February 22, 2013

Finding Victory In Trials

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Do you ever wonder if ministry is worth it? Our faith is often tested when trials and personal attacks come along. A pastor’s faith can be worn down by the antagonism of board members, the overload of responsibilities, the isolation of the position, the fish bowl mentality, the risk of burnout, and the political nature of some congregations, making giving up feel so right. At times, my faith been as dry as sand on the desert floor in the middle of summer.

It’s nice to know I’m not alone; in one study, 50% of pastors indicated they would leave the ministry if they had another profession to fall back on. We know that 40% of exited pastors don’t return to ministry, and some never return to church. Perhaps you know the feeling. On the other hand, 50% of pastors in that same study had no thought of leaving the ministry. When my faith is tested, I desire to identify with this part of the population.

In his book, Pastors at Risk, Dr. Chuck Wickman addresses the testing of a pastor’s faith at the hands of those he serves. He suggests an intentionally proactive approach to addressing tests of faith. Here’s how he puts it: “When you feel as an empty wallet, on a dead end road to nowhere” or “raw as an open wound” and your faith is being tested, you can be assured you will “live again!”

Dr. Wickman suggests the following six Biblical affirmations when life seems bleak:

  1. Experiencing trials is an inevitable part of life.

Life without trials would be mundane. We’d take it for granted. The negative side of life gives greater value to the positive side – thorns make the rose more beautiful, night makes the day shine brighter, and a cold hard winter provides anticipation for the joy of a warm summer’s day.

  1. The trials I experience are temporary at best.

This is an attitude adjustment. Peter saw trials as “for a little while” (1 Peter 1:6), and Paul spoke of them as “momentary light afflictions” (1 Corinthians 4:17).  Dr Wickman says, “The past is not the future, the present chapter is not the last chapter, (and) an episode is not the whole story.” Trials changed my life. Most have passed, and none will accompany me to my final home.

  1. Trials will be a great value in my life.

Trials changed my life for the better! Tests are a proving ground for better opportunities in life. Tests in middle school prepared me for high school, the trials of preaching classes proved helpful in preparing weekly sermons, and challenges in ministry help me to be a better minister. Looking at trials through the eyes of Christ provides a greater and deeper understanding of God. Jesus knows our struggles. He was hated, misjudged, falsely and harshly accused, conspired against, betrayed, beaten, made a scape goat, scorned, ridiculed, made a spectacle, lied about, humiliated, sold for a pittance, and killed a criminal’s death. Looking at our trials through His eyes teaches us the value of forgiving the unforgivable, returning good for evil, blessing those who curse us, finding peace over anxiety and living joyfully with the cross we bear. Trials allow God to transform even the innermost recesses of the soul.

  1. In trials, I maintain my personal relationship with Christ.

It is easy to question one’s relationship to Christ when service to Him is costly. Isn’t He to be our refuge? Isn’t He in control? We were following His lead, right? Now He’s let us down! Why didn’t He change the situation or the other person(s)? Why should I suffer for someone else’s sin? He could have removed the issues that brought the trial, silenced the opposing party or sent them away! Why me LORD, why ME?

1 Peter 1:7-9 says “These (trials) have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes . . . may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. . . . for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” In Christ, weakness becomes strength. His companionship expels loneliness. His peace overcomes fear, discouragement, heartache, broken relationships, failures, discontentment and so much more. His love and comfort are abundant. His grace and mercy are unending.

  1. When experiencing trials, I will rule out getting even.

The art of forgiveness is seen in Christ. He who knew no sin became sin for us so that we might experience His righteousness. Getting even always encourages the other party to retaliate, but forgiveness calms our hearts and provides the opportunity for reconciliation. When we honestly examine the forgiveness He grants us for past, present and future sins, without flaunting it before us, we gain a glimpse of the peace, freedom and joy available by not seeking revenge (Hebrews 12:2,3).

  1. In trials, I will commit myself to the God who does what is just and right.

Trials challenge us to review our faith in God and His Word. It’s easier to say “all things work together for good to them love God” than it is to live it! I wonder if Abraham questioned God’s righteousness and justice when God asked him to offer his son as a sacrifice?  Yet from that trial God declared Abraham righteous and called him His friend! Perhaps Peter sums it up best when he declared “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Jesus armsLife, in general, tests our faith. Issues of economics, health, temptations, failed expectations, marriage, and more are to be expected. I counsel with Biblical principles on issues of life only to find my faith lacking when ministry seems overwhelming. As I write this post the weight of ministry responsibilities crush and test my spirit, and so I find these affirmations helpful in adjusting my attitude and perspective. They are a guide to His Refuge in the midst of the storm.