Psalm 34:18 says “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (NIV).
Crushed in spirit.
Do those words describe you? Chances are they do, or they have at some point, if you’re reading this blog. Far too often, “brokenhearted” and “crushed in spirit” describe ministers and their families – people who have experienced pain at the hands of a local congregation.
There are, of course, countless other sources of pain. Hebrews 12:5-11 reveals three possible responses: two wrong and one right. The choice is ours to make.
We can rail and wail. When tragedy strikes or people betray us (or maybe tragedy strikes because people betray us), we can blame the situation, criticize the parties involved, and cry out “Why me?” I must admit that this was my first response when our world fell apart. But the writer of Hebrews says, “do not despise the chastening of the Lord” (Heb. 12:5 NKJV).
Some folks respond to painful situations by saying, “Why did God do this?” I do not believe that God causes horrific things to happen just so He can have something with which to discipline us. He doesn’t have to send pain into our lives in order to create a “teachable moment.” Instead, my personal belief is that God set the world in motion and allows painful situations to occur in our lives. And, because He is God, He uses those situations to discipline us if we allow Him to do so. He will teach us things in the darkness that we could never have learned in the light. And He will use it all for our good (Romans 8:28).
We can grow discouraged and give up. Satan loves it when Christians just give up. It makes his job so much easier. We aren’t much good to the cause of Christ if we quit. That’s why the writer of Hebrews says “do not lose heart” (12:5 NIV). Joshua 1:9 says “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (NIV). “Wherever you go” is especially apropos for ministers who have been forced to resign their churches and have no idea what is in their future. For those of you in that position right now, Deuteronomy 31:8 is for you: “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (NIV). Do not let this season of pain cause you to “lose heart.”
We can fully submit to God in every situation. It may not be a pleasant process. Suffering never is. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (12:11 NIV).
In our hands, pain becomes a pity party. In God’s hands, the pain and injustices of our lives become tools for Him to use to fashion us into the image of His Son.
I wish perfect relationships, excellent health and a nice bank account produced a harvest of righteousness and peace. But they don’t. C. H. Spurgeon said it best:
I bear my willing witness that I owe more to the fire, and the hammer, and the file, than to anything else in my Lord’s workshop.
I sometimes question whether I have ever learned anything except through the rod. When my schoolroom is darkened, I see most.
–C. H. Spurgeon (quoted in Streams in the Desert)