When the Worst Brings Out the Worst

Take a moment to take account of what you’ve learned recently. Hard times deliver even harder lessons. Are you stronger than you thought you were? Weaker? What about your faith? If this week was a storm at sea, did you walk on the surface or slip beneath the waves? Which Peter were you? The disciple who sank? Or the apostle led thousands to salvation through Jesus?

I’m going to be very honest this morning. Although, who are we kidding? If you know me you know I’m about as blunt as it comes when sharing my shortcomings and weaknesses. I take Paul’s encouragement to “boast in [my] weakness” very, very seriously. Even if it took me a long time to get there. And I love you guys. Pretty sure you love me. Why not share exactly what’s going on in my heart and head? Good and bad?

This is an account of the last twenty-four days:

I have reached the edge of my limits… and I’ve been forced to step out beyond them. In some cases I’ve had to be pushed! Often by God. I didn’t expect to ever have to tackle the challenges we’re now facing, much less in the middle of a ministry transition… with a pandemic as its backdrop, much less as Maryland bobbles between closing and opening, much less as churches spar over what it means to be a church.

I understand better than ever how easy it is to come up short as a husband and a father. I’ve been introduced to all new types of frustration I didn’t know existed, and I’ve been the cause of more arguments than I have any business causing. Thank you, WCPS, and your decision to attempt to give students – angsty 15-year old boys included – a full slate of school work each week. Sigh. “Let him fail if he wants to fail” is not a mantra my wife is willing to adopt.

I have felt more intense stress than ever before. I didn’t quite realize just how physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually taxing stress could be, and I thought I had been at peak anxiety before. Those times seem so quaint in retrospect. My family’s entire world, our church’s entire world… really the entire world has been flipped on its head. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but people aren’t exactly agreeing on how to live out this new normal.

I have bobbled between emotional extremes more times than I care to count. People keep telling me to take a day off. And they’re right. But I need someone to hurry up and invent an eighth day. God, despite all His wisdom, must have forgotten to tack on an extra day of rest. Or maybe, just maybe, I’ve got the seven-day balance He intended out of whack. I’m guessing it’s the latter.

I have neglected God on occasion in my race to serve Him. Funny how that works. Ministry can so easily become its own distraction. In a strange way, it can become an idol. But that’s a whole blog post all its own. More on that later.

I have dabbled in despair. More than once. It’s not a good time. I don’t recommend it. Despair is the opposite of hope. I’d argue it’s the opposite of faith too. Despair is this deep, pit of an emotion where light doesn’t seem to shine and rescue doesn’t seem possible. Of course we know God is light and also our Rescuer. So despair doesn’t have much of a place in the heart of someone saved by Grace and guaranteed eternal life. And yet despair keeps walking back through the door every time I think I’ve tossed it to the curb.

But…

But!

I’ve also discovered my limits are just that: “my” limits. They are not God’s limits, nor does He ask me to figure out how to deal with the things that threaten to crush me. He offers me His love, His promises, His limits, and He’s a limitless God full of limitless power and possibilities. It’s more clear to me now than ever: He allows us to run headlong into our limits so that we, at long last, ask Him to show us what life would look like on His terms instead of our own.

My Heavenly Father knows exactly how to bring me through frustration to a place where I can be an increasingly better husband and father. Our family will never be free of arguments or conflict. No family will ever be safe from the things we tend to default to in our anxieties and weaknesses. But the more I invite God into our family, the more I allow Him to work where I can’t figure out what to do, the more I get my husband-and-dad marching orders from Him, the more I allow Him to speak calm to that dumb heart of mine, the more my frustrations fade. And who would’ve thought? Family conflict begins to dwindle the moment God takes control.

I have found new ways to cast my cares on Him… putting aside my anxiety more and more as I’ve realized just how eager God is to preserve and comfort me. Who would’ve thought it would take a pandemic to bring us to a place of such revealing self and church reflection? How many blessings will we discover in this crisis as we learn what we once took for granted, what we once thought to be important, what we once thought we couldn’t live without? The more I realize how in control He is, the less stress finds a foothold in my heart.

I have realized God is more than willing to dole out some of that “peace beyond understanding” He’s always talking about. We so quickly fall into a mindset that tells us God has to be chased… that He has to be caught. That we have to twist His arm to get Him to intervene in our lives and bring about growth and change. Surprise! We’re the ones obsessed with running away from Him. We’re the lost sheep. We like to wander. We get ourselves into trouble. We lose sight of Him, not the other way around. And He’s so willing to step in and help, no matter how long we’ve tried to do it on our own.

I have learned to be more still in the midst of my busyness. I’ve learned to better focus on God and reset my priorities, no matter how Christ-centered or well-intentioned those priorities might first seem. Ministry is simply ministry. It isn’t what saves my soul. Or yours. Or the soul of your unsaved neighbor. Ministry is merely a tool. A resource. A method to deliver the gospel and to show God’s love. Ministry doesn’t save people. God does. So anytime I elevate ministry to a place that surpasses Him, I do Him, the ministry and anyone I hope to reach a disservice. And when I’m striving to know, love and serve Him, anything that does Him a disservice is being handled in the wrong way.

And that despair? I looked it in the eyes, took a nice, slow breath, stepped back and finally, finally let my God step up and punch my despair right in its stupid face. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t keep showing up at my doorstep. It means I’m letting go of my pride and letting God inject hope where there is none. I’m letting Him remind me of His promises and faithfulness. I’m letting Him teach me how to lead, rather than telling Him how I want to lead. I’m walking in his steps instead of my own. I’m looking to His guidance, His wisdom, His example and His love. Mine just aren’t good enough. They never were. They never will be.

So take a moment this morning. Maybe you’re still in the first half of your lessons, where despair is still raging. Or maybe you’re well into the second half of your lessons, where hope and encouragement are more present. Either way, reach out to those around you. Ask them to pray for you. Share a little about where you’re at. What you’ve been feeling, struggling with and learning. Allow fellowship to be more evident than ever and to fulfill its true purpose. More than anything, allow God to continue working on you.

I’m a work in progress, saved by Grace and called by the Father.

You are too.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

II Corinthians 12:9

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