Saturday, September 22, 2012

Pain with Purpose

This is one of those stories I don't want to tell because it makes me look uncaring, clueless, and not very empathetic. It makes me look that way because in that moment I was uncaring, clueless and not very empathetic.

I was attending the University of Georgia, and I was a new believer. Everything about Jesus, God, and the Bible was very alive, real and exciting to me. At that point, I hadn't really experienced anything that would cause me to doubt what I had come to believe. It was a mountain top time of spiritual growth as I soaked in so many new ideas.

The college ministry of our church, Prince Ave. Baptist, went on a spiritual retreat each year. The retreat was a weekend of hanging out, making friends, listening to teaching, worshiping, and enjoying the beauty of the mountain area where we lodged.

I don't know why, but a friend of mine asked if he could talk to me. He had questions. I agreed to listen and try to answer. He shared his struggle to believe God; how he doubted. Did I ever doubt? "Um, not really," I said.

I can't remember much more of the conversation. It didn't last very long. But I remember my discomfort with his questions and doubts. I remember how earnest and real he was in laying out his heart. And I remember how casually I stepped right on his heart or maybe walked circumspectly around it like the Levite passing by his injured neighbor lying in the ditch.

Opportunity lost.

In reality, I didn't have the answers for him. My own well was not very deep. I had not experienced trials and testing that bring perseverance and deeper, richer faith. I had only my early child-like belief. My faith was not bad or poor, it was just immature. It would grow with time.

Still, the regret of not caring enough is there. I didn't take him to our college minister or direct him to someone who could help. I just left him hanging with his questions. Like I said earlier: uncaring, clueless, not empathetic. That part isn't immaturity of faith, but failure to love well.

I'm grateful that God has never once failed to love me well. He didn't leave me where I was. He knew if I was going to be whom He had created me to be, it would take much time and much pain.

The Father didn't fear for me because He knew He would be with me in all of it. And He was and still is. I have that same confidence for my brother from college.

"For this reason he had to be made 
like his brothers in every way, in order that 
he might become a merciful and faithful 
high priest in service to God." 
Hebrews 2:17

In making me more like Himself, I get to be made like my brothers too. I get to know hurt, loss, pain, and suffering. It's not fun. I didn't sign up for it or, at least, I didn't understand fully that is part of the deal. But I experience it.

And when I embrace the pain and trust my Father to do His work in me then I become merciful and faithful like my own High Priest, Jesus. It's not my understanding of systematic theology that ministers to the hurting, but an empathy that comes from having experienced sorrow myself.

Looking back, can you see where the Father has allowed you to grow in mercy toward others? How is He using that in you today?

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