Pain is no stranger to us. All of us have known some kind of pain – from skinned knees to broken hearts and dreams in smithereens. Along the road of life, we are bound to experience loss, injustice, illness or injury.
The way out is the way through. There is a time to cry, rant and feel frustrated. In the long dark days, God carries us through this valley of the shadow of death.
We never get used to it. And we should not get used to it. Pain is, after all, part of being in this world – tangled in its sinful structures and our sinful ways. There is a reality of pain that is universal to all of us. There is also a specific path of pain for each of us.
Among those who serve God “full-time” there is a shared inside story of peculiar pains – criticism, opposition, betrayal, and sometimes material lack. At times pastors may feel they have as many bosses as they have congregants. The pastor puts himself out there – his life, his message, even his family – and everything can become fair game. From outright persecution to ministry messes, pains encountered in ministry strike at the core of who we are – servants of God. The shock, agony or injury hits hard and hurts at the deepest possible level.
Ministry requires us to be sensitive creatures. Even as we feel for the hurts and burdens of the flock, we become aware of intrusions and perturbations. It can be perturbing to find that one has, over time, grown sensitised to all kinds of pain, including injustice, wickedness, and malice. Sometimes, we feel unsafe, even haunted by questions, doubts, self-recrimination, anger, blame… and the enemy comes close with his suggestions and accusations in blue-ray effect.
These forms of suffering are private and difficult to share in a society that applauds the shiny and sensational. We would rather have triumphant sound bites than wounded healers leading the way.
“O God! Where are you?” the Psalmist cried out. Jesus too, feeling utterly forsaken by the Father, cried out thus. Yet the journey inward is a critical one for the pastor and the church. It nurtures true empathy and if given time, builds up a community that begins to show glimpses of the Trinitarian mutuality described in John 14:20 – “…you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”
The way out is the way through. There is a time to cry, rant and feel frustrated. In the long dark days, God carries us through this valley of the shadow of death (death of a dream, vision, hope, or team). We learn afresh His ways and discover that God’s Word is truly incorruptible. We confront our pride, sinfulness and hardness of heart. We face our lack of faith, hope and love – the trio of endurance. We cry out to God until all tears are spent, until He says “Get up”, as He did to David, Joshua and Moses, and brings us out to the other side.
I do not fear reversals and reprisals as much these days. The few valleys I have had to go through show me that God is great and good. My best intentions are always tainted. So God has every right to put me through flood and fire for He is after the man more than the mission. He is after my heart more than my hands. He is after me. I am humbled that God himself would pursue me so. And He does it with incredible patience. As I roil about in my pain, I am aware Abba is in the wings, watching and waiting. In my hopelessness and helplessness, loss and pain, God can become more.
I suspect that as the Bride is being readied, we can expect more. Our brethren being persecuted to the point of death go through a different fire from us. But it is still the same fire of the same consuming God.
We must do everything to check our hearts, to live in purity and serve with humility. But never will we as God’s servants – His choice instruments – be spared the specific pains of ministry. Such is the pain of following the Eternal Transcendent God – a prelude to something greater and better, beyond all we can ask or imagine.
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Jenni Ho-Huan is a Pastor-Writer who is passionate about an authentic faith-life and witness. Together with her husband Philip, they serve the Body of Christ in the areas of leadership and strategic formation and development through www.churchlife-resources.org. This article is adapted from their ministry website.