“Our greatest ministry comes out of our deepest pain.” ~Rick Warren in The Purpose-Driven Life
There’s a joke about three young boys bragging on their fathers one day in the school yard. The first one says, “My dad owns the bank and we have a million dollars!” The second chimes in with, “Yeah? Well my daddy owns a big company and WE have a million dollars, too!” The third boy, whose father was a pastor at the small local church, thought for a moment and then finally blurted out, “Awwww, that’s nothing! My daddy owns HELL ‘cuz he said the deacons gave it to him!”
Whatever the deacons were angry about with this third’s kid’s pastor-dad, chances are it constituted both a trial and an opportunity for him, as these things do for all of us. Trials, tests, and troubles are “equal opportunity employers” and hit each of us throughout life and every time one comes we have the opportunity to let God do His wonderful work in our hearts and behaviors. How will we react? Will we let the character, nature, and attributes of Jesus shine through us as we react to the anger of others, a cancer setback, or a relational meltdown?
In every situation there lies the hidden struggle of control-surrender, hope-despair, and sometimes even life-death. If we’re consumed with our own needs and wants, it’s all too easy to miss the bigger picture God has in mind for us and to disregard the admonition from The Book of James to, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4).”
In my new song Mercy in the Fire the chorus sings, “There’s a mercy in the fire and there’s a promise in the pain/There’s a wonder in the weakness when we find His strength again/In every trial, test, and trouble hides the purpose He desires/And the gold will be revealed as we find mercy in the fire (Words and Music by John Chisum, Copyright 2015 by Donnaluv Music/ASCAP All Rights Reserved).” The mercy we can find in the fires of life, if we take time to look for it, is nothing short of the presence of Christ. The ultimate purpose of every trial is to reveal “Christ in us” (Colossians 1:27) and to reveal more of His love and power to us, in us, and through us as a testimony to the world of His overcoming power.
God uses the worst things imaginable in order to bring us to completeness and maturity in our faith (see James). He doesn’t cause them, but He uses them. Trials are always on the menu in the cafe of life, but our loving Father is discontent to let them destroy us if we will only trust His higher purposes to reveal His goodness, faithfulness, and loving presence through everything we go through. Remember – there’s always mercy in the fire, no matter how hot it gets.