It’s guest blogger day at MorningEncouragement.com and today we get to hear from my friend Joshua North. Does it feel like your faith has hit a dead end? Like you’re not sure what God’s up to? Has life beaten you down and left you feeling like a shell of yourself? Josh has a solid word for you, check it out!
Have you ever tried to start a fire in your fireplace? How about a campfire? I do not consider myself much of an outdoorsman but I do love fire. And in my mind, being able to start a fire is a mark of manhood. Through trial and error, multiple attempts and failures, I can say as Tom Hanks did in Castaway: “I have made fire”!
Fire is a word used often in charismatic streams of the Church. There are people who petition God for His fire to fall. If someone posts an impactful Facebook status, we comment with the fire emoji. We sing songs like “Set A Fire” and “Consuming Fire”. None of these are inherently bad. I do wonder, though, if we think about what is meant by those prayers and songs.
Fire does many things. It generates heat. It emits lights. It can cook food. In order to do these things there must be fuel for the fire. And even when you have fuel, there are certain conditions that must be met to start the fire. And even when those conditions are met, the fire has to be tended to in order to keep it going. Otherwise, it will go out.
When I think about fire as it relates to the life of Jesus followers, I feel as though most of us are praying the wrong prayers. We ask God to send fire without realizing He is only the match. He ignites the fire. But our lives are what is to be the fuel for His fire. Paul tells us to offer ourselves as “living sacrifices” (Rom. 12:1-2). A sacrifice was something offered to God on an altar. And those sacrifices were consumed by fire. As living sacrifices, His fire is to constantly consume us. But what does that look like?
We ask God to bring fire into our lives without realizing that He is the only match. - @ShoutToTheNorth #MorningEncouragement Click To Tweet
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak at my church’s men’s retreat. The theme was “Ignite the Fire”. I had the freedom to speak on whatever I wanted but as the weekend approached the word I had prepared was not sitting right. I woke up the last morning of the retreat and heard the words “igniting the fire through pain”.
Pain is often associated with weakness. This can be especially true for men but I believe it is applicable for everyone. In our society, the underlying assumption is that if others know I am in pain they will assume I am weak. Secondary to this is the inability to be vulnerable with our pain. If pain equals weakness than surely I am not going to share my pain with you. These are both lies. The truth is there is strength in vulnerability. Paul encourages us to live as “children of the light” (Eph. 5:8-14). One of the anthems of my teenage years was dc Talk’s “In the Light”. I want to be in the light, as You are in the light. The call on our lives is to live in the light. Holding onto and hiding our pain actually makes us weak. When I keep my pain close, afraid to let those parts of me be known, a secret is born. We then spend our time and energy attempting to manage our pain. This completely cripples us and essentially makes us useless to others.
The past year I have been on a journey of processing through pain in my own life. Last summer a couple of areas of pain culminated simultaneously. My wife and I stepped down from a ministry leadership position we had been in. This was devastating for me as church ministry is what I had spent my adult life working towards. My identity had become so wrapped up in it that leaving the position felt like failure. About a month after this my wife and I found out we were expecting our first child. While I was thrilled, there was also a sinking feeling in my soul. My life felt so uncertain. I had dreamed of the day I would become a father but it was not under these circumstances. I was unemployed and I had to watch as my wife worked twelve-hour shifts in the hospital. I felt helpless and useless. Two months later I finally got a job. At Domino’s. Delivering pizzas. I was so ashamed. I felt as though I was failing in most aspects of life. The job was not the problem but it did expose my heart further. There was pain there and I had to choose what to do with it.
When faced with pain, there are two ways we normally respond.
The first is to blame others. Blaming others for our problems has been present from the beginning. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command to them in the garden, they pointed fingers instead of taking responsibility. I am not saying pain is always self-inflicted. Pain is often the result of other’s actions. That is something completely out of our control but something that we can expect. What is within our control is how we respond to that pain. In blaming others, we never take responsibility for ourselves.
You are accountable for your response to the pain in your life.
You are accountable for your response to the pain in your life. - ShoutToTheNorth #MorningEncouragementClick To Tweet
At the end of the day, I am going to stand before God and give an account of my life. And you know what? He is not going to ask me about the people who caused me pain. They will have to account to Him in the same way. He will, however, ask me what I did about painful circumstances and situations. I will account to God for the kind of husband, father, and friend I was. And now of that is dependent on others. I have to own my life. When we blame others we disempower ourselves. And that is not what is intended for our lives.
The second response to pain is looking to others to fix us. Pain is painful. Obvious, right? And we do not like how pain feels. To escape that feeling, we often seek out others to make us feel better. I have been able to spend time with many great men and women of God in life. Through college and seminary and internships and churches, I have been able to know and be known by people who have given their lives to Jesus. And there have been times I have tried to get from them what I should have been going to God for. I wanted them to fix me. There was a pain in my life and I expected them to make me better. They were unaware of what was going on but I was seeking them to be the fix for my pain. Time after time I was disappointed. And I would take my disappointment with them and project it onto God. It was a maddening cycle. And it was no fault of those people. I was expecting them to do something that only God could do. I wanted them to be something they never could. In fact, I could not receive the best of who they were because I was not going to God with those deep needs and longings.
The truth is God does not pour out pain on our lives. That is not who He is. That is not His nature. But God is watching. When pain comes, he is waiting to see how we respond to it.
For the past year, I have continued to come back to the story of Joseph. Joseph was a man who experienced a lot of pain. He had some dreams for his life. He was excited about them. And he had to wait years to see them come to pass. The in between time was filled with pain. His brothers sold him into slavery and told his father he was dead. Joseph became a slave in a foreign nation but found favor with his master. He was doing well for himself until his master’s wife wrongfully accused him. Just when he thought he could not go away lower, Joseph found himself in prison. Yet even in prison, Joseph excelled. He met two men who served the King of the country and interpreted their dreams. His only request was that they remember him. One of the men returned to serving the King but forgot about Joseph. And Joseph sat in prison until one day the man remembered him when the King had a dream he needed interpreted. Joseph became the King’s right hand man and helped save the nation from a famine. And then things got interesting. Joseph’s family showed up looking for help as the famine was affecting them, too.
Joseph had a choice. He had a choice through each situation. Joseph could have blamed others. He could have blamed his brothers. Or his master’s wife. Or the King’s servant. He could have looked to others to make him feel better. But Joseph did none of that.
Joseph told his brothers that “God sent me ahead” (Gen. 45:4-8). Three times Joseph uses that same phrase. Joseph could not have made such a statement had he not processed his pain. If he had spoken from a place of pain, Joseph would have told his brothers how horrible they were and spoken of all he endured because of them. Instead, he told them that God sent him.
A few chapters later Joseph’s father passes away. This was sad because Joseph was young when his brothers sold him and had only just been reunited. Joseph’s brothers were terrified that Joseph would get revenge on them now that their father was dead. They actually sent a message to Joseph and lied to him, saying that their father wanted him to forgive them. I can imagine how terrified they must have been. Joseph perceived what was happening and said “am I in the place of God…you meant evil…but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:15-21). Joseph was the King’s right hand man, remember? He could have killed his brothers and no one who have raised an eyebrow. But I believe Joseph was a man who had processed his pain. And he was able to respond differently because of it.
Processing our pain gives us God’s perspective. When we process through our pain, God is able to lift us above that situation and let us see things the way he does.
Processing our pain gives us God's perspective. - @ShoutToTheNorth #MorningEncouragementClick To Tweet
Pain in this life is inevitable. We all will experience it at one time or another. Sometimes it seems relentless. More often than not our instinct will tell us to hold onto it. Blaming others brings satisfaction. Looking to others for comfort bring validation. But neither last. God is not the source of pain but he is waiting to meet us in the midst of it. The question is, will we let go and exchange our perspective for His? When we are able to do that, a fire is lit that cannot be contained. We become the living sacrifice, burning with His fire.
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