Suffering as Part of Vocation

Suffering ≠ Punishment
In the stiff winds of a painful experience, a normal  human response is to wonder what we did wrong. Often behind this is a punitive perspective to personal pain – we messed up and IMG_5388now we are paying the price.

Here is a different view. In some instances, not all, personal adversity can be an aspect of ministry fulfillment.

Biblical Models
Think of those who suffered various kinds of hardships under the providential care and purposes of our wise God:

  • Noah built a boat in a desert. Think anyone mocked him?
  • Abraham waiting 20 years for that promised son as he wandered a land given but not yet possessed.
  • Moses’ two 40-year stints in the wilderness – once as a fugitive, the second as the leader of a fugitive people of God.
  • Jeremiah ingested God’s word and proclaimed it for over 40 years yet saw little change in God’s people.
  • Paul in 2 Corinthians lists numerous hardships he experienced as he went about his Apostolic work.

IMG_6801Joseph’s own words are startling.  Sold into the human trafficking reality of his time by his brothers, then falsely accused of attempted rape as an Egyptian slave, he spent years in an Egyptian prison. Decades later, to those same betraying brothers, he uttered his famous and wise words: “And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.  So it was not you who sent me here, but God. (Genesis 45:7-8)….  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today (Genesis 50:19-20).”

Joseph had come to realize that his sufferings had a purpose larger than his life. Sure, his brothers sold him into slavery, but it was God who was using that betraying act to fulfill the life purposes for Joseph. Wow.

Often our sufferings have larger purposes too. We might not be a national leader on the scale of Joseph, however we are God’s children and nothing is beyond his providential care and purposes.

My Lesson
Some years ago I came to the realization that the physical limitations I live with are not only the context in which God invites me to walk with him, it is the context in which he  manifests his love through me to others.

Could I have fulfilled this calling without these limitations? It is conjecture, but humanly speaking, possibly. In the Father’s wisdom and love though, he knows that these traits of his are supremely displayed in my personal version of limitations.

Weakness as a WindowIMG_0678
Personal sufferings are a means in which God can convey his love through us to others. The primary display of this truth is Jesus on the cross. Jesus’ suffering is the supreme display of the Father’s love. Our weaknesses can be a window into the same love.

How About You?
What are the hardships you are facing today? How might they be “an aspect of vocation?” How is God lovingly and mightily present in and through your weakness to others?

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Unshepherded Shepherds Beware

We are sheep first, shepherds second.
Sheep who are unwilling to be shepherded can get lost. Lost sheep make for poor shepherds.

Let’s put that another way.

Debriefers who do not seek out being debriefed are not the best debriefers.

Pastors who are unwilling to be pastored by another make for poor pastors, or at least not the best pastor they could be.

We are sheep first, shepherds second. As we experience receiving from others, we are postured to extend to others.

We Shepherd out of our Sheep-ness.

Its our identity as adopted sons and daughters in utter dependency on God from which we relate to others. Yet, all of us, to some degree, have misshapen identities. Our identities are hqdefaultalways in the process of being redeemed, i.e. reshaped and reoriented.

We shepherd out of our sheep-ness.

If it sounds messy, well it is.




Receive First, Then Give
Too many of us in care giving roles are far, far more comfortable being the giver than the receiver. It is what we receive from Jesus that we extend to others.

Being dependent on God is, in part, manifested in being dependent on others.

Another metaphor: we are all beggars for bread and the bread I share with you is not of my own creation – another gave it to me.

Who are Your Caregivers?
Who is your pastor?

Who is your spiritual director?

Who is you coach or mentor?

Who is your counselor?

Who is your debriefer?

How often are you meeting with these ones in a vulnerable, receptive posture?  Be very specific; it might not be as often as we imagine.

We can only lead sheep to pastures we know well. If we hang out in the pasture called “I care for myself,” guess where we will lead the sheep?

I must never think I am above the care that I provide for others.

Unshepherded shepherds beware.

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…and just a Pinch of Disruption

Essential Elements of Spiritual Growth
At a recent training I attended the group was asked to list six essential ingredients of spiritual formation.

That is an intriguing question. What would you list?


My Six

  • The Triune God of Love
  • Revelation (Word, creation)
  • Time (life-long process)
  • Response (this is the human agency element)
  • Others (community, church)
  • Disruption/disorientation (suffering)

I kind of go back and forth on how to put God’s love, revelation, incarnation, and sacrifice in there, so I am still polishing my thinking. How about you? What would you have on the list?

Concerning That Last Element….
Does that last one, disruption, surprise you?

The only way we can move to a place of new orientation is to be disoriented from our present orientation.

Sometimes re-orientation comes through desired life experiences – like continuing education or a good book. Sometimes not so much, like one of mom’s don’t-mess-with-me time outs.

But for the big transformative shifts in life we usually require a stronger jolt. Thus, adversities are a key ingredient that God uses to move us forward in our spiritual journey.  St. John of the Cross called it the dark night of the soul. Others speak of spiritual deserts, wilderness experiences, the “wall” – all these are times of deep hardship.

Knowing Is Key
Living in a fallen world guarantees we will face hard times. It’s not whether we suffer, but how and when.

IMG_0153Further, God will disrupt us to draw us further into himself (see Hebrews 12, for example). Regardless of whether God causes or allows a hardship, he loving leverages the circumstances to draw us deeper into himself. It is that deepening communion we are transformed.

Knowing this is forewarning. If we find ourselves in a dark time, then we can know that our good God is up to good, even if it is painful. He may not cause the pain, but he always lavishes his loving presence upon us. God redeems everything.

Remember, God defines our circumstances. Our circumstances do not define God.

How is the Wise Question to Ask
How is God inviting you to walk with him in a season of disorientation?
How do you want to respond to him?
How will you make extra time to draw near to him?
Will you spend more time in his word?
Will you call upon your community to rally around you?
Will you wait on God as these seasons usually last longer than we could ever have imagined?

All of these are key ingredients to growing deeper into the love and life of our Triune God.

It is Love that beckons, how will you respond?

Posted in Living Wisely, Personal Vitality, Shepherding Well, Thinking Well | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Prayer Agendas: God’s or Mine

Lately, I have been pondering spiritual development stages. Critical Journey by Hagberg and Guelich and Mansions of the Heart by Ashbrook have been two main resources.

Prayer Time Agendas
Prayer is diagnostic to growth. In other words, time abiding with Jesus in prayer deepens and broadens as an essential means and marker of maturing. Solitude is essential.

Communion with God is the core aim – not what is done for him or who I am becoming. The latter two are a corollary of the first.   Formation and mission are an overflow of relationship.

Something shifts within the prayer. Instead of me showing up with my list of things I want God to do, I show up and am quiet.   God sets the agenda of what we talk about. Instead of me filling the space full of chatter and then plowing into the day, I wait.

Ripple Effect
As I have reflected upon this idea, I can see how it would ripple out into the rest of life. Instead of me telling God what ministry I am going to do and asking him to bless it, I may find myself asking God what he wants me to do. Sounds good in theory, but how would that work out 9-5?

There is obviously lots of room to grow.

I am curios to what your experiences are as you progress through the years with Jesus.

May you make time to be with him and caring that abiding throughout full days.

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PTM Conference – Don’t Miss It.



The annual Pastor Training in MemberCare Conference is coming this fall. Last year’s event was stellar. This year is promising to be just as good. Hope to see you there.

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Is Your Spirituality Sufficient for Your Vocation?

This is a weighty question.

I gleaned this question from Eugene Peterson in a statement he makes in the introduction to his book Under the Unpredictable Plant.

Let’s break it down.

Spirituality is the ways we intentionally respond to God’s presence and activity in our lives. God always initiates. We always respond. When I take time to pray, I am not initiating relationship with God. I am responding to his presence and wooing in my life.

What is the state of your spiritual life? What are your regular practices? How are your responding to God’s pursuit of you?

Sufficient doesn’t mean good enough, rather more like robust enough.IMG_9055

I am learning that the further I get on this journey, the deeper he invites me into communion with him. And the deeper he invite me in, the less my past spirituality suffices.

Vocation does not merely mean one’s job or career. Our English word “vocation” comes from the Latin vocare. I am no Latin guru but my understanding of the word is more akin to “calling.”  Our vocation encompasses all of our lives.

For example, here is my vocation
: I am an adopted son of the Triune God, a husband, a father, a friend, a shepherd-teacher – and I hold various roles along the way.

As I mature in my true identity, my life responses will dynamically mature as well. Well, neither of those elements – my identity nor my responses – automatically mature. That is why this question deserves some lengthy pondering. Otherwise we age without maturing. We can become older and NOT wiser.

Thus, is how I am responding to God’s invitations into deeper communion with him sufficient to that invitation as it is lived out in the breadth and depth of who he has created and is redeeming me to be?

Is your spirituality sufficient for your vocation?

How would you like to reflect upon that?

How is God inviting you to experiment with some new responses to him in life?

Remember, part of our response to God is sacrificial service to others. This is also a key aspect of our response to God, of becoming matured.

Is your spirituality sufficient for your vocation?

I’d love to hear what God is showing you in this stage of your life.

Posted in Living Wisely, Personal Vitality, Shepherding Well, Spiritual Vitality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Lively Interview on The Uninvited Companion with Sarita Hartz

Sarita Hartz has a sharp mind and heart and has seen some of the tough side of life in the Kingdom. She graciously approached me about an interview related to my book. Her questions are thoughtful, provoking, and laced with experience of her own hard-earned hurts serving others.

Please check out the interview and her stellar blog.

Suffering, The Uninvited Companion: A Scott Shaum Interview

suffering shapes us

Posted in Shepherding Well | 2 Comments

Your Life, a Message

I have been reflecting on the reality and impact of long-term, unresolved adversity in life.

We all know someone, you might be that someone, who lives with unresolved physical ailment – the kind that alters how one goes about life.

Others live with internal scars from relational abuses or neglects.IMG_8499

Maybe its childlessness or singleness or any of a number of long griefs we carry.

What if…..

What if this reality we find ourselves in is the very context in which we are now invited to walk closer with God and others? What if these are the means to such a way of a deeper, matured life?

What if he does not heal the hurts but the hurts are a way he draws us in to heal our souls of deeper ills?

I submit some personal musings from a journal entry during this past Advent:

Musings on a Life as a Message – What If?

What if my health challenges are not meant to be cured?

What if walking with prolonged mystery is to be my life message, a message of hope and consolation and contradiction to the world?

What if God is not after a resolution, but rather a stewardship of this mystery?

This is now a relational issue, not a knowledge or skill-based issue. I am ushered in deeper with the Triune God – Father, Son and Spirit. My spirituality – that is the way I respond to him in this beauty and muck of life – requires a deepening as well.

I am invited to steward all that God offers. When mystery (that which I cannot control nor explain) goes my way, I love it. But when it brings pain and suffering, I resent it. I want answers and resolution. My growing sense is that I am to rather receive it, embrace the adversities – to steward this “calling”, this “vocation.”

This calling, this vocation, this stewardship, this path, this cruciform life (is this an accurate usage of this term?) requires a deeper well to draw from.

Is my spirituality sufficient for the path God lays before me?

God is inviting me deeper in, how am I responding?

The old ways will not suffice. There are elements of my life that serve God’s purposes and myself well. There are also elements of my life that choke God’s seed in the soil of my heart. These briar patches are to be avoided, denied, resisted.

I will continue to need the Spirit to give me fresh, new, unimagined vision for how I live out all the details of my life. I sense that if I am given the eyes to see the prize, specific, daily choices might be easier to make.

Yet, I do not want a prophet’s life. Prophet’s are social misfits, misunderstood, rejected, eventually silenced. I can easily fantasize about the impact (i.e fame!). But this path is far more costly than I have yet known or am likely willing to pay.  Hebrews 11:35-39 comes to mind.


IMG_8406Is this the path to becoming (not in a self-actualized way, but in a Spirit-formed way) an elder in the faith, a person of true wisdom?

We tend to think its our strengths and successes that shine forth, what if its our brokenness and weaknesses that are the greatest message for others to see?

What if?

These are some of my current wonders. I’d be grateful to hear some of your wrestlings of late. Thank you for responding and sharing.


Posted in Living Wisely, Personal Vitality, Shepherding Well, Spiritual Vitality, The Shepherd's Health, Thinking Well | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments