Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Not a victim, but a learner

In two previous blog posts, I have been talking about crucible experiences that God often uses to perfect us. But as I have noted, difficult life experiences in themselves do not refine us. Our response to the crucible experiences of life and ministry is what allows the crucible to become transformative.

Crucibles are used in refining gold out of crushed ore.  In doing some study on the process, I have learned that borax is often used as a flux for smelting gold out of crushed ore.   Borax reduces the melting point of gold, thus making it separate more easily and quickly from the other minerals in the ore.  The question I have asked myself, “How can we add borax to our crucible experiences in life, so that we can extract the ‘gold’ more quickly and easily?”


Photo by Dan Brown

Hebrews 12:5–7 (NIV) — And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?

Hebrews 12:11–12 (NIV) — No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.

The writer to the Hebrews, quoting from Proverbs 3:11-12, tells his readers to not ignore the significance of the hardships of our lives. We are not to overlook the reality that this hardship is God’s discipline, and it is to teach us something. God is speaking, and we have a responsibility to listen and respond in appropriate ways.

How do we develop a listening ear to what God is saying and learn from the hard times that we go through? I think it is important to not be passive or adopt a victim mentality. We need to participate in the learning experience, and not just take a passive stance, hoping the pain will soon go away.   In Hebrews 12, we are told to “throw off”, “run”, “fix our eyes”, “strengthen”, and “make every effort” to list just a few of the active verbs.   When we are put in crucible experiences, we need to be active participants in the learning.   As we were told in language study, we are to be “learners” and not just “those going through language school.”   We need to be asking questions, interacting regularly with the Teacher, and searching hard for something that we can learn from the difficult experience.

If you are in a crucible situation, feeling the heat and pain, recognize that you are not a victim.  If you believe in God’s sovereign control and his fatherly love, you are not going through this time simply because someone else made a stupid decision or thoughtless action or because you were just unlucky.   You are a learner and you have a responsibility and the opportunity and ability to grow from this experience.

I remember how revolutionary this realization was in my life a number of years ago when I found myself trapped in an endless cycle of complaining about being treated unfairly.   My coach helped me to realize that I was not helpless.  I could and did, by God’s grace, learn from this experience and act in ways that would impact the situation.   In time, I saw that this was God’s prep school for me, and it was definitely worth the time and effort to learn all I could, even though not all the classes were ones I would have chosen.

Tony Stoltzfus says,

“The key to navigating the valleys is dealing with God instead of blaming people or circumstances.”  (The Calling Journey: Mapping the Stages of a Leader’s Life Call – A Coaching Guide, Kindle Location 2211.

Even those who are writing from outside the ministry or Christian context recognize the importance of being an active learner.  Robert Thomas in Crucibles of Leadership: How to Learn from Experience to Become a Great Leader says:

People who undergo a crucible and grow through the experience all share something vital: they don’t become stuck. No matter how much they struggle, no matter how much they may grieve, and no matter how much they may chafe at finding themselves in situations they cannot immediately control, they are not paralyzed by difficult situations. Where others see chaos and confusion, they see opportunities to learn and grow. (Kindle Locations 388-391).

Something that has really encouraged me in this process of adopting an attitude of an active learner in a crucible situation is to recognize what stage of development I am in.  God has a tailor-made curriculum for our personal growth and development, but often this curriculum or process is surprisingly similar to what other Christian leaders have experienced in their process of becoming the men and women God designed them to be.  Pain and hardship in some form always seems to be a part of the process.   We all struggle with the same temptations to be self-reliant and self-centered.   None of us learn everything we need to know at one time.

Bobby Clinton in The Making of a Leader: Recognizing the Lessons and Stages of Leadership Development and Tony Stoltzfus in The Calling Journey both identify several different stages that are typically present in the process of developing a servant of God.  Clinton’s work is well-known, and is definitely worth reading.  But I also have greatly appreciated Stoltzfus’ book. “The Calling Journey” looks at the life of Joseph as a model of how God often prepares and calls leaders, and tracks the place and value of the valleys in our lives – those times when we think that we are not making any headway at all in our pursuit of God’s call on our lives. At the book’s website, you can chart the history of your own calling using the framework outlined by the book. Very interesting – and encouraging!


Christ went through the crucible before us


Processing crucibles with the help of others

1 Comment

  1. Elaine L. - Japan

    Thanks for continuing to deal with the subject of crucibles. You've reminded me of some key truths, and you've challenged me to work out my faith, so to speak. One of those truths is that God is sovereign. As you said in your last post, if I truly believe in God's sovereignty, than I cannot view the difficult experiences as merely being caused by others, nor can I view myself as the victim. I'm challenged to look at these from God's viewpoint and realize that he is making me like Jesus. However, this is only if I humble myself and allow the pain to transform me, right? Perhaps another way of saying this is that I need to cooperate with God for him to complete his work in me.

    As I read the quote you shared from Tony Stoltzfus: “The key to navigating the valleys is dealing with God instead of blaming people or circumstances,” I thought of the psalms of lament. The psalmist is not simply complaining or bemoaning his circumstances. Rather, he is always taking his sorrows to God. He is an example of “dealing with God.”

    Thanks for being the “iron that sharpens iron.”

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