In the preparation of his servants, God uses crucible experiences that test and purify us. This is no less true of missionaries than of any other servants of God. In a previous post in this blog, I looked at Scripture verses that speak of crucibles and noted some different types of crucible experiences. I emphasized that our response to these crucible experiences is critical. If they are to be transformative, we need to identify and extract from these difficult and often painful experiences that which God has intended that we learn from it.
How do we do that? How do we mine crucibles? I think we need to begin by learning from Jesus. He not only went through the crucible in order to purchase our redemption, but he shows us how to persevere and learn from these experiences.
Consider the following verses:
Hebrews 2:10 (NIV) – In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.
Hebrews 2:18 (NIV) – Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Jesus suffered in his testing and temptation. He was human, and so going through the crucibles in his life and ministry were very difficult for him. They were not simple quizzes, tests that he could easily pass without thinking or preparing himself. In the wilderness, Satan’s temptations to take shortcuts to glory without going through the cross were by no means unattractive, yet he stood firm. The crucifixion itself was excruciatingly painful, amplified by the desertion of his disciples and the sense that God himself was turning his back on him.
The Scriptures say that God made Jesus perfect or complete through this suffering (Heb 2:10). He was not imperfect, in the sense of being flawed, but his suffering completed his life’s work of purchasing our redemption, and made him qualified to be the Saviour of all men. The sinless Son of God who entered the crucible came out as the perfect Saviour and exalted Lord of all.
How does Jesus help us when we are tempted? We can draw strength from his example. He was the ἀρχηγός, the Pioneer (the Pathfinder or the Trailblazer) who went before us in traversing crucibles (see Heb 2:10, Heb 12:2). He knows the dangers of crucibles, understands our pain, and shows us the way to go.
Hebrews 5:7–9 (NIV) — During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him
Hebrews also says that Jesus learned obedience from what he suffered (Heb 5:7-8). His suffering was transformative; it changed him in some way. Now Jesus was not disobedient prior to the crucible, but nevertheless he learned something about the nature of obedience from his suffering. The crucible events of his life taught him from first-hand experience that obedience to the Father is costly. He learned that obedience does not make one popular, at least not for long, and that steadfast and uncompromising obedience results in the emergence of some powerful enemies. He learned that obedience to the Father is really all that matters, even if the whole world turned against him.
What can we learn from the Pathfinder about how to navigate through and learn from crucibles? The verses above from Hebrew 5 show us that desperate dependence on and complete submission to the Father was the attitude that Jesus adopted in the midst of the crucible. Crucibles are often times when our independence and self-reliance are under attack. Jesus shows us that in these times, we can still courageously move forward, but not by gritting our teeth and clinging even more fiercely to the self-delusion that we are self-sufficient and can figure it out on our own. Desperate times call for desperate prayers of dependence and total surrender.
Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV) – Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Again, Jesus is described as the ἀρχηγός, the Pioneer, the Trailblazer who has gone before us. But he is also described as the Perfecter of faith. He was perfected by suffering, and now he is perfecting us. He perfects us in the same way that he was perfected.
Again, we are encouraged to look to Jesus as our example in suffering. He endured because he kept his eyes on the goal. He learned obedience because he was not distracted by the pain and hardship, but stayed focused on the reward that would be his at the end.
Tony Stoltzfus, in a great book entitled The Calling Journey: Mapping the Stages of a Leader’s Life Call, talks about valleys that a Christian leader goes through in the process of being prepared for his life calling. These valleys are very similar to the crucible experience of which I have been talking. Stoltzfus says, “The single most important thing you can do in the valleys is to change perspective. Stop looking at your circumstances from a human vantage point (“It hurts!”) and see it from God’s point of view (“This is making me like Jesus.”). (Kindle Locations 1757-1759).
In the crucibles of life, like Jesus, we suffer. And like him, the end result is that we become perfect. God is perfecting us. God allows us to go through the crucibles not because he does not love us, but because he wants to complete the work that He began in us. The Father did no less with his only begotten Son. But we do not need to go through the crucible without a guide. We have a Trailblazer who has gone before, and by his example, by his Word and by his indwelling presence, he shows us how we are to respond and make the most of the crucibles of life.
Now even with this realization, that does not mean that we look forward to more crucible experiences in our lives! We may well dread them even as we understand how necessary they are. Tony Stoltzfus speaks to all of us in addressing this fear:
You might find yourself thinking, “You mean, I’ve got all these big, painful valley times to look forward to? That’s scary!” However, the consistent testimony of those who navigate their valleys well is this: “That was a tough time, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.” The best of who you become—God’s most precious gift to you, the thing that causes your greatest impact in the world—is usually produced in the valleys. Best of all, every valley season yields a quantum leap in intimacy with God and your ability to co-labor with him. By actively participating in redemptive suffering, you come to know a side of Jesus you would never see otherwise. The adversity of a valley is not even worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in you through what God does there. (Kindle Locations 481-488).