I have often felt like my life has been lived with the wind in my face.
Do you feel you’ve been called to a life of swimming upstream?
I am sure this feeling goes back to my early years, growing up as the oldest son in a family of 11 children. I am no stranger to the difficulties and struggles of life.
I learned a lot about the challenges and trials of this life as I watched those I loved suffer and struggle to provide for our family.
I battled confusion at the seemingly endless setbacks experienced. Before I had maturity to process these experiences, I fought tendencies to resent the trials and to envy those who appeared to be without difficulty.
All of this forced me to grow up quickly. It also plunged me into deep questions about how suffering relates to God. To this day, I’ve found that waves from these past experiences can unpredictably pass over me.
Apart from my early experiences in life, going into full time ministry ensured a life of more trials and setbacks. I don’t say this to complain or to solicit pity. I rarely talk about these things because I desire to keep a positive outlook in life and in my role as a leader. Yet I realize that others who face trials and setbacks can be encouraged by hearing some of my journey.
In my training for pastoral ministry, a pastor told me to remember that, “Those whom God uses greatly, He tests greatly.” I had no idea at time what I now know about the kind of testing ministry would involve.
I’ve been a pastor for more than half of my 55 years on earth. Entering ministry included a calling to wrestle more deeply with the place of trials and setbacks in life.
One of the greatest challenges for me is the continual sense that I am no match for my calling. Who is equal to such a task? I must press on to teach others even when I know I have so much more to learn.
I’ve often asked God for green pastures and still waters. God has been faithful to provide rest and refreshment.
Yet I’ve had times when I’ve battled a sense of distance from God.
I’ve felt like crying out with the patriarch Job, “If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling!” …. “But if I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him. When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:3, 8-10).
When life feels unbearable and God seems distant, I turn to “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles” (II Corinthians 1:3-4). I acknowledge my sins and inadequacies. I confess God’s goodness, love and mercy in spite of my circumstances (Romans 8:35-38). I cast my cares on Him (I Peter 5:7). I present my requests to God with thanksgiving and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, guarding my heart and mind in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).
I am learning to be confident that my “momentary troubles are achieving an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (II Corinthians 4:17).
A truth we easily forget is that the Lord disciplines those He loves. Most of us, if we’re honest, could benefit from more discipline. We need discipline — on all levels of existence! But when feeling the weight of Divine discipline, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful” (Hebrews 12:11). But follow the text to remind ourselves that, “Later on,” discipline “produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:12).
A word of perspective and hope
“God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). Christian maturity is not possible without discipline.
Be patient. Press on. Don’t give up. God is at work.
A dear friend (who is now in heaven) often said, “Get with the program, kid!” “God knows, He cares and He is in control!” (Dr. B).