Monday, October 27, 2014

Finding Hope In The Disappointments Of Ministry

Photo Credit: Long CHUNG
I really appreciated these words from Mandy Smith in Christianity Today:
"A former student of mine just left the ministry. Totally walked away. I understand why. She had been doing good but hard work in a place where she rarely saw results. It’s only natural to be discouraged. 
It has made me think about the times I want to walk away. 
Strangely, it’s my imagination that usually brings on the discouragement. Things are never as wonderful as I imagine they could be. I see the brokenness of the world. I believe God cares about it, and I believe God is powerful to do something about it. So I set out to fix it, making grand claims on God’s behalf, imagining all the miracles I’m about to see. I’m like a child—throwing myself fully into what I’ve dreamed up. But the outcome is often less spectacular. So I put away my dress up box, and decide it’s time to grow up. I go small. I stop imagining. And then the depression sets in as the brokenness and limitations overwhelm me. I stop talking to God, stop hoping. 
This is one of the hardest ministry skills: finding that somewhere-in-between where I can trust in God’s power but at the same time not be discouraged when it doesn’t show itself in the fullness I had imagined. 
The Stockdale Paradox has an interesting application here. You may have heard the story of James Stockdale, who spent 8 years in a Vietnam prisoner of war camp where he was tortured over 20 times. Unlike many of his fellow prisoners, he survived the experience emotionally and went on to be an influential leader. When asked what made him different, he pointed out that often the ones who didn’t make it out of prisoner of war camp were the optimists: “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be,” (Jim Collins, Good to Great, p. 85). It’s not our call to be pessimists or optimists but realists. Especially if reality and truth are the same thing. Our reality is this: God is good and all-powerful and the world is not as it was created to be. These together are truth. These two realities co-exist, at least for now. 
I wonder if James Stockdale was familiar with the book of Revelation. The lamb looks slain—but he stands. The two witnesses seem to be overpowered—but then they rise again. Like the little scroll that John is told to eat, life is sweet in our mouths but turns sour in our stomachs. We can never lose the faith that we will prevail in the end. But that doesn’t remove the most brutal facts of our current reality. 
Life is a sweet and sour sandwich. 
This is living counter-culturally in a way much bigger than the morality of the movies we choose to watch. This is choosing to see the world through God’s eyes, as broken but ultimately redeemed. And living into that reality although it’s not yet fully true."
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