A long time ago, when I was a very young minister, a series of remarkable things happened to me. I found myself deeply troubled by what I called at the time “wrong thoughts”. It was a very disturbing thing. I would be trying to pray and thoughts would enter my mind that had no business being there. Mind you, I had spent four years in the Navy and I had all the vocabulary that went with it. But it wasn’t just that. It was more. I fought that battle and won, but that didn’t end the story.
About two weeks after the end of the battle, I was out on a visit and a woman told me that she had been fighting a terrible battle with…you guessed it, what she called “wrong thoughts”. I was able to encourage her in several ways. One, she was not the only person who had to fight that battle Two, I was able to tell her how to deal with it. Three, I was able to tell her that the battle could be won.
I went through this cycle with other problems about three or four times before I finally woke up and realized what was going on. How could I possibly understand people who were suffering when I had not suffered myself. How could I tell people how to overcome something when I had not overcome it myself. Then one day, I found myself in trouble again, and I had an epiphany. I realized that this trouble I was in was necessary for something that lay in the future and that it was important that I overcome it. I had to win for the sake of people I would yet come to know.
Sure enough. It wasn’t all that far down the road that the same thing happened again. And so, imperfectly, I have learned to be grateful for every scar on my body. Years ago, while I was in the Navy, I had major surgery and I have a huge scar across my left rib cage. I am grateful for that scar because I know what it is like to lie in a hospital bed in total misery and pain, with tubes coming out of my body, yearning for my next pain pill. I have come to realize that if I am going to be a minister, I have to be trained, and only a part of the training is in the Bible; a lot of the training is in life.
While making disciples in Philippi, Paul and Silas were whipped and imprisoned. How should they have felt about this? Guilty, grateful, or nothing special? They had done nothing wrong, but that doesn’t keep you from feeling guilty, does it? So how did they feel? They had been whipped and had to be in a lot of pain. Bleeding and bruised, they were terribly uncomfortable with their feet in stocks. What was their response?