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A Little About Suffering

February 17, 2011 1 comment

There is a verse in the Bible which has been haunting me lately. Well, maybe haunting is not quite the right word. It laid on my mind like a wet blanket on a cold Fall day.

A friend of mine pointed it out, and I’ll bet you haven’t heard it preached very often. It goes like this and can be found in 1 Corinthians 4, “To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.”

When I left ministry that is how I felt: lower than the lowest. A person whose reputation was destroyed along with his life’s ambitions. I had achieved becoming a zero, a betrayer, a loser, both morally and financially bankrupt. I hated myself and was convinced that others did as well. My wounds were deep wounds.

And there has been great suffering: partly self-inflicted, partly inflicted by others. All of it allowed by God, maybe even orchestrated by God, ordained by him. As many of you know the past year has been a terrible one for me and my family. Leaving ministry was just about the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It brought me to the edge of chaos emotionally, spiritually, financially, and every other way imaginable. It was an experience that I barely survived. It was crucial to be able to process the suffering.

What was it that was happening, and why? Why would God allow this?

I can just hear some of my old church friends thinking, “because God was punishing you.” If you know the situation, you’ll recognize to whom I’m referring. And maybe they’re right. But there is always more to it than that. God is about a redemptive work, about healing and grace.

At a time when I needed help more than ever before, what I faced was a wall constructed by some of the loving people of the church. It hurt so deeply that I could hardly breathe.

And, when I mentioned, and claimed, God’s grace in the context of my life to friends of mine who are pastors their response was almost unanimously, “yes, but don’t forget that God is a holy God.” The implication being that we need to be obedient sons and daughters. This is true, but in that moment of crisis it was hardly helpful. There was precious little hope offered. Instead what I felt was shame, a deep, profound sense that I was a mistake.

Sandra Wilson defined shame like this: “…a soul deep sense that there is something uniquely wrong with me that is not wrong with you or anyone else in the world. Because I am not perfect and problem free, I felt hopelessly, disgustingly different and worth less than other people. I view myself as literally worthless. I isn’t that I make a mistake when I make a mistake; I am a mistake when I make a mistake.” This is shame’s message. It’s harsh and it’s ugly. I felt like that for a long time when I left ministry.

You know what? The battle takes place deep within us in a hidden darkness. It is a heart battle. It’s something that has the potential to kill emotionally, relationally, mentally, spiritually, and even physically.

But here’s the message of this blog.

There is another verse in the Bible that goes like this, “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” For those people who read this blog but don’t read the Bible, you can find that in 1 Peter chapter five.

This suffering did have a purpose, and maybe punishment was a part of it. I believe, however, that there is no punishment left. I believe that because Jesus took all of the punishment I deserve. Instead, what I think is that the process of suffering allows us to be perfected. In the process of suffering the dross in our hearts and lives is scooped off and we become more pure. It requires a furnace to remove the ore from the gold. That’s what suffering does, it perfects us.

So, here is what I believe God is doing, and it is a promise of his that I claim for myself. I believe that he is perfecting me. Notice that I do not consider myself perfected. I believe also that he is confirming me as his. I am a member of his family and of his kingdom. This is not something that any human can take away. I am not going to “rot in hell” as some have said. Furthermore, this is a strengthening transition. I’m not strong yet, but I am getting there physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

God is in the process of re-establishing me where he wants me. The truth of the matter is that he did not remove me from ministry. His call on my life is irrevocable. And he has been giving me some very powerful messages about what it is that he wants me to do. I will write more about that in another post. For the moment it’s enough to say that in the midst of this very dark night God has turned on a very bright light.

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