It has been a long summer, and if the weatherman is right we have a lot of summer yet to come. During these past weeks I have been with family, on trips, and in lots of meetings with colleagues. I went camping, I went to the coast with family, I traveled across the country to visit more family, I went for bike rides, I took lots of pictures, I napped, and I worked hard in the yard. I had fun with my wife, daughters, in laws, grandkids ad lots of friends. One thing I haven’t done very much is think about what I wanted to post on this blog, so week after week you have not heard a word from me. It’s been bitter-sweet for me as well.
Today I want to share some thoughts I have about how to handle really difficult times. While I have enjoyed most of my summer thus far, it has been cluttered up with difficulties. As a pastor of a small church, I have the privilege of sharing good and bad times with my people. This summer some of them have been carrying great burdens, and I’ve tried to come alongside them with comfort and love. I can’t take their pain away, but as a church family we can all lighten each other’s load, by sharing Christ’s love together. Many of the meetings and professional conversations I’ve had these past weeks have focused on one of the greatest denominational struggles I have ever witnessed. As “Friends” (Quakers) we are in the middle of a storm that is tearing us apart, and threatens to destroy us as a gathered people. It is hard to see disagreements encouraged within a group until real antipathy for each other settles in. My heart breaks as I watch a portion of Christ’s church tearing itself apart. For so many of us in my life we see all the trial and strife around us and say: “It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”
When I have sat long enough to really ponder all the trials that are swirling around me, I’ve come to some conclusions as to how we should respond. Please let me share, even though some of these might be repeating myself from previous months.
First: Don’t be surprised. Matthew 18:7 (NIV) Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! Jesus tells us that trials, offenses, traps, and stumbling blocks will come. In fact, they are necessary: “Such things must come!”
God will, if I let Him, use every trial to teach me, draw me closer, and soften my hard heart. If I ever want to be known as one who is growing more and more to be like Christ, then I know “Such things must come!”
Second: Resist making it personal. So many time we find ourselves taking our trials personally. “Why me? What did I do to deserve this? What did I ever do to you? Why do they have to be so mean? Why do they hate me? Why can’t anything go right for me? Sometimes I have to laugh at myself because this kind of reaction pre-suppose that others or circumstances are inherently malicious and intentionally out to hurt me. I heard someone once say that “others really don’t think about you as much as you do.” In other words, most likely, no one woke up that morning trying to figure out how to ruin my day or life.
While I have lots more I could share, I won’t unload it all here in this one posting. So lastly: Guard your heart. While the actions, words or responses of others just might be sinful, and/or the circumstances you find yourself in be un-Godly in every way, don’t let the sinful place you find yourself in sully your own heart. If you are attacked with words, don’t plot a 10 page reply that will vindicate yourself. If you are accused wrongly, don’t plot the demise of your accusers. If your world is crumbling around you, don’t let yourself lose faith in the one who holds all things in His hands. Take to heart, and infuse your responses with, these pearls of wisdom from Scripture:
Ephesians 4:26 (NIV) “In your anger do not sin.” While anger is an uncontrolled response, sin is a personal choice. Guard your heart, and choose to restrain any sinful responses.
Proverbs 19:11 (NIV) “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” Often the offense is unintentional. “It’s usually not really about you.” Don’t look at how you are offended, but look at the root, the message, the misunderstanding or failure that caused the disagreement. And don’t take up an offence against God. He really can fight His own battles without us blustering and taking up the fight. Our greatest work for the Kingdom is done on our knees.
Romans 8:28 (NIV) “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” You might feel this is trite, but it is more true than we give it credit for. My greatest joys have come when I waited and watched God work out something that seemed impossible in a way that amazed and blessed everyone involved. We truly serve a Great God. Let’s as leaders give Him more than half a chance to work out our little trials.