Here is one of my favorite passages:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort (2 Cor. 1:3-7, ESV).
Through the years I’ve made note of the fact that many pastors go through some kind of difficulty while in school or early on in their ministry. It doesn’t happen in every case, but from my casual observation is happens more often than not.
Maybe it’s a broken relationship. Or perhaps it’s a financial difficulty, or a setback in your education. It could be unrealized plans or dreams, family issues, or any of a number of other problems, including health issues. Of course these are not unique to pastors, but – again from my casual observation – younger pastors often seem to have some trial or struggle that ends up being somewhat life-altering.
Some men start out in ministry only to find that their first church experience is the pastoral equivalent of the Titanic. It sinks. I know guys who have struggled with unreasonable Senior Pastors, inter-staff conflict, congregations that are hypercritical, or controlling power mongers.
As you read this, one (or more) situations that you either have faced or are currently facing may come to mind. They are painful. Going through those deeper waters may have left you feeling isolated, disillusioned, hurt, or a combination of the above. So what do you do with your troubles? From what Paul says in the passage I quoted above, you use them to help others.
Here is how our trials can help us be better pastors.
- They can grow us up faster than “normal” and enable us to develop wisdom.
- They can enable us to relate to the struggles people share with us. Granted, our struggles may not be theirs struggles. But as people share, we can respond with greater empathy. (Caveat: be careful using “I understand.”)
- Sometimes our experiences will parallel the experiences of others so that we can tell how God helped us in a particular situation.
It is easy to write the words, “Don’t despair over your past or present problems.” It’s not that easy to go through them. I’ve had my share of disappointments and struggles and I won’t deny that some of them have rocked me a bit. But my troubles became opportunities for God to use others in my life, and opportunities for me to be a more compassionate pastor. Both are good consequences.
God comforts us in our affliction so that we can comfort others in their affliction. I pray that will be true for you.