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Wounded Warrior

Wounded Warrior

by Dennis Pollock

A few years ago I attended the funeral of the son of a pastor friend of mine. The young man had drowned in a boating accident – one of those shocking and devastating tragedies that blindsides the family and brings crushing, mind-numbing grief to parents who never imagined their children would enter heaven before them.

I drove farther to attend this funeral than any other in my life, except for relatives. I wanted to be there for two reasons. First, the pastor whose son had died was a man whose heart for evangelism and the kingdom of God equaled or excelled that of any pastor I have ever met. This man has the heart of a lion and a passion for souls that is amazing. If John the Baptist lived today he wouldn’t be much different in heart and passion from this brother. The second reason is that I, myself had been through a devastating blow a couple of years earlier. The blow was not the same but it was similar enough that I could identify with this soldier of the cross’s sudden and unexpected loss. When I asked him at the visitation how he was doing, his answer said it all: “I’m just doing.”  I knew exactly what he was talking about.

The incident set me to thinking about other servants of God who have been through incredible loss and intense pain. Being a member of that not-to-be envied fraternity, I decided to sit down and write a few observations and conclusions about the fiery trials that sometimes appear in the lives of those God has called and chosen. While it would take a large book to elaborate upon these points fully, here are a few simple thoughts I have come to believe and hold:

Many Opinions, No Answers

There is no human being on earth qualified to explain your loss. This doesn’t mean people won’t try. Indeed, with all the best intentions in the world, you almost certainly will experience certain individuals who will feel it is their Christian duty to give you the “theology” and reasons for why you are suffering as you are.

A person who is in this most severe kind of pain is like one who was walking along the street suddenly to be sucker-punched in the stomach by the heavyweight champion of the world. As he lies on the sidewalk gasping for air and in the worst pain of his life, people gather around him. They begin to discuss his situation. A prim-looking older woman clucks her tongue and says, “I knew this man would come to this. He has never been careful enough. He’s way too impulsive, never looking around to see the dangers about him.” A tough looking young man says, “He obviously is not much of a fighter. I would have blocked the punch and then knocked the guy’s lights out.” A clergyman piously states, “He clearly is a man without faith. Had he had enough faith, God would have protected him from this. Even now there is no reason for him to be lying on the ground. Get up man! Use your faith!” Another states in solemn tones, “This event is no doubt the sovereign will of God. Just accept your situation and make your peace with the sidewalk.” Meanwhile the stricken man, in utter humiliation and the most intense pain, is hurting so badly he hardly cares what anyone is saying, just wanting some relief from the agony.

There is a certain randomness to both suffering and seasons of joy and happiness. Solomon picked up on this and spoke of it in his reflective work, Ecclesiastes:

There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: righteous men who get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men who get what the righteous deserve (Ecclesiastes 8:14).

Pain Comes to All

This is not to suggest that God has nothing to do with the major events of our lives, both good and bad, but we cannot presume to know the “why” of suffering, either of our own, or especially of the pain of others. Jesus tells us that God makes his sun shine on the evil and on the good. What we sometimes fail to recognize is that tragedy likewise falls on all – righteous and unrighteous, preachers and laymen, prayer warriors and prayerless atheists.

If the time should come when you find yourself lying on the sidewalk, gasping for breath, pay no attention to all the philosophers that may gather around. Be as gracious as you can, but don’t let them add to your grief.

There is no greater revealer of spiritual foundations than intense pain and suffering. More than any other Biblical writer, Peter deals with severe persecution and suffering among the Christians. It is Peter who tells us not to “think it strange” when we suffer “fiery trials.” He also writes about the outcome of being “grieved with various trials” –  “that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7)  Severe suffering reveals whether our faith is genuine.

This does not mean that if we are strong Christians we will meet tragedies and pain with a cheerful, “Praise the Lord” and go on as if nothing happened. Being a Christian does not make you less human; it makes you more human (as God intended us to be). The pain will be very real and the tears will flow. It is neither reasonable nor spiritual to try to deny or suppress these. Grief and mourning, in their proper place and appropriate measure, are extremely healthy things, and attempts to stoically pretend that nothing is wrong and that we are too spiritual to take the time to hurt would be disastrous.

Foundations

Foundations are primarily revealed by our attitude toward God when we go through the worst of suffering. Whatever our philosophy of suffering, any who believe in God instinctively realize that God could, had He chosen, have prevented this situation from occurring. Whether God was directing or merely allowing, He could have “stepped in” and brought about a better outcome. And what do we do with that?

When we are going through the worst of trials, it is no time to try to build foundations. The foundations needed to be laid during those easygoing days when the sun shone on our lives and all seemed well with the world. No home-builder in his right mind would try to pour the concrete foundation for a house during a thunderstorm. Foundations are best created during the good weather, and then prove their value during the storms.

If the foundations are solid, the Christian who faces suffering, in spite of the pain and confusion, has no intention whatsoever of blaming or forsaking the God he loves. Like Peter, his attitude toward his Lord is, “Where else could we go?” He has drunk too deeply from the wells of God’s love and grace. He, who has tasted the heavenly gift, partaken of the Holy Spirit, drunk the refreshing waters of the good word of God and experienced the powers of the age to come, may be shaken but he has no plans to go anywhere. And it is this attitude that reveals that the seed of God’s word has fallen into very good soil.

Time to Heal

Healing Takes Time. God created us with bodies that heal. When we are cut or injured, the healing process begins almost immediately. Our blood begins to clot at the point of the wound, preventing us from bleeding to death. Antibodies are created in huge numbers to deal with infection. If a bone is broken, new bone substance is produced which eventually hardens and creates a whole, strong bone again. Throughout our entire body, cells, organs, and glands are working together to repair and strengthen that which was damaged.

The complete restoration takes time. Instant healing is virtually unknown in nature. So it is in the realm of emotional wounds. In my deepest times of suffering I have always known that God would, in time, provide for my healing. I have also known that I would, for a time, have to endure a season of pain.

During this healing process there is usually a need for “strategic retreat.” When a soldier has taken a bullet through the chest, he is not handed his rifle and shoved back to the front lines. He is taken to a hospital where he will receive medical attention and lie in a bed for days, weeks, or months, depending upon the severity of the wound. Likewise, when those involved in ministry suffer severe blows, it is normally wise to take at least some time to draw back from some or all ordinary responsibilities.

The one thing we must not draw back from is not a thing at all, but a Person. We must not draw back from God. In my most intense pain, I was at the place for a short time where I could not prepare sermons and could hardly bring myself to read the Bible. The one thing I could and did do was to continually call out to God. Sometimes my prayers were short and simple: “Lord, I’m dying.” At other times the questions and complaints poured forth freely. But I kept on talking and He kept on listening.

Gradual Relief

The pain resides gradually. As its most severe phase ends, it is time to use the powerful and awesome resources God provides His children. Listening to praise and worship CDs, saturating your mind and spirit with the word of God, fellowshipping with other believers, and finding meaningful ministry work to do (starting out slowly and increasing as you are able) are means by which the Great Physician does His healing work.

You know the healing is being accomplished when you start laughing and joking again. At first you thought you would never do these things again, but you find the Holy Spirit encouraging you, telling you that it is not only OK, but even right and good that you should do so. The joy of the Lord is your strength.

I have always admired professionals who are highly gifted in their chosen field. And our Lord is extremely good at healing emotional wounds. In fact He is so good at taking His children through the fires of suffering that when it is all over, and the healing has been accomplished, they suddenly realize that they not only have not been harmed – but not one of their hairs has been singed and the smell of smoke cannot even be found on their garments. Jesus does exceedingly good work!

Resurrection Life

Resurrection follows death. Our God is extremely economical. He doesn’t waste a thing. The Scriptures tell us that He makes all things work together for good to those who love Him. This includes blessings and heartaches, events directed by Him and those allowed by Him.

When Jesus walked the streets and highways of Israel, His ministry was awesome. The sick were healed, the dead were raised, the hungry were fed, and the poor and needy were encouraged. What could be better than that? Had we lived in Israel, we would have wanted Him to stay with us forever. The thought of Him dying on a cruel cross, and then being physically absent from us would have seemed the worst of all possible tragedies.

Yet Jesus foretold the absolute necessity of His own suffering and cross, by declaring, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies it produces much fruit.” If you thought Jesus who walked around Nazareth was awesome, wait until you see the risen Christ, who boldly declares, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth…” Jesus was not diminished by the cross; He was infinitely enhanced, and we all share in the benefits of that enhancement.

Value of Trials

So it is for us. If we respond rightly to the fiery trials that smash rudely into our lives, we find that God makes incredible use of them. In my own life, I can truthfully say that my greatest pain has been used by God to produce my most effective ministry. Pain seems to have the ability to tenderize the heart, to make our spirits far more pliant and tender in the hands of the Holy Spirit. When Paul describes the divine chain of events which God uses to equip us for service, he begins with tribulation and ends with the love of God being poured out in our hearts (Romans 5:3-5).

If you happen to know a wounded warrior, let me give you a little advice. Don’t try to fix everything for him (or her) or try to provide deep wisdom that will resolve all the questions. Just be there for them. You never know if you won’t be the next one lying on the sidewalk, and it might help to have a friend who won’t judge you or fill your ears with superficial theology.

If you are the wounded warrior, know that our Lord was the ultimate wounded warrior. His pain, even before the cross, was of such a degree that He sweated blood. But today the pain is gone, and His ministry, which had its beginnings in that very pain, goes on forever.





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