The last few months in the lives of our family have brought great pain and heartbreak, but God has been so faithful. Apart from the time we spent in the jungles of Liberia, West Africa, I cannot remember a period where we have been so broken and spent emotionally, physically, and even spiritually.
Looking at YouTube, Vimeo, or other similar sites will reveal a large amount of messages on various aspects of encouragement. However, as a pastor, I have had to learn that sometimes it is easier to stand in front of a congregation of believers and preach than it is to have to learn the hard lessons of life. It is easier to preach from Job 23:10 than it is to sit in sackcloth and ashes with Job when it seems like you have lost much of what is special to you.
Looking back through tears, I have to wonder what Job would have thought of my attempts to provide encouragement. In Job 16:2, he tells his fair-weather friends that they are nothing more than miserable comforters. He was in the middle of learning what they could not know. The truth was and is that you cannot fully understand what you have never experienced. Sympathy is feeling sorrow for your hurt, but empathy is knowing your hurt in my heart.
I know what it means to lose a position as shepherd because the majority of the leaders were not saved and had no true testimony. I know what it now means to come home broken from leadership meetings have been told over and over again that if I do not stop preaching the gospel of Christ alone by grace through faith alone that I would lose everything. I know what it means to have leaders tell you that there is more than one way to heaven, “if we are even good enough to get there.” I know what it is like to come home and there is nothing you can do but hold your wife as she weeps uncontrollably and knowing that she bears as much of the pain as you do, but somehow she believes she is supposed to be strong for those who are watching. I know what it is like to see the vitriol and anger spewed at a meeting because I took a stand against homosexuality, and this from people who were nothing more than “casual Christians.” I know what it is like to see those who claim the name of Christ tell you that they want to do what is right, but yet remain in bondage to false leaders who live in rebellion against God.
My wife and I now know what it means to have to pick up the pieces of the lives of some of our family members. It seemed a lot easier to provide “comfort” and “counseling” to others from a Biblical perspective than it actually is to live through the heartbreak of watching those you have sought to love lie repeatedly and even throw out threats about what they will do if they don’t get their way. We now know the pain of being deliberately kept from seeing somebody that means the world to us.
Psalm 59:16-17, “But I will sing of thy power; yea, I will sing aloud of thy mercy in the morning: for thou hast been my defence and refuge in the day of my trouble. Unto thee, O my strength, will I sing: for God is my defence, and the God of my mercy.”
However, like Job, my family and I are learning. The details of what has caused the pain actually pales in comparison to the details of the education being afforded us through these trials. We are learning more and more of what it means to live in grace, but to show grace. Some would define grace as being non-judgmental and allowing people to live any way they desire. But that is not grace.
Grace is understanding what Christ did for us on our behalf. Grace means that I remember that what others meant for evil – God means for good. Grace means that I recognize that my own sin is no less and no greater than the sins of others and that forgiveness was granted to me by Christ just as I must do to others who have deliberately hurt us. Showing grace means offering to others what I cannot humanly manufacture. Grace does not come from praying through the Imprecatory Psalms against others. Grace means I have to be reminded that those who cause the hurt are not the real enemy. The real enemy is the evil one, Satan himself.
We have learned much this year and I expect the trials are far from over. However, the pain we have endured was obviously a necessary part of God’s perfect plan for our lives. Shall we take good at the hands of a sovereign God and not also the bad? Who am I to question what God deems is right and necessary in order to conform me into the beautiful image of His Son? I have no more right than the clay does to tell the Potter what vessel to make.
Enduring heartbreak is never easy. What you will go through is ultimately designed to bring honor and glory to the Lamb who was slain from before the foundations of the world. My prayer though is that whatever you are suffering, whoever may have hurt you, or however you have arrived at your present situation, than you and I will each be able to come to the point where we can stand triumphantly and say, “He has tried me, and I have come forth as gold!”
If you have never experienced great pain, you can still be there for friends and family. Trust God to give you the words that will bring comfort and encouragement. For those who have gone through pain and heartbreak, you are in a unique position to give glory to Christ for the work done in your own life and how you can come through the other end as a victor because of Christ alone. Each of us have people who have been there and cared for us through our tears. For those friends, we each give thanks to God.
In conclusion, I want to leave you with a beautiful hymn by William Cowper, a colleague of John Newton, who wrote “Amazing Grace.”