The Grace of Pain

When and if you stop to consider your arguments and rationale for why you should get things that you want, those reasons are often based in our perceived value, contribution, entitlements, etc. For those of us of faith, we’ll then put those expectations on God and often find a Scripture or two to “support” our justification. Sometimes we’ll even mistaken the challenges we face as an “attack” when, in fact, God Himself has both orchestrated and allowed our discomfort and He has done so for our benefit and His glory. Consider the following passage:

“You have neither heard nor understood; from of old your ears have not been open. Well do I know how treacherous you are; you were called a rebel from birth. For my own name’s sake I delay my wrath; for the sake of my praise I hold it back from you, so as not to destroy you completely. See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another.” (Isaiah 48:8-11)

The Father addresses the rebellion of Israel, which is typically no different than the rebellion of you and I. He explains that instead of appropriate wrath for the depravity of rebellion against a Holy God, He chooses to refine. Instead of a swift and just judgment to the demise of the prodigal, He allows for affliction to grow up the immaturity and grow out the obstinance. I’m thankful for that because without it, I would have been destroyed long ago.

He chooses to look past our depravity which is offensive to His nature and, by His grace, work it out of us. Here’s the bigger point; He does it for His glory and fame. We aren’t really that big of a deal, despite our participation trophies. He is and always will be the point. He knows our selfishness and shallowness would prefer it were about us, yet He allows the affliction of difficultly to refine us and work out those iniquities.

Justice would demand our punishment for punishment’s sake. We would be destroyed but we are pressed to work it out of us, instead. It’s gracious to give us the time to grow and it’s gracious to allow us the process of refinement to redeem what otherwise is simply unacceptable.

In this world, you will have trouble. It’s not always an attack, but no matter if it is or not, the Lord is likely willing in every challenge to work out some expectation of justice or entitlement from within you. He’s willing to redeem your pain for His glory through the resulting maturity that comes with trust, if you’ll submit to Him through the circumstances and allow His glory to be the point over your comfort, preferences or expectations.

The Intersection of Faith, Fear, Theory and Belief

My beliefs have changed drastically over the past 20 years, although the foundation for what I now believe was put in place as a kid. In between being a kid and 20 years ago, I would have claimed some of the same beliefs that I was raised on, although there was no evidence in my life that I actually believed them. I was living like hell even when I said that I believed there was a heaven.

A belief is not a belief until it is displayed in a choice. Up until the supposed belief is manifest in a decision, it is little more than a theory. It could just be culture. When decisions are made in accordance with a previously untested belief, the theory becomes fact as our trust in the belief is proven.

Whether we claim to believe in God or not, we all face problems. No matter what our stated beliefs are related to God’s love, power, goodness, sovereignty, etc., those statements will be tested in our circumstances. Then, and only then, are our theories of belief put in the fire for refining. They will either be strengthened or prove themselves to be false.

‘But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you. I praise God for what he has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?’ (Psalm 56:3-4)

David sings of “when” he is afraid, because sometimes he is. This “man after God’s own heart” experienced fear and, at that point, his belief in God was tested. While his soul cries out all through the Psalms, the place he lands is “I trust in God . . . What can mere mortals do to me?” He lands in a submission to God’s sovereignty and eternal context.

His comfort is in the distinction between man and God; temporary and eternal. His fear is the intersection for trust and decides that God’s sovereignty and the outcomes of the eternal picture are better than anything that might happen as man, among man, in the temporary state of man.

The “promises of God” we have are eternal glory . . . AND trouble in this world. We are invited to share in the sufferings of Christ here and now, trusting that our place with Him is forever. We either trust that His wisdom and intentions are better than our preferences or not. You’ll know the answer for you in the choices that you make about Him.

The Cost of Ministry

I have a friend who is the most talented salesperson and one of the most gifted minds in business that I have ever known. He has the capacity to make money with seemingly effortless ease. He also has struggled personally to an extreme that is rare and, in the middle of it all loves Jesus and pursues God as fervently as anyone I know. From that place of ability, struggle, relationship and pursuit, there appears to be an invitation from God for this friend to step into ministry.

“Ministry,” by definition, is service to others. In this context, that service is related to eternal things grounded in the Word of God. That calling, to serve, doesn’t require special schools or a job at a 501(c)3, as 2 Corinthians 5 makes clear. In that chapter, Paul teaches that once we are reconciled to Christ, we are ministers of reconciliation. It isn’t dependent on a profession, but a relationship.

In the unfolding of this calling, my friend called me in tears. The tears come from the pain of dying to himself. What God is doing within him requires that any pride and any needs for attention or affirmation from the service of reconciliation must die. He has realized that the reason God is talking to him about that is because it needs to be talked about when he considers himself.

Ministry will eat you up. A desire to serve without the ongoing death of your soul will pervert your service. It will be a service to needs for the filling of your voids instead of in submission to the purposes of Jesus. What God was doing with and in my friend is a favor to my friend and a requirement of true service. It can’t be about us, or it wasn’t ministry in the first place because it wasn’t about serving.

Our soul has wants and needs that will be satisfied in the grace of Jesus and the Holy Spirit fills us and fills us again. The grace of Jesus will lead us to the love of the Father and that love is a perfect satisfier. That perfect love fills us and affirms us and satisfies temporal voids with eternal relationship. The shortcut can be ministry.

If we serve others in their effort or need to be reconciled to the Father through the Son, they often times will ascribe value to us in the process. They will affirm the “anointing” or gifts of the servant. If there is anything in the minister’s soul that feeds, it can stir an addictive cycle of attention seeking in Jesus name.

Want to serve? Have to die first. Want to minister? It will cost you everything, starting with yourself. You’ll never regret it but if it doesn’t make you uncomfortable then you are probably missing it.

 

Where There is Faith, There is Hope

Things in court had not gone like I had hoping one morning and I was engaged in beating myself up a little bit when I got jerked into the present by a crying mother and a little girl. The mom had some problems with her driving record and had been driving without a license. If convicted of driving without a license, which was the third time the had been caught, it meant a mandatory ten days in jail.

When I met with her, she had her four or five-year old daughter with her and we talked about the possibilities. The mother was done. She was completely worn out by her effort and failures. Her tears flowed generously and her sweet, angelic little daughter reached up assuredly with comfort and compassion. I cried, too.

Somehow we connected through some reference to or evidence in faith. The lady had hope in her faith even through the challenge and discouragement of being a single mom. Based on that common ground, we prayed.

Then, we re-grouped, said a prayer together and went into court. We were going in to see the toughest judge in the city and the charge isn’t exactly difficult to prove. The officer has to testify about why he pulled you over and show that you don’t have a license. Court records would establish that it was the third time. Ten days in jail seemed certain and there were no apparent legal maneuvers nor any tangible hope.

Truthfully, the judge acted out of character. This judge was incredibly tough and I couldn’t have imagined anything but jail time. Against all reason or experience, the most serious of her charges was reduced and she walked out of the courtroom with some fines but no jail time.

This was a victory against hopelessness. A victory against the scars that might have come in the heart and soul of that little girl if there had been the difficult conversation of where mommy will be for the next ten days. A victory against doubt of the very existence of or interest from a God she had been crying out to but the circumstances never quite gave way.

There are people every day who have situations you can’t fix, but you can agree with hope found in some common faith. Even if just a mustard seed where the judge is harsh and the law is clear, grace can break through.

Floods that Wash Our Soul

When I was practicing criminal defense law, my job and responsibility was to ensure justice. As a zealous advocate, I worked to ensure that the government operated within the boundaries of freedom in the case of my client. Case by case, the protection of freedom for one ensures freedom for all.

In some cases, I would ask the court for mercy. The facts and due process led to a likely if not certain guilty finding and the only thing left as an advocate were arguments for measures of mercy. What I saw then and see more clearly now is that justice and mercy can operate simultaneously.

Mercy does not come at the sacrifice of justice nor does justice come at the expense of mercy. They are compatible vengeance doesn’t trump restraint and compassion isn’t given precedence over order. The balance of each ensures the other and the result can have consequences without the sacrifice of empathy.

Truthfully, while I would zealously attempt to represent my client within legal boundaries, I also realized that some clients were better off in jail. It would be in their best interests to have to deal with consequences with hopes that those consequences would propel them towards a greater destiny than their current trajectory. It was, at times, merciful for a criminal defendant to be found guilty and sentenced to jail.

Check out this passage in Nahum 1:6-7: “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him, but with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh; he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness.”

The Lord is good but He will bring discipline. He loves people and will destroy things that are within them which stand against His goodness and prevent trust in Him. It is merciful for Him to provide consequences where we are not given completely over to His goodness. The net result of the interaction is that we can get to the end of ourselves and rest in a new-found faith in Him.

I had clients that needed to face consequences, but they are not unique. We all have areas of self-reliance that deserve the merciful response of restored order even when that appears to come at our expense. In those times where our flesh and soul are pressed, His Spirit is given territory within us that previously was reserved for us.

Mastering Your Ability to Fix Problems and Resolve Disputes

I spent the first 20 years of my career largely focused on dispute resolution. As a representative for insurance companies in third-party (liability) claims and litigation as well as in the practice of law. Time and time again, I was in the middle of a problem and needed to be an effective problem solver.

Early in my career, I worked for a company that used a slogan to teach and reinforce their approach to dispute resolution. They encouraged employees to “Master the Basics” and I believe those same “basics” apply to approaches to problem solving in whatever endeavor we find ourselves. Effective problem solvers are effective in their calling, no matter what that calling may be.

In considering the systematic approach to working through disputes and problems, consider the “basics” of:

  • Coverage – the policy has to cover the loss to move towards a resolution, otherwise the claim is denied. In more general terms, coverage is either authority or permission. You need to either have the authority to speak into a situation or permission to do so. Forcing your solutions into a place where you don’t have authority or permission creates relational problems and frustrations.
  • Investigation – ask questions to determine all aspects of the details surrounding the situation. Ask the questions without a bias to try to get to an pre-determined preference. Ask the questions and pay attention to the answers without accusation, coaching or presumption along the way. The questions are to solve problems; not to build a case or support your positions.
  • Evaluation – what are the options? Is there a 3rd way that is in between the cracks somewhere other than the two opposing forces that are most prevalent in a  dispute or problem? Have the facts fueled creativity in the creation of potential solutions?
  • Negotiation – working with people to steward relationship as you move towards a resolution. Hearing reactions along the way and paying attention to the emotion and perceptions along the way. Working towards agreement, not towards winning. Be willing to concede things as opposed yet valid points are intertwined in the disagreement.
  • Resolution – finding the closest thing to a “win-win” that you can. Attempting to move everyone forward with buy-in and preservation of relationship even where there is compromise. The best resolutions are typically where each party gives up more than they had hoped but has done so from a position that recognizes the value in that choice.

In most jobs, our title could be “problem-solver,” or at least it could/should be part of our job description. As such, it likely makes sense to be intentional about how we go about doing so and be as good at it as we can. “God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” – Matthew 5:9 (NLT)