Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Ministers and Fire

Who experiences the refining fire of affliction?

Ministers, says Bob Sorge in The Fire of Delayed Answers. Ministers. And he defines a minister as “someone who waits on, who serves, who ministers, who attends.”

In the church, that definition covers a broad swatch of people. Like all of us.

Some years back, at a time when a lot of companies were laying people off in St. Louis, I was at church one Sunday, talking with a friend who worked at the same large organization I did. He noted one of our fellow church members, a man who had held a very senior executive position when he had been laid off some time before.

“You have to wonder,” my friend said. “He’s been out of work for a year. What could be the problem?”

I don’t recall my response exactly, but it was something like “the market is hard right now, especially if you want to stay in St. Louis.”

Some months after this conversation, the friend who had made the observation lost his job. He had just been told of his downsizing, and he called me, devastated. I told him to meet me in the cafeteria for lunch.

When we met, his first question was, “You’re willing to be seen with me?” What had happened was that the departmental colleagues did what was a normal thing back then – they stopped talking with him. He had become a non-person. It was as devastating as the layoff itself.

It would be more than two years before my friend found employment. Too many people with his skills and background were looking for work.  His search for work would take him all over the United States.

And this was man who had been highly regarded, and officially classified as a “high potential” employee.

He went through the fire. One of the people who counseled and helped him was that laid-off executive he had talked about.

Six years later, I was laid off by my then-employer. The circumstances were different; a boss who was in a position far beyond the individual’s capabilities was threatened by anyone who knew what they were doing. The boss, interestingly enough, was laid off at the same time I was. I ultimately benefitted from the layoff; the boss did not.

It’s difficult to understand a refining fire when you’re the one being refined.  Some days, it’s all you can do to hang on to your faith.

But each of us faces that refining. Some of us have to hold on longer than others, often for no discernible reason. The refining can become a flame, and a light.

“We become the light of the world,” writes Sorge, “when our passion for Jesus burns as a flame before others.”

And the refining fire comes to the ministers.

Led by Jason Stayszsen and Sarah Salter, we’re reading The Fire of Delayed Answers. To see others’ comments, please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact and Sarah at Living Between the Lines. This week’s discussion concludes chapter 1, “Refiner’s Fire.”

Photograph by David Wagner via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.


Maureen said...

That last quote of Sorge's applies to my friend T., an artist whose brain cancer has advanced so far she is now in a wheelchair, her kidneys shutting down. And yet, she and C., her husband, continue to show the most remarkable faith, the deepest belief in God. How does suffering advance hope is a question C. posted this morning. How this extraordinary couple remains turned to the Light. . . the refining they are experiencing truly is an act of the ministers they are.

Anonymous said...

good post, i like the story that you used as an example.

jasonS said...

It's not that we want anyone to go through hard times, but it does help to understand that every servant, every minister, every true worshipper, will go through the fire. We are not being punished or brutalized, we are being shaped and molded by this fire. Great thoughts, Glynn. Thank you.

Joell said...

Yes, no one is immune to the fires. We all experience them, it is a matter of when, not if. And it is all about perspective. You only understand the challenges of the fire when you are in it yourself or have experienced it yourself. That is why it is so important to minister to others who are going through the same kinds of trials that you have experienced...another reason for the refining, to encourage others.

How beautiful the circle of ministry is and can be. The refining does become a flame and a light of ministry to others.

TC Avey said...

It's so hard to go through the flames, sometimes it seems as if it's unfair and taking too long. But even in those times we must trust in God. I've been to the point where even trusting Him seems impossible. Where I say, "God you say all I need is the faith of a mustard seed and that's all I have right now."