After a while in the ministry, I guess it’s easy to always have the right things to say. After all, I’ve already built up quite a library of Christian cliches and slogans … do not fear, God is with you, you can go all things through Christ, God will supply your every need, trust in Him, wait upon the Lord, count it all joy, let go let God … and the list goes on. Soon, I may even need a catalog card system for these phrases!
I suppose that’s why God allows challenges and difficult patches to somehow sneak into my life at the right times. Ok, I don’t think there is ever a right time to go through a tough situation – but you see, that’s another Christian cliche that just rolled off my fingers all too easily and naturally. But seriously, God knows when I need one of these sobering moments.
It’s one thing to preach and teach about trials. It’s yet another thing go through one myself, and then preach about it. Suddenly, those cute little slogans don’t look or sound so cute anymore! Admittedly, it sounded really good when it first popped into my mind – so clever and so witty. It even has a ring and a rhyme to it. Hey! These could be lyrics to my next song! But when I hit a really bad patch myself, I am forced to come to terms with each and every one of these lines – however biblically or theologically right they may be. And it’s not easy. No, not at all!
Like everything else, I cannot preach it if I have not first lived it myself. I may not like this truth, but I can’t run away from it. I wish I could, but that wouldn’t make the messages very real, would it? Without experiencing it and wrestling with the issues of faith, trust and hope, I can preach the most well prepared message and it would just be another collection of Christian rhetoric. I can quote all the right verses, share the most moving illustrations and it’d still fall flat. Not that the people will not be encouraged, but I believe something would still be missing. Yes, trials enable me to be real, to be really in touch with a world that is suffering and broken from the ravages of sin. In that realness, I can better identify with those who are hurting and lost. I can better understand their tears and struggles in the midst of their darkness and confusion. When they get angry or upset with God, I will not coldly attribute it to spiritual immaturity. When they shake in their faith, I will not judge or criticise for I too have shaken in those trying moments, shaken my fists at God and asked “WHY?????” more than a few thousand times.
Trials and challenges keep me humble too. I am quickly and promptly reminded that I don’t know everything. Honestly, after spewing sermon after sermon, week after week, it is so easy to presume otherwise. Like everyone else, I have my doubts and my weak points. I just conceal these better when I hide behind the pulpit. When others come to me for advice, I am expected to have the right answers. As such, I can deceive myself into thinking I have all the answers. No wonder, the Lord allows these trials to come my way. They sure cut me down to size really quick! I realise, again and again and again, how imperfect I am, as a man, a husband, a father, a pastor, a mentor, etc. How could I have become so proud and so arrogant in the way I think and speak, and how I look and judge others? How dare I even think of myself as being better, more matured, more spiritual, more faithful?! What right do I have at all? Oh, how the fire of these trials so quickly reveal and surface the immaturity, impatience and selfishness in me.
Trials keep me real and humble. And that’s good for me. People tend to assume that I have it all together, that I am managing really well in my ministry, marriage and family. That can cause me to always keep a front and an image that they have constructed of me. Over time, it’s very tiring because that’s not the real me at all. But I continue in that because I like to be perceived as such. But the real me wants to just be that child who can run into his Daddy’s arms all over again, to snuggle in His love, to weep and cry, to rest. Trials force me to be real and totally honest with God. I don’t have to act with Him for He knows me through and through … I am weak, broken and desperately in need of His love, grace and strength.
Ah yes, trials. We don’t exactly love them nor ask for them, but we must accept that they definitely to have a place and purpose in our lives.
“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy imexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith – the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:7,8