Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God,who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. James 1:2-8 If we were to be honest, there are many discouraging things about this passage. We will face many difficult situations throughout our lives and through them we will reach maturity. Isn't there another way? And I really supposed to consider them joy?
For those of us working in vocational ministry, and even those leading from a volunteer position, so many things have the capacity to steal our joy. A critical parent of a student, an unending flood of emails, a team struggling to catch vision, or possibly the worst, when the people we are ministering to just don't seem to get it.
But, the foundation of a leader is a character worthy of the calling God has for you.
So, how do we develop character in order to fulfill the calling placed on us? Truthfully, it cannot happen without the conflict that leads to inner transformation.
All stories, in their most basic form, have 4 components - protagonist, ambition, conflict, and resolution. My favorite movies have an endearing main character who wants something. What they want in the beginning of the story is usually pretty selfish. But transformation takes place when the protagonist abandons their selfish ambition for one that benefits the larger story. (Donald Miller has done great work on this topic in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years). Lets look at a couple examples:
- Simba from Lion King just wants to live the hakuna matata life. No worries, no stress, no responsibilities. But there is a problem: he is meant to be king and his kingdom is being overrun by an evil villain. His ambition must change.
- Mr. Fredrickson in Up has faced a devastating loss. His love, the greatest adventure of his life, has passed away. His great ambition is to die alone in the place he meant to be with his wife. But Russell needs him. Trapped by Carl Luntz, the ragtag gang must escape Paradise Falls and return home. His ambition is no longer about isolation, its about restoring the companionship he lost in his wife. His ambition had to change.
The only way these characters developed - became who the world needed them to be - was through unbearable conflict. And I believe the greater the ambition, an equally great conflict awaits.
We have seen this is histories greatest leaders as well.
- King David experienced profound transformation in caves running from Saul.
- Joseph's character was refined in the pit of Pharoah's prison.
- Nelson Mandela's hope for South Africa was transformed from violence to peaceful activism in prison.
If we are going to accomplish the great things God has for us, we must stop circumventing the conflict that comes at us every single day. Even the smallest conflict can distract us, can steal our joy, from the daily opportunities to develop character. It could be your finances, lack of responsibilities, conflict with a co-worker, unclear vision or direction, lack of passion, feeling undervalued by your boss.
All great stories are filled with conflict, yours is no different.
After 6 years of full-time work on the high school team, we were planning a transition of ministry that effected all of our programs and our staff. Informed that a new high school pastor was going to be hired, I felt as though I deserved it. It just made sense to me. In the most painful conversation of my ministry career, I was told I was not ready for the job. Whose job was it to train me? What skills was I lacking? Bruised, emotionally beaten, I was crushed. This moment was the closest I ever got to leaving my church. How could I ever bounce back?
Through much prayer, my wife and I decided that becoming the Junior High Pastor was exactly where God was calling us for that time. And trust me, that was not what we expected. After 3 years, 3 years of character building. 3 years of burning away my selfish ambition. 3 years of growing in maturity and understanding that conflict truly is the birthplace of joy, I was given the position of High School Pastor.
I tell you that story to illustrate the lengths to which God has gone in my life to prune away a small sliver of the selfish ambition hidden deep within my heart. I was not ready 4 years ago, not a chance. I would have crashed and burned. But God rescued me, provided for me, and began the great work of establishing a character worthy of the calling on my life.
Now it's your turn: where are you struggling in ministry? Big or small, what is robbing your joy? Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
The calling you have will be met with great conflict. All great stories are stories of transformation. So is yours.