Learning Through the Wounds
Sometimes it hurts to be a pastor. Don’t get me wrong: I love being a pastor and would not change this calling God has given me, but sometimes it hurts. Before I was called to the ministry I had a host of different jobs: retail, construction, four years in the Army, janitorial work, sales, and other various kinds of labor. The one way being a pastor is different from other jobs is that you are more often affected by the people you love and the souls you oversee.
One of the greatest challenges in ministry is separating “work” from home. I’ve spent countless nights without sleep, praying for people, begging God to change their minds about certain decisions. There is also the tendency to be the father-figure who is always hovering over his flock, because you love the sheep so much that you are afraid to let them make life-altering decisions. There is also the hurt that comes when people you love and cherish speak about you in ways you just can’t fathom. Pastors have a history of loving and sacrificing for their sheep, whose words of disapproval or critique can hurt deeply.
Ministering to Others’ Pain
Last year was a season in ministry that had its fair share of pain. Yet in his grace, God used those wounds to remind me of wounds I once caused. I had moved to San Diego in 2007 with a team of people to plant a church. In late 2008, my theological views shifted away from a seeker-sensitive type ministry to a more biblical view of the church. Living in a house with six other men at the time, I had quite an influence on my roommates. As we studied the Scriptures together, we often found ourselves at odds with the church we had come to help plant. After a year or so, we all started leaving the church one by one. As one of the roommates who worked for the church, I wish I would have better communicated to the church and pastor my reasons for leaving. Although I left in the best way I thought possible at the time, I now see that I hurt the pastor. I am in some sense experiencing the same wounds that I myself once caused.
We Can Unintentionally Hurt Others
There is a gripping scene from The Chronicles of Narnia: The Horse and His Boy that I have not been able to get out of my head lately. A boy named Shasta and a girl named Aravis sprint away on their horses from the hot pursuit of a lion. While Shasta escapes, the lion claws Aravis’s back, terribly injuring her. Later on, the lion Aslan (a depiction of Jesus) reveals himself to Shasta. Sad over his friend being clawed by the lion, Shasta asks Aslan, “Then it was you who wounded Aravis?” to which Aslan replies, “It was I.” When Shasta asks him why he would do such a hurtful thing, Aslan replies, “I am telling you your story, not hers.”
So why did Aslan tear apart Aravis’s back? We learn in The Horse and His Boy that Aravis grew up in a privileged home but was being forced to marry a man she despised. She eventually ran away from home, but she did so in a way that caused her servant girl to be blamed and receive a severe beating. Aslan claws Aravis’s back as a means of showing her the pain she caused the servant girl. Her stripes represented the wounds her own servant girl endured for her.
God Uses Our Hurts to Grow Us
Like the painful stripes Aravis experiences, hard seasons of ministry have their share of hurts—ones that run deep. This pain is not too different from the kind I once caused, and it helps me to be both more aware and understanding of these types of wounds. It has also helped me to take my eyes off of myself and my injuries and instead to depend more on God. In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul expresses love for the Corinthian church. It is a love so deep, so committed, that he is willing to suffer so that the believers might be comforted. Yet, the suffering is so bad that it brings him to realize he can neither fix the situation nor comfort himself. In a hard but helpful verse, Paul says,
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. (2 Cor. 1:8-9)
Paul came to a place where his pain ran so deep that there was nowhere else to turn but to God who raises the dead. What does this mean for those of us who are enduring pain for the sake of others? It means that a day is coming when God will raise the dead unto an eternity without suffering—a day when all sin, slander, and gossip will be a distant memory as God’s people are united around the Lamb that was slain for them. Yet, this passage also reveals the suffering of another.
Jesus Suffered So That We Would Suffer No More
Before God raised Jesus from the dead, he crushed him to the point of death. He wounded his only Son—not for anything he did, but for all the times we had wounded others. The prophet Isaiah declares,
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. (Isa. 53:4-5)
In his great love for his people, Jesus was wounded for our sins—for the hurts we have caused—and it is in those wounds and stripes he endured that we find healing and dependence on God. There may be times where our God allows us to experience suffering, but he uses it to give us a greater understanding of his long-suffering love for us.
There is a day coming when all of these hurts and all of these wounds will be dressed and healed forever. We will stand with joy in the presence of the exalted Jesus who will still bear the scars of our sin. So when the hurts come in this life, let them drive you to your good and loving Savior.