I have the opportunity to speak to dozens of pastors each month. It’s one of my favorite things to do in leadership. Often I will share parts of the conversations I have with my wife Cheryl. She’s a great sounding board and always helps me form a more relational context around the situation.
Recently I was discussing a young pastor who is in a difficult church environment. He is a mid-level staff member and feels God may be opening the door to another opportunity. The problem is — from my perspective — he may be entering another difficult church environment. I said to Cheryl, “It could be miserable for a while.”
Cheryl knew all the principles I’m about to share, but they didn’t resonate before her immediate response.
Cheryl asked, “Would God really call someone into a miserable environment?”
Well, of course, He might. Consider Jonah. What about Elijah? Ever heard of Nehemiah or Noah or Daniel or David or Paul?
Here are 5 reasons God might send someone into a miserable environment:
The Gospel is needed. That’s why Jonah was being sent. People needed to know the Living God. They weren’t yet seeking. They were very wicked people. That’s why Jonah didn’t want to go. But, God was seeking them. He wanted to use Jonah to reach them.
People need renewed hope. And, that’s a Gospel issue too. Imagine the “atmosphere” among the Israelites when Moses showed up to offer deliverance. They were frustrated, scared, oppressed, lonely from lack of interaction with God. But, Moses was being used as the deliverer from suffering into a renewed hope.
To show people a better way. It was probably a tense moment when Peter first arrived to the brothers after his time with Cornelius. Good disciples didn’t hang out with uncircumcised men like him. But, Jesus had brought a new message — one of grace — not one of rules. Peter was a messenger of grace.
We learn to trust more. We develop more in environments of tension. Abram left all that he knew to go to a strange land. He went without a good plan — certainly not one he could see very far ahead. That must have been miserable. Yet, God was using Abram to become Abraham — father and example of our faith. Faith is always going where you cannot see. Without Genesis 12, Abraham would have never been ready for Genesis 22.
God gets the glory. Who gets the glory when the credit goes to us? But, when we are in a miserable environment — and God shows up — who gets the glory? Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery. He was eventually thrown into a prison cell. Miserable existence for someone who had tried to do the right thing. Yet, God raised Joseph to a seat of honor. Who gets the glory in that story?
I’m sure there are many other reasons God would send someone into a miserable environment. I should be clear, it’s not at all that God loves to see His people miserable. That would be absolutely contrary to everything else we know about the character of God. I do believe, however, that God is very purposeful to work things for good. And, sometimes the best good comes from the most miserable — when the power of God is at work.
His strength is made perfect in our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)