Posts Tagged ‘suffering’

How to preach when your wife has cancer (or some other “distraction”): Part Two

See Part One here.

1. Review your history

As a minister of the gospel you will inevitably encounter “distractions.” The word distraction for our purposes is a fluid term. Right now, I am easily distracted by the fact that my wife has cancer. I can be knee-deep in a riveting exercise of exegetical study only to have this fact surface in my thoughts and derail the project for a spell. This reality drops in for a visit at the most unexpected times and rarely does it knock.

I realize that not everyone is dealt the same measure of distractions but they are sure to come in one shape or another.  These things, as they say, go with the territory. Our territory as ministers of the gospel is the local church. I think we can rightly infer from Matthew 16:18 that the church will persevere by the grace of God but it will also endure Hell in the process. Brother, you will endure difficulty in the ministry. Those who fail to see this are like those who believe the Army recruiter really wants them to see the world and meet interesting people. However, in fine print at the bottom of the pamphlet is something about bullets being fired at your head.

A great encouragement in persevering through pain is that you stand near the end of a long line of faithful saints. How you endure ministerial suffering today can be a reflection on your understanding of the past. It is incumbent upon us to keep our fingers on the pulse of those who endured before us. The writer of Hebrews says that we receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken from its foundation (Heb 12:28) and because of this the Lord is our helper and there’s no reason to be afraid (Heb 13:6; Psa 118:6). Exhibit A of this truth is that you can “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” (Heb 13:7).

In the study of our history there is a lot to learn, much to righteously repeat, and plenty to caution our present steps. C. S. Lewis, who lost his wife to cancer, likened ignorance of history to joining a conversation after the fact. He said, “If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said.”[1] Lewis furthered this idea by calling us to read old books stating, “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.”[2]

So on the one hand I can struggle with Lewis in the anguish of his deceased wife (in A Grief Observed) and then keep reading backwards and find many others paddling the same boat. Lloyd-Jones and Nazi bombs, Spurgeon and his invalid wife Susannah, Brainerd and the pain of tuberculosis, Baxter grieving over the death of his bride Margaret, Luther watching his daughter Magdalene die in his arms, Calvin losing both children and his wife Idelette, and many other testimonies along the way. Real ministers have experienced real suffering (i.e., “distractions”) throughout our tangled history and there’s no forecast that promises otherwise. Read and drink deeply from these ministers who walked before you. Chances are you will find great help, counsel, and encouragement along the way.

One thing stands out to me in all this. The old saying says, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” A great illustration of this comes in 1 Corinthians chapter 10. There, the Apostle rehearses the sordid web that is Israel’s faith and failure.  Paul says, in effect, don’t think for a minute that you’re any smarter than they were (1 Cor 10:12). However, there’s a positive here as well. In verse 13 he reminds us that we’re not alone in the struggle and our temptations are the same ones that litter the roads of history. Something else should be noticed in verse 13, the faithful covenant-keeping God continues to make His name great through your endurance. Brother, as you endure disruptive elders, wayward children, sinful congregants, or physical suffering, God is making His name great through perfecting you in weakness. Keep your fingers on the pulse of history and this will always be fresh in your mind.

[1] From the introduction to St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1996), 4.

[2] Ibid.

How to preach when your wife has cancer (or some other “distraction”)

I must have been absent the day they covered such things in seminary class. The professor might have addressed it the day I skipped school with my friend Eric to go snow boarding in the mountains north of L.A. However, I’m certain this topic was not covered in any preaching class. I have shelves of books on preaching and none of them seems to address my question. How in the world do you preach and minister week in and week out when your wife has stage-three colon cancer?

I confess that the reality of the question itself is still a bit surreal. This might be hard to believe but there are moments where we all forget that Julie has a killer disease. It’s surreal because she looks so healthy and is so young. At least for now, there are four small children who can’t tell any real difference between pre-cancer mommy and cancer mommy. Still, I stare down this plaguing question. How can I possibly minister to needy and sometimes hurting believers when my own wife is weighed down with massive physical and spiritual burdens?

The shape of suffering in your ministry may not take on the same form as mine but don’t think for a moment that God’s “distractions” will somehow miss you. As sure as you’re one of His sons and ministers, the arrows of God will be lovingly aimed at your ministry to keep you humble and to expose your many weaknesses. Before we complain about this we have to wonder why we would want it any other way. We tend to forget that the real pathway to life with Christ is narrow, difficult, and hard to find. If you haven’t cried yourself to sleep at night with the promises of 2 Corinthians 12:9 playing pinball in your heart then you haven’t been in ministry long enough. Give it time and suffering will come to your parsonage.

If this sounds like I’m delivering hopeless news and prophetic judgments then you need to stick around. To the contrary, this is some of the best truth we pastors can wash in. Over the coming days I want to explore this issue of preaching and ministering with “distractions” in your personal life. I’ve been thinking on this for a while now and I hope to fill-in some of the gaps missing from preaching class. Until then.

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