The Ministry of Experience

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Ever done anything foolish in your life? Yeah, me too. What do we do with the failures of our past? We put them in God’s hands so that others can benefit from our hard-earned wisdom. I believe that’s what Paul meant when he said, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). As survivors redeemed by Christ we reach back and help someone else who is fighting the same battle. Why is AA so powerful? Because it is built on experience and a shared struggle. It is one person who has found freedom from addiction walking alongside someone who is trying to break free.

I can minister to a child who is bullied by her peers, to a teenager suffering sexual abuse, to a woman abandoned by her husband, to a person who struggles with depression, to someone battling anxiety and fear, to a mom with a wayward child, to a couple who has lost everything, but most of all, I can reach out to someone suffering the consequences of their own foolish actions because I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt to prove it. And because I have the grace of God to show how He ministered to me in the midst of it all.

It is the deepest belief of my heart that God will take what the enemy meant to harm me and turn it into a means of blessings for others. When I allow God to turn my misery into ministry, Satan loses.  Then I can say with Joseph, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).

This is how we redeem our foolish past—we take our experiences, our failures, and our sins to the table and say to another struggling soul, “I know where you are, I understand what you’re feeling and I will walk with you until you are free in Christ.” Beloved, don’t let the enemy bury you in shame. Let God use you and your scars to turn mistakes into ministry and heartbreak into hope.

The God of My Life

“Therefore we do not lose heart…For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”  2 Corinthians 4:16, 17

I have been thinking a lot about struggles and trials in our lives, and judging by the feedback on a recent devotional about suffering, I am not the only one who is seeking answers and a measure of understanding for times of hardship and heartache.  I have heard it said that in life, you are either about to go through a trial, in the middle of a trial, or just coming out of a trial.  It’s not scriptural, but I think it has a ring of truth to it nonetheless.  In case you didn’t get the memo: Trials are a part of everyone’s life.

One of the questions we so often ask in times of trouble is “What good can possibly come out of this?”  Isn’t it a little easier to endure difficulty when we know something good will ultimately come from it?  A mother endures the pain of childbirth, because she knows that her baby will soon be born.  College students endure the intense work of school because a good education prepares them for a successful future.  Our military men and women fight in battle because they know they are ensuring freedom for their loved ones.  I believe our struggles and sufferings always have potential for good in God’s hands.

Paul gives us one good end to our suffering in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort…comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received.”  Though it’s hard to see in the midst of trouble, God is shaping us to be His arms of comfort for others who are enduring trials.   Who better to comfort a young woman grieved by an abortion that another woman who has done the same; a woman who can testify to the power of God over that situation.  Organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous and Teen Challenge work because those who have been freed from addiction can offer help, accountability and hope to another addict from their own similar experience.  I have a lot of difficult things in my past (and present); abuse, rebellion, divorce, infertility, financial hardships, and rejection.  I have suffered from the choices and actions of others, as well as from my own decisions.  They were hard things to go through, but they have enabled me to reach out to others who are struggling in the same ways and offer them the comfort and hope that God gave to me.  I can look a hurting person in the eye and say “I know how you feel,” and I have their trust.  I can share in their suffering because I’ve been where they are.  I can reach out to them with the love of Christ as a fellow divorcee or abuse victim or rejected friend, and I can tell them how God worked in my life through that situation. It gives them hope, and brings meaning to my struggles.  When I allow God to turn my suffering in ministry, my friend is encouraged, my faith is strengthened, and my Father is glorified.

Times of struggle and suffering are also meant to turn us to God.  We were created with one purpose above all else: for a love relationship with God, and He often uses difficulties to turn us back to Himself when we have wandered away.   You can see the pattern throughout the history of Israel, God’s people began to be enticed away from Him, they sought other gods that seemed to offer them the pleasures they craved, but they didn’t realize the dangers these idols posed.  God gave them over to enemy nations, to hardship and slavery, and they eventually cried out and turned back to Him.  Psalm 119:57 says “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your word. Sometimes God allows us to suffer the consequences of our choices so that, in our misery, we will seek Him again.  How often I have run back to God after a season of rebellion, and He welcomes me into His loving and comforting arms, He forgives me, cleans off my skinned knees and sets me back on the right path.  He has never rejected me or turned me away, no matter how messy I am or where I have been.

One of the sweetest blessings that has come out of suffering is that I have learned more about God in times of difficulty than I ever could otherwise.  How would I have ever come to know God as Jehovah-JirahThe Lord my Provider, if I never had a need? Would I know Jehovah-Rapha – The Lord my Healer, if I had never been sick?  I discovered that God is Jehovah Shalom – The Lord my Peace during a time of turmoil and chaos, and that He is EmmanuelGod With Us, when I felt abandoned and alone.  He is Yahweh TsuriThe Lord my Strength when I am at my weakest, and He is Jehovah OriThe Lord my Light when the darkness of depression surrounds me. When the enemy is attacking me, I know that Jehovah Gibbor MilchamahThe Lord Mighty in Battle is at my side.  David wrote in Psalm 9:10, “Those who know Your name will trust in You.”

The sufferings of my life have shaped me like nothing else ever has.  Struggles have driven me to my knees, and I stood to my feet as a prayer warrior.  Disappointments in my life have driven me to God’s Word for comfort and encouragement, and I am a Bible teacher and writer today because of them.  I have come to see the hardships and sufferings of my life as God’s sculpting tools, and because I know that He has brought victory from past struggles, I can trust Him in the difficulties I face today and tomorrow and all the days to come.

My favorite name for God, the name that means everything to me, became most precious when my life fell completely apart and I was surrounded by the shards of my hopes and dreams.  It was there that He came to me – El EmunahThe Faithful God – and He has proven Himself to be so ever since.

By day Lord, You direct Your love for me, at night Your song is with me – You are El Hayyay-The God of My Life; my joy and my delight.  Psalm 42: 8; 43:4