Thankful for the Messy, Ugly Patches
Updated: Jul 8, 2021
I have much to be thankful for. For any believer, we could easily camp out at gratitude for everlasting life. We could stop there and be blessed! The gift of salvation and reconciliation with our Creator is enough.
However, because He is a God "who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think (Eph. 3:20)," we have endless opportunities to be grateful. He is always growing us, transitioning us, and blessing us. I have the tendency to focus on the blessings that are obviously blessings at face value. In other words, I'm grateful for the things that go well and for the things that seem like a relief from the crushing trials that I try to speed through. In contrast to my natural tendencies, the Bible offers an alternative view of difficulty.
I Thessalonians 5:18 (NKJV) says, "in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." Really Jesus? In everything? This is your will? If this pill isn't hard enough to swallow, along comes James who's about as direct an author as they come. Mr. Direct James says, "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing (James 1:2-4 NKJV)." Some translations say "count it pure joy (NIV)". Pure joy seems unnatural. However, James gives us the incentive and the desired outcome: completeness.
The process of trials is difficult, and sometimes, it downright stinks! However, I can't think of a single person who loves and aspires to a state of staying incomplete. I believe our Christian DNA has wired us to seek wholeness and healing. The same One who offers us those things also offers us trials. We cannot have wholeness without going through this murky waters of life and those times when we feel like we're being crushed. Even though some trials seem trivial and like they lack purpose, they do not. Each one has value. Whether it's an attack from the Evil One or a trial sent by God to perfect us, they all have a purpose. You know how in school we get quizzes and tests? An individual quiz may seem unimportant, but it's still a part of the educational process. It's testing you in smaller chunks so you are able to master the material.
Here's the scoop. My post today is inspired by a letter I received in the mail. My ministry journey came to a fork in the road. The Lord transitioned me from one fellowship to another group and under different leadership. Transitions are always challenging and emotionally taxing when it seems like your train is being derailed onto a new track. I'm thankful that the Lord is the one at the controls both of the train and on the track. No trainwrecks here. The letter acknowledged my resignation, expressed gratitude for my service and blessings for my future. The letter allowed for closure to happen.
I sat down to journal and to thank God for the journey. He took me to revisit times of challenges and even some disagreements in leadership. I was grateful for those times. It may be cliche to say difficult times build character. Just because a phrase is deemed as a cliche, it doesn't make it less true. I underwent a season of training and refinement. I believe it was a season of defining my values and upholding the scriptural truths that apply to leadership. I know there are many philosophies out there, and there are even tons of scripture available for hitching your wagon.
I look back and I see the burden on my heart for God's people to be treated the way God would want them treated. We were all made in His image. He is no respecter of persons. People deserve to be treated with dignity and the attention you would give a king because a king made them. The "nobodies" and the "unlikelies" of this world seem to be the very ones that God likes to call. The Bible is full of examples of people whom He made "chosen ones" whom I may not have picked. You never know who someone will become in the kingdom tomorrow. Better to treat them with utmost respect today.
I'm a tenacious person. I cling to what I believe in. I'm always open to correction, but I refuse to buy into a watered-down truth just because it's convenient or in style. While my God is capable of and willing to "do a new thing" or ministering in unique ways, the Word says that He is the same yesterday today and always. Leadership is not about a program or about secular gimmicks. Those of us with the truth of the Bible should be shaping society rather than allowing society to shape us. For example, a high level executive might be short with people and doesn't make time for idle chitchat. Well, the King of Kings had time to stop for the Samaritan Woman and converse with her at the well, using the metaphor of water for thirst. Meanwhile, His disciples wanted to move along with their schedule. See the difference?
Jesus's ministry was focused to three and a half years, if anyone had the right to be overextended and inaccessible, it was He--the Messiah. He took naps, ate with people, and even cooked breakfast on shore for His fishermen disciples. He could have summoned an angel to do the cooking--it happened in the Old Testament.
No one was out of His scope. He dealt with the infirm, the demonized, the tax collectors, "church people", and children. He came so that none would perish. Whenever we start following the lead of the world's system that classifies people and targets a certain audience or "target ministry population", we essentially water down the heart of Jesus. When the needs of people outside the "target" become unimportant, we're forgetting ministry to the "least of these". How well is that going to bode for receiving the commendation, "Well done, good and faithful servant"?
I also learned that even our God-given personalities are never an excuse for inappropriateness. We're called to model ourselves after Christ and to exhibit the Fruit of the Spirit. Being an American, in other words, living in a free country with freedom of expression, always needs to be subjected to your citizenship in heaven. The Bible doesn't subject itself to American culture. Christians are always subject to Kingdom culture.
In summary, the values that solidified over the last seven years are essential to moving forward successfully (emphasis on successfully). Under new leadership, I hear the essential qualification of having the right heart for how sheep are treated. This resonates with my basic training in ministry and conversations I've had with Lord about His concerns. Whether or not some people see them as equally important, it used to really bother me. I realize now that not everyone is going to share my convictions and even my God-given burdens despite having the same Bible and access to the same Spirit. Those things can't bog me down from following Him faithfully, and they should not change my core Kingdom values.
Today, I am in a new place. There are new promises. The Lord was with me through those years. Many times I cried. The times I plead with Him wondering I traversed those murky waters were not in vain. He collects our tears. He allows us to pass through places as part of our development. The messy places were part of that journey. Without those messy places I wouldn't be where I am today. My spiritual educational program included those difficult courses. Left out, the program would be incomplete in His eyes. While at the time, I did not have pure joy. I have it today. I'm grateful for my lessons. I'm forgiving toward others. After all, we're all on a journey.
I officially welcome a new chapter. Happy Thanksgiving!