10 Lessons Learned in Hard Places
I’ve had a steep growth curve over the last twenty years of ministry. I had to learn a new language and culture, and gain skills in communication and leadership. But nothing compares to what I have learned while becoming fluent in hard stories.
I didn’t have much experience in wading through the messy kind, those with unresolved conflict and a terrible enemy, whose evil destroys children and families. I will always be learning, but here are some insights so far:
- Don’t try and fix what God wants to heal.I can wrestle with wanting to see something or someone broken become unbroken, and so I dedicate energy towards putting it back together. But God is teaching me we can’t fix what He wants to heal. When He heals, the result is stronger and impact greater. To that end, I will walk alongside someone in a hard story with a rhythm of steps forward and back, with pauses and rest.
- God doesn’t wring His hands.While I am busy with worry, Will this ever get better? What will happen next? Can they handle it? God is sitting on His throne, privy to the whole story and perfect in His timing. The mark of fluency in hard stories is the confidence God has not forgotten the people you are called to love.
- Don’t tap out, most ministry is a long play. We live in a culture of instant gratification, and I can be guilty of thinking, why isn’t this getting easier or the situation improving? However faith and ministry are much like muscle. The more I exercise, the stronger I am. I can be tempted to give up, but people are always worth it and if God’s asking me to engage, He’ll strengthen me for the task.
- It isn’t my job to save anyone or anything.I made this rookie mistake plenty of times. I was certain if I didn’t do something, all would be lost. I now know better: there is only one shelter to rest under, and there is only one Savior who died on a cross. Anything I offer, I do so as His ambassador. He does the prompting, calling, empowering, rescuing, and saving.
- Keep a confidence.I remember seeing discretion modeled for me and learning early on a good leader holds his tongue, even when knowledge is juicy or clears your name. I once had to learn this the hard way: if it isn’t your story, don’t share it without permission.
- We are only responsible for ourselves. I am responsible to, not for… it took me a long time to understand this principle. I am responsible to be a good friend, to pray for others, to come and sacrifice, to speak the truth in love. I am not responsible for anyone’s actions, but my own. I am not responsible for what they do or how it reflects on me. There has been real freedom for me in this.
- Make space for God.I often am asked, “How do you know what to do when…?” and then usually what follows is some impossibly hard scenario. The honest answer is, most of the time, I don’t have any idea what to do. I have learned my most critical role is to make room for God. When I do that, He comes and offers what we lack (wisdom, discernment, self-control, peace…) It’s the first and most important step towards hard-story-fluency.
- Don’t meet a need for someone that Jesus can.Jesus forgives, Jesus directs, Jesus comforts. He provides answers, He convicts. That is His job. I can step into a role that isn’t mine far too easily, especially when someone willingly puts me there. I won’t do this again: the consequences are grave. Hard stories should draw us to Jesus, not to man. We are at our best when we continually reinforce this truth.
- Believe and communicate He is sovereign.If He allowed it, He has a purpose for it. If something or someone isn’t moving on our timetable, we can trust God, who has a better perspective, is working on what we cannot see. Peace sits on top of this truth: He is in control and can be trusted.
- Speak the truth, even if someone doesn’t want to hear it. What we all need is more truth and less pretense in our lives. We live in a world where we hear what we want to, and we tune out what we don’t like. In a crisis, we have the privilege of reminding everyone involved: the Bible is the plumb line and all decisions should sit level on it. If something doesn’t align with Scripture, I need to call it out as dissonance. It might make for a messy moment, but it keeps the healing process on track.
Jesus, thank you there is no story too hard for You. Thank you for the peace You offer us in the midst of any crisis or chaos. Teach me to represent You in all conversations. Help me to remember what You’ve taught and what You say. Thank you for being the Savior of us all. Amen.