When our church faced a severe financial crisis, some wondered whether our ministry would even survive. Even though we were solidly in the mega-church category at the time, we were engulfed in a mega million dollar difficulty. We had just opened a 20 million dollar extension campus and were also in an expensive legal battle with Boulder County over land use that went all the way to the steps of the Supreme Court. That all happened in 2008 just as the economy cratered, leading us to immediately lay off 40% of our staff and then another 25% the year after.
The church was reeling and so was I. That’s when I was seized by the words of 2 Peter 1:3 and had them boldly stenciled on my office wall:
“His divine power has given us everything we need
for life and godliness according to his glorious riches
in Christ Jesus.”
I looked at that verse multiple times a day and often clung to it throughout the day. In fact, I sometimes affirmed the implications of it out loud to my assistant … and especially to myself!
- “We’ve got all the money today to do everything God wants us to do … today!”
- “We’ve got all the resources today to do everything God wants us to do … today!”
- “We’ve got all the time today to do everything God wants us to do … today!”
Dallas Willard says that God’s Word to us is often God’s Word spoken through us! These aren’t merely encouraging words that we seize, rather they are God’s words that seize us. Every time I saw God’s promise right on my own wall, it seemed to come right off the wall and into my heart. I didn’t just remember that it was in the Bible, I experienced it in my heart. It’s the difference between the Greek word gnosis, meaning knowledge, and epignosis, meaning experiential knowledge! One refers to intellectually comprehending truth, the other to full knowledge, discernment and recognition of ultimate reality in one’s heart. It’s a higher degree of intensity, a deep energy of understanding. It’s knowing that you know something to the center of your soul.
What do you know to the center of your soul? It seems that the things we know at the deepest level, those things that penetrate our hearts, are the things we haven’t merely casually observed but rather learned in the deep cauldron of life’s pain. These are the truths learned through intense suffering and difficulty that have shaped us and that when shared by us most help to shape the hearts of others. Jeremy Jernigan quoted a victim of cancer who was still in the midst of her journey. She said, “I love it when people who have been through hell - come out carrying buckets of water for those still in the fire!”
Those who are struggling right now need to pursue the bigger yes that is often to be found in and after the suffering. As Oswald Chambers said, “Then comes the surprise - ‘Why, He was there all the time, and I never knew it!’ Never live for the rare moments, they are surprises.” Recently I met with one of the officers called to the scene of the mass shooting where ten died at a grocery store in Boulder. Brad was one of the first to arrive on the scene as shots were being fired and glass was raining down. In the middle of the ugly he helped drag the fallen officer out of the fire fight. Brad was one of the heroes on the front lines that day. In fact, he was the one who accompanied the shooter to the hospital in the ambulance. It’s a moment he will never forget and one which he will forever re-live. My encouragement and challenge to Brad was to leverage his learnings for the good of other officers in the future. That’s the ultimate credential of nobility, enduring the worst and yet serving still.
God never wastes a pain; as long as we have a pulse we have a purpose. Those of us who have endured anything from personal attacks to panic attacks, actual battles to legal battles, emotional heartaches to physical heart attacks know that our stories can help bring benefit to others. As Paul said in Colossians 1, God comforts us to comfort others. In other words, our stories of struggle connect us. When we simply share our successes we are in danger of becoming competitors, but when we share our struggles we become true friends.
Our vulnerable stories connect us at a heart level. Unless and until we open up our hearts to others in safe community we cannot find true healing from God. That’s where we discover that we’re not the only one who feels confused, angry, inadequate or afraid. We must learn to articulate our hurt so that we can also articulate our learnings, which in turn helps to bring healing both for ourselves and for others.
In his book, The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen says the key word is articulation. “This articulation, I believe, is the basis for a spiritual leadership of the future, because only he who is able to articulate his own experience can offer himself to others as a source of clarification. The Christian leader is, therefore, a man who is willing to put his own articulated faith at the disposal of those who ask his help. In this sense he is a servant of servants, because he is the first to enter the promised but dangerous land, the first to tell those who are afraid what he has seen, heard and touched… The great illusion of leadership is to think that man can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there.”
Don’t underestimate the power of your personal story. We all have a story that highlights the amazing grace of God. Your story doesn’t have to be dramatic, but it must true. I’ve heard soul shaping stories from pastors that span the spectrum from enduring house fires to helicopter crashes, personal immorality to imprisonment, pornography addiction to devastating affairs. What these stories all hold in common is that their life altering pain was neither fatal nor final. Those who have humbly shared them are each rebounding now to greater levels of effectiveness. While they deeply lament their stumbles and failures, they rejoice in how God has leveraged their learnings both for themselves and for others. They’ve done the hard work of heart work and therefore they are equipped to serve as physicians of the soul.
Our stories not only connect us, but can even catapult us to greater impact and influence for Christ. It’s not because we may have done everything perfectly, or even confidently…far from it. It’s only when we realize we haven’t always done the best we knew to do, and humbly acknowledge our failures and flaws, that God’s grace and mercy flow. As King Solomon wisely reminds us in Proverbs 28:13, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”
Make no mistake, when you own it, your pain can become your platform! This is when the words come off the wall and into your heart, and it makes all the difference. You know that you know God was there all the time!