of lives restores and hearts redeemed. The hard truth is that while that is true, much of the time, for every spiritual high, there is a corresponding low. Life is made up of the tension between joy and sorrow, challenge and ease, and ministry, vocational or otherwise, is part of that.
In our coaching call this morning, Josh talked about the reality that suffering will always be part of our lives, in fact, as leaders, suffering is the standard. This should surprise us, really. Scripture tells us that Jesus learned obedience through the things he suffered (Hebrews 5:8). And also tells us that we are to be conformed to his image (Romans 8:29). But we shouldn’t think that we suffer without reason. God always uses our suffering for His glory or our good.
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not driven to despair;
persecuted, but not forsaken;
struck down, but not destroyed…
2 Corinthians 4:8-9
Here are four circumstances of suffering we may find ourselves in and some key reminders of God’s promises.
- “I am in pain.”
It seems to me when it comes to pain, we can pay now or pay later. Today’s pain might be practicing the discipline we know we need. It might be denying a temporary pleasure we know we’ll regret. It might be admitting a wrong so that healing can begin. Paul tells us we will be afflicted but not crushed. Our level of suffering can define our capacity for growth.
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” –C.S. Lewis
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4
- “I don’t know what to do.”
Many times we equate success with God’s blessing and suffering with its absence but we won’t find that anywhere in Bible. Success or failure is completely separate from God’s love and approval. Keep doing the next right thing. And after that, do it again. In ministry, we will find ourselves perplexed but not despairing.
“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12
- “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
If you are a leader, chances are someone is unhappy with a decision you’ve made. Depending on the role that person plays, their unhappiness can significantly impact you: you might be anxious and fearful about future decisions, you might feel angry and resentful that they’ve questioned your ability or leadership; you might feel guilty or ashamed that you’re feeling anxious or angry! Confidentially sharing our pain with other pastors is a gift of our connectedness. They say a burden shared is a burden halved. A trusted confidante or coach can make a big difference. We will be persecuted but not forsaken.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely o my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” Matthew 5:10-11
- “I am at rock bottom.”
The Kingdom of God is revealed in suffering. If the place you find yourself is at the bottom you can be confident that God is at work. But change may still be needed. Change doesn’t take place unless we are so dissatisfied with our present that we risk the suffering of something new. We can be complacent or courageous. It will require us to dig deep and remember that these are the good works that God prepared in advance for us to do when we are struck down but not destroyed.
“Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.” Luke 10:19
BEFORE YOU GO
If we will do the hard work of finding our deepest source of pain, we can use that to inform our goals and our actions.