Friday, October 22, 2010

God Trains His Servants By Breaking Their Hearts

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Colossians 1:24-29)

Over our years in ministry my family and I have had our share of heartbreaks in serving Jesus; we have seen the same in almost every pastor’s family. We have always found refuge in knowing God sovereignly uses our pains and sufferings to fulfill His divine purposes and plans – for our good and for His glory. Here is a recent post by Colin Hansen written by Rev. Joshua M. Knott which clearly reflects that truth.

James (Jay) Harvey is senior pastor of Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Newark, Delaware, and it’s an honor to serve under and alongside him. Recently, he’s been showing our church—as much by his example as by his words—how to suffer well. I was brand new to Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, when our student body prayed for him in chapel. Their second child, their son Jacob, was born with cystic fibrosis. Years later when I came on staff to serve with him, I asked him about they dealt with what the Lord had given them in Jacob, and he responded in the words of his mentor and pastor Ligon Duncan: “Sometimes God trains his servants by breaking their hearts.” As those who have children with special needs can imagine, their life has a rigorous routine pock-marked with weeks at the hospital when the disease temporarily worsens. I know of no other man who has had to look his 6-year-old in the eye and talk to him about the very real possibility of dying and the need to have faith in Christ, grow in grace, and persevere in what the Lord has given him.

Nevertheless, two years ago, the Lord saw fit to bring another trial of incredible magnitude into Jay’s life. His wife, Melody (in her mid-30s, as Jay is), was diagnosed with RSD, a disease in which her nervous system overreacts to external stimulation. This meant that, as her condition worsened, the slightest handshake, hug from her (now four) children, or even a strong breeze would leave her body racked with pain for days. To save her life meant a costly, week-long, medically induced coma in Monterrey, Mexico. Countless brothers and sisters in Christ from all over the world helped raise the $75,000 needed for the procedure, which took place this past August. Her recovery was going well, but she recently incurred a new injury that will require her to receive another treatment and may mean another coma in Mexico.

And here is what we have seen as a congregation: Christ formed in our pastor and his family. Christ’s sovereignty exalted in Jay’s preaching and teaching, which did not suffer the least no matter how great his personal pain and suffering. Christ sustaining his broken-hearted servants in his word, by his Spirit. We’ve seen a pastor and his family whose hope is rooted firmly in glory and not in this world. I have no doubt there are dark “how long O Lord” moments, days, and seasons. I have no doubt that they have prayed fervently for relief and for restored joy in the midst of debilitating pain. I also have no doubt—none of us does—that they are leaning on the everlasting arms of their heavenly Father, entrusting themselves to his goodness and care.

God trains his servants by breaking their hearts. I praise God to serve under a dear brother who is leading his family and his church family to the cross in the midst of his heart-brokenness, leading a suffering people to the One who has suffered in their place, for their sins, that we might put our hope in him alone.

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