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.

Friday the 13th

It’s Friday the 13th – does that make you a little nervous?  Why are we so fearful of this day?  Tradition refers back to the fact that Jesus was the 13th person at the table on the night before His crucifixion on a Friday.  So, does that mean that Jesus’ death was just bad luck?  Absolutely not!  Jesus’ death was the perfect plan of God.  The day was not by accident either – in the same early morning hour that the Passover lamb was being slaughtered for the sins of the Jewish people, Jesus, the Lamb of God, was being nailed to a cross to die for the sins of all mankind.

Nothing in the life of the person devoted to God is ever “lucky” or “unlucky.”  Did Joseph consider being sold into slavery and falsely imprisoned to be a stroke of bad luck?  If so then he would have had to conclude that luck put him in the second highest position in Egypt.  But he told his brothers – the very ones who sold him out – “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).

Sometimes it’s very hard to believe that God, not luck or “karma,” is directing the path of our lives, especially when things go awry.  As I sit here now, my husband is in the process of medically retiring and I am three days from the end of my job, with no offers in sight.  Either we are very unlucky, or we are in the good hands of a good God with a good plan.  I’m trusting in the providence and sovereignty of God.

Beloved, wherever you are today, what ever your situation, it’s not because of luck or happenstance.  God has you.  He has not surrendered control for even a millisecond.  Nothing – not one single thing – escapes His notice or His charge.  So lay down your 4-leaf clover and your rabbit’s foot and stop avoiding ladders and black cats.  Who knows? Friday the 13th may turn out to be the best day of your life!

I Press On…

“One thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on…”  Philippians 3:13b-14a

One day, when my son was younger, we got in the car to run a few errands together.  My husband had driven the car the day before, and, as usual, had adjusted the mirrors.  So I reached up to give the rear-view mirror a tweak before putting the car in reverse.  My son asked me “What’s that for Mommy?”  I replied that it was to allow me to see what was behind me as we drove.  In his sweet, simple thinking he said, “You don’t need to know what’s behind you, just what’s in front.”   Isn’t it amazing when God gives little children such profound wisdom?  My son was echoing Paul’s words in our key verse.

Granted, on the road, we need to know what may be approaching from behind us, but on the journey of life, we often spend more time looking in the rear-view mirror that we do looking out ahead.  I have been guilty of that myself, but I am determined to apply Paul’s words to my life and look ahead rather than behind.

Paul’s emphasis in Philippians 3 is the futility of relying on past successes.  Paul had quite an impressive ancestral history, and had much room to boast about his personal success as a zealous and devout Jew.  In our culture the “self-made man” is highly regarded and even from childhood we are driven to succeed in education, sports, and relationships. As adults we are pulled into the relentless pursuit of success in our careers so we can have the biggest, the newest, the shiniest and the best.  For Paul, as for so many today, the mirror is filled with trophies, accolades, honors and wealth.

But you may be more like me, and the rear-view mirror is filled with dark clouds of pain, heartache, betrayal, grief, mistakes, and sin.  Life is full of struggles – I don’t believe anyone escapes difficulties these days.  Sometimes the pain is self-inflicted, sometimes the heartache comes at the hands of others.    A job loss, financial pressures, health problems, strained relationships, disappointments – just to name a few – can make life hard.  Perhaps your mirror is filled with a hard good-bye: the loss of a loved one, or the end of a marriage.  Maybe you’ve made some choices you regret and you are living with the consequences.  You may find yourself broken by a season of sinfulness.  Maybe not your own.

What do we do with all this?  We take the advice of my son and Paul.  We look ahead, not behind.  We look ahead and “fix our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2).  We set our focus on our Great High Priest and move forward.  We move ahead trusting that God will turn our sufferings into perseverance and character and finally hope (Romans 5:3-5). We leave the past in the hands of “Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will” (Ephesians 1:11) – “His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). We trust Him with it all, believing that what was intended to harm us, God intended for good, to accomplish His purposes (Genesis 50:20).

The Living Bible paraphrases the first part of our verse by saying “I am bringing all by energies to bear on this one thing.”  That is an excellent perspective, because living with past regrets weighs us down and drains our energy.   Here is one of the most important pieces of advice I’ve ever received.  “It’s done. You can’t change what has been, but you can affect what will be.”   You need to preserve your energy for the next phrase in our key verse: “straining toward what is ahead…” Paul is using a racing image here, picturing a runner stretching forward, pushing and accelerating through the finish line.   God intends for you to finish the race, and not only to finish but to win!   1 Corinthians 9:24 is Paul’s exhortation to “run in such a way as to get the prize.”   And what is the prize? “a crown that will last forever” (v. 25). A crown that we will cast before the throne of God, declaring him “worthy to receive glory and honor and power” (Revelation 4:10-11).

Do not allow your past – either success or failures or heartaches – to bog you down.  God has your life in His mighty and able hands.  He will not let one hard moment go to waste in the fulfillment of His plan for you – if you will entrust Him with it.   I keep coming back to one of my favorite verses, Psalm 13:8 which says “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me.”  The New King James reads “The Lord will perfect that which concerns me.”   God was not caught off-guard when you were hit with the hard things of this life.  He was not wringing His hands wondering how to bring about His purpose in light of my mistakes and sin.  God is still working in your life and mine, still moving toward His intended plan for you, still loving you with an unfailing and lavish love.  He is not finished with you.  He has such wonderful things in store for those who love and trust Him.   Listen to the Psalmist who sings: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.  He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with Him: (Psalm 126:6)

Put the past in your rear-view mirror and look straight ahead at the harvest that God will bring from your life.

Holy Father, I surrender my past to You, all my sin, all my heartache, all my sorrows and regrets – and all my successes too. I claim by faith Your promise that “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). Amen.