“From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brandmarks of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17).
This has been a season of grief. I have experienced more sadness and grief – and the anger that can often accompany these – in the last 6 months than I have in a very, very long time.
Serving as the interim pastor for my home church family was supposed to be a time to steady the ship while we continued to wait on the Lord to call a new pastor – and to help us navigate the pandemic with some grace. But, like so many of you, the reality has been far from the ideal I imagined.
Sadness and grief have marked most of the weeks since January.
In the last week, I have attended two memorial services that, even though they were both homegoing celebrations for believers, were that odd mixture of joy and sadness. On top of that was the grief I shared with my wife as she had to say goodbye to her much-loved partner of nearly 20 years in equestrian joy – an untimely but necessary death due to unrepairable injury.
Hearing your stories of conflict and wounding comments as you try to faithfully shepherd God’s people in the middle of a global mess is evidence that there is no shortage of pain happening in the Church.
Sadness and grief are inevitable in life and in ministry.
In Word Meanings in the New Testament, Professor Ralph Earle comments on Galatians 6:17. The word stigma, usually translated scars or brandmarks, derives from the Greek word meaning “to prick,” as with a sharp instrument. He says, “Brand marks were carried especially by domestic animals, slaves, criminals and later soldiers.” And since Paul often refers to himself as a slave of Jesus, this may be translated as “I bear in my body the brandmarks of the Lord Jesus.”
What were those brandmarks? Certainly, they were the wounds of soul and body that are the charter of those who follow Jesus. (Mt. 10:16-42) They came from living life and serving Christ in a broken world.
I am sure that you aren’t untouched by what this season of sadness and grief have brought. I know you have walked through the gauntlet – and it has left its mark.
But let me offer a perspective that I am slowly being reminded of.
The redemptive quality of pain.
The ministry I help to lead has, as part of its core values, a very distinctive idea – we value the redemptive quality of pain. We believe and know that pain is too valuable to waste. When handled in a godly manner it provides a deeper understanding of God, His care, and His plan. It can equip us for greater effectiveness in ministering to those we serve.
It deepens my empathy and compassion for others – moving meaway from the self -oriented way I often think and feel.
It connects me with things that are real and deeply human – the uncertainties and disappointments of our limitations that we all share, as well as pointing me to a God that is eternally certain.
It links me to the One who was and is far more acquainted with grief and suffering than I am likely to be in my lifetime. The wounds we experience are HIS marks, who unselfishly refused to remain distant and experienced life and “ministry” with all its joys and all its sorrows.
I thank our God for you.
I thank God that you have not shied away from the branding iron – from the sadness and grief that comes with this calling. Whether it is the wounds we feel because of others, or those we carry with others, you have been willing to be marked out as a servant of the Lord.
If you, or a brother or sister ministry leader you know, are feeling the pain of fresh wounds and just need someone to share the journey of healing with, contact me. My friends and partners in PIR Ministries have walked this way before.