I recently had the opportunity to attend a reunion of some of my former students from the period of ten to fifteen years ago. This gathering was also accompanied by a plethora of news from those who were unable to come. Generally speaking, all this was very encouraging. Though there had predictably been some casualties along the way, the vast majority were either still in Christian ministry of some sort (and working worldwide) or were actively living out their faith in a secular context.
We were, of course, all older and, generally larger (!). However, a prominent feature of the shared conversations and correspondence was suffering. Some came in wheelchairs, stricken down by serious illness. Others emerged from overwhelmingly tragic personal circumstances. Many had suffered grievously at the hands of other professing Christians. Churches, agencies or denominations had not only failed to support them in times of need but had actively persecuted and sought to destroy their faith and witness. Many bore the scars of such encounters.
What was striking was that this seemed out of proportion with the lives of God’s people as a whole. The experiences being shared seemed to demonstrate that the spiritual battle is, almost inevitably, fiercest around those who are the ‘standard-bearers’. Yet, from such broken, even crucified, people, spiritual life had continued to flow; and in greater, if unrecognised, abundance.
It is, of course, easy to demonstrate in Church history that it is those who have passed through the darkest nights, the fiercest battles and have crossed the most barren deserts who have, in their doubts, despair, brokenness and dryness, been the conduit of spiritual life to others. I recall, for example, Theresa of Lisieux’s correspondence with Maurice. Theresa, still in her early twenties was dying while, at the same time, living with a sense of divine abandonment. However, she wrote letters of such exquisite depth and spirituality as still minister to the weak and vulnerable. Examples can be multiplied. But evangelicalism needs to remember this! Too easily we ape the world and assume that God works only through those who meet the criteria of secular definitions of the ‘great and good’. Too often we fail to prepare Christ’s disciples for a life following the crucified saviour or to recognise those upon whom he has placed his benediction. May the Lord be merciful to us!
Dr Stephen P. Dray