LEARNING is an interesting prospect here on earth. We don’t learn willingly unless we are convinced by ourselves — or, for the Christian, by the Holy Spirit.
One of my mentors is in his seventies. He discipled me to faith twenty-five years ago. I hadn’t seen him in nearly twenty-three of those years. We have been catching up three monthly for over two years. Every time I leave his presence I’m filled to overflowing with God’s spiritual wisdom.
What I value most about this aging pastor — now a pastor of pastors — is his experience of experience. We talked mainly about reconciliation, the Spirit’s conviction in a person, forgiveness, and faithfulness, amongst other things. (It’s amazing the content that can be crammed into an hour-and-a-half.)
1. Forgiveness and Reconciliation
There is a latent time between processing a hurt in the head compared with processing it in the heart. We know we are commanded by Jesus to forgive, so we do so, at a head or cognitive level; many times over. But the feelings don’t subside easily or anywhere near that quickly. We can be excused for thinking there’s something wrong with us. Why are we so ‘disobedient’? Why is it so hard?
The distance between a hurt’s processing is between the head and the heart. And grace more than adequately covers the in-between time. We submit our will to forgive a person or situation and God honours it through his grace. It’s all we can do. And though the miracle hasn’t yet been transacted, we are assured by God that we are under his blessing.
So the long meandering road winding between the head and the heart is called ‘grace’. We are to experience God’s grace when we don’t feel like forgiving someone.
Or, another way of thinking about this is, the heart warms slowly to what the head has already agreed to as to the decision. This will explain why we feel something in our gut or in our chest or as tension in the body, yet we might still ask, “Why is this still affecting me?”
The more we felt for a person or the situation, the longer it will take for our heart to forgive them. The more it matters, the more time and space we need to allow our hearts to heal.
2. What’s Bigger – the Hurt or the Hearing?
What is God saying — in our circumstance? Are we able to hear him in our hurts? Or does the hurt still bear too large? Honesty is the key. The moment we find ourselves answering, “My hurt is too big for my hearing, Lord,” or, “I cannot hear you, Lord,” is often the moment God breaks through and invites us, afresh, to surrender to his healing Presence.
Our prayer should be to hear God’s still and small voice above the hurt. That way we may need to consider quietening our hurt down a little, at least during the time of our prayer.
3. Getting Back Onto God’s Timeframe
God is doing miracles, but only on his timeframe. One situation can take five years to reconcile. Another, it’s done almost immediately. On another, it’s thirteen years and we are still waiting.
But God’s time is eternity.
As we get older and we realise that conflict abounds everywhere, and when we realise we all feel wronged, we realise that the only timeframe that’s important is God’s. Then his patience becomes us. Then we realise the healing that can come from attending to our own wrong.
4. Conviction or Condemnation
A person who we have a grievance with is either going to hear from God’s Spirit or from God’s enemy.
If they hear from God’s Spirit they’ll be convicted to make right what has been done wrong. If they hear from God’s enemy, on the other hand, they will condemn the other party. There is no learning, no blessing, and no hope in the latter. But reconciliation is probable in the former situation.
5. We Are Comforted to Comfort Others With the Comfort We Received
A principle of 2 Corinthians chapter 1 gives us the purpose behind suffering. It’s a truth that ought to never be rejected as cliché.
Only those who have trodden a particular road can truly empathise with others who are on the same road. But to have suffered and surrendered is a spiritual gifting with universal reach for ministry. We have something to offer someone when we have reached a place where nobody’s explanation of our situation made any sense at all, least of all our own. In that liminal space we discovered only God’s invisible powers mattered.
When ministry transcends words, and where answers or advice cease to have value, we are able to ponder the questions. It’s only questions that have any value when there are no answers; when life has taken us onto a road of mystery.
6. Don’t Use the Force of Telling – Learn the Gentleness of Asking
Nobody responds to telling, and the giving of advice generally falls flat, even in those seeking advice, because advice rarely hits the same mark for the other person as it does for us.
Asking people questions invites them into their response of reflection.
Asking questions doesn’t offend people and it keeps space free for the Holy Spirit to communicate what only the Holy Spirit can.
7. Nurture the Pastoral Heart and Use It
Hugging people has become a tricky business nowadays, with issues of abuse and safety rife in the church.
But offering people the reciprocation of their intimacy is both kind and generous.
For those we are safe to love — those generally of the same gender and age — we should nurture relational blessings. For the opposite gender and for those who are vulnerable we should be warier, but demonstrations of kindness and generosity in public, especially when they are initiated by others, are generally safe.
Whatever we do in ministry we are best to nurture a pastoral heart.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.