If you are called to be a leader, then it will cost you. There will be some pain. If you are called to lead, there are times it will hurt a little. And sometimes it will hurt a lot.
Generally we try to avoid pain. At least I do. Some dentists advertise “pain-free dentistry,” which I believe is an oxymoron. You may be pumped full of Novocain or nitrous oxide, but ultimately there will be some pain involved. When we want to get into better shape, we wonder if there is a way to work out without actually breaking a sweat. But we ultimately must face the truth of the adage, “No pain, no gain.”
What is true of the dentist and the gym is also true of life. When we have pain in our lives, it reminds us of a deeper need: the need for God. A.W. Tozer said, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.” Take the apostle Paul for example. After his encounter with Jesus, Paul blazed a trail, leaving behind many churches and converts. Paul preached to philosophers, Pharisees, rulers, soldiers, sorcerers, sailors, slaves and most likely to Caesar himself. It is not an understatement to say that Paul changed his world. He was charged with the message of the gospel, and he brought it to his generation and did so brilliantly. As we look over his ministry, we know that God did miracles through Paul. We are aware of the fact that he wrote a great portion of the New Testament. We quote him frequently. He was God’s man.
But there is another aspect of Paul’s life that we sometimes forget about: He suffered. When God called Ananias to go and pray for Paul after his conversion, Ananias was a bit resistant. But God told him, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:16 NIV). That gets missed sometimes. We think of Paul the preacher, Paul the writer and Paul the miracle worker, but we tend to overlook Paul, the man who suffered.
Those in leadership have all suffered in varying degrees. They have been second-guessed and have been the victims of gossip and sometimes slander. They have even been threatened. Some have lost their lives.
Paul wrote about having had a vision of the third heaven. That could go to your head if you had been to heaven. It would be easy to be arrogant and prideful. Paul wrote that as a result of this experience, “There was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9 NIV).
What was this “thorn” Paul was referring to? We don’t know. But it would appear it was some kind of physical condition. Considering the fact that Paul had been stoned and shipwrecked and beaten with rods, it is pretty easy to conclude that he could have had some kind of a disability as a result. Some believe it was his eyesight. Whatever it was, he asked God three times to take it away. And God said, “My grace is sufficient for you. …”
So Paul arrived at this conclusion: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NIV).
These are the words of a man who understood that God can work through pain. God can work mightily through disability. And sometimes God can work more effectively through a person with a disability. Disability can be transformed into ability.
It has been said that success builds walls, and failures build bridges. If, as a leader, you only talk about your successes, then it will build walls. When you appear to have everything wired and everything figured out and never share any vulnerability, people will think, I can’t relate to you. What planet do you live on? You don’t live on my planet. I am not saying leaders should be bleeding hearts and talk about all the problems they are facing. But I am saying that showing a little bit of vulnerability and real humanity will build a bridge.
Shortly after our son went to heaven, I received a letter from pastor and author Warren Wiersbe. While there was much in his letter that touched me, there was one line that really spoke to me: “Don’t let your own tears be wasted. Try to be a comfort to others.”
God allows us to suffer so that we can comfort others. Nothing happens to us accidentally. And you can be sure that the more we suffer, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. When others are troubled, we will be able to give the same comfort God has given us.
Although I wish that I could have avoided the suffering I have gone through, I realize that God has given me a platform as a result. And I want to use that platform to glorify him through it. Not that I will do it perfectly. But I will try. I don’t want this to define me, but I do want it to refine me. I have never heard from so many hurting people in my entire life, people who have said they wouldn’t have listened to me before, but now they will.
God allows suffering in the life of the Christian so that he can receive all the glory that will come from our lives. The ultimate issue is to glorify God and to honor him in all that we do.