Seminary Viewpoints

Redeeming Times of Affliction for Effective Ministry

Billy Gotcher | January 26, 2022
Theology Thursday

As discussed by Billy Gotcher on The Steve Noble Show on Jan. 27

“As Philip Rieff once commented, in past times people did not go to church to be made happy; they went to have their misery explained to them.”

Carl Truemen, Theologian

That statement in Truemen’s article, written at the outset of COVID-19 in March 2020, reminded me that — then and currently — the church is increasingly facing misery, most notably shaming from our fallen culture. This time of extended affliction has exposed one of the chief idols of our hearts — comfort and convenience.

When comfort and convenience are shaken, we want to look for something to make us feel better. But, as I discussed previously, the psalmist says affliction is good in that it helps us grow our knowledge of, faith in and dependence on God’s goodness. (Ps. 119:65-72). Therefore, as James tells us, we should “count it all joy.”

See Also: Joy + Wisdom: James’ Formula for Addressing COVID-19 and a Complex Culture

But have you ever reached the point where you felt like you couldn’t overcome the affliction — that no matter how many times you told yourself God is good, it stood between you and ministry? Paul experienced exactly that with his thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12 and, along with the psalmist, learned how God manifests His goodness through trials so that we can redeem times of affliction.

Through affliction, we learn that dependence on God is essential to ministry.

Paul’s thorn in the flesh was very real and very difficult, so much so that he pleaded desperately for God to take it away (2 Cor. 12:8), thinking unless it were removed, he would not be effective for ministry. However, God was teaching Paul that success in ministry was not dependent on his abilities, but on his dependency on God’s grace (2 Cor. 12:9).

Once Paul was driven to God in his weakness, he learned to rejoice in weakness. Through his humility (2 Cor. 12:7), Paul got to experience God’s strength and give glory to Him for the great things He had done (12:9). Today, God also humbles us by showing us our weaknesses. We learn it’s not about our big buildings, shiny programs or talented people — even famous ones. Rather, success only comes from our great God.

When we learn to embrace afflictions as good, ministry can thrive.

As strange as it seems to us, ministry advance often happens best when we face opposition. Living in an increasingly hostile culture, we may try to hunker down and weather the storm. But the cancel culture wants to shame us to silence, capitalizing on comforts and pleasures our flesh naturally craves.

God has a far better plan for us. Through His all-sufficient grace, He is calling His people to embrace our new status as obstacles to cultural progress as a good gift. Grace will teach us to say with the psalmist, “It is good for me that I was afflicted,” and say with Paul, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” Once we understand affliction is good, we can live for the Gospel mission rather than comfort. Only then will ministry thrive. Today is a great day of salvation, perhaps the greatest Gospel opportunity since the Reformation!

I’ve had the privilege to work with Chinese pastors who have faced far more affliction than we. As religious freedoms grew in China, more church buildings were built. The churches got bigger and more comfortable, but the depth of their Christianity got smaller! These same men have been praying that God would purify their churches — and even the churches in America — through affliction.

Praise the Lord we can face the challenges of ministry in the midst of brokenness filled with hope. Our God of all grace is ready for us to come to the His throne for the help we need. May His grace cause us to shine as a beacon of light in our dark culture. Will you stop complaining about the darkness and the difficulty and be light? God is good and causing good! Stop hiding the light and let it shine!

Editor’s note:

There’s still time to register for our CoRE Conference this Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 31-Feb. 1, where Dr. Gotcher will be expounding on this theme and interacting with pastors and church leaders to apply it to their own congregation’s challenges. Please join us for a time of equipping, encouragement and fervent prayer as we confront the challenges of “proclaiming truth to a broken culture”!