By: Jim Kok
Mark Van was a young pastor successfully building a new congregation in a middle-class suburb. He was highly regarded for his well-crafted and enthusiastically presented sermons. Then he was knocked down by a stroke. Several years later, Mark said, “As I recovered from my stroke I started to realize that in my preaching, even though it was well received, I didn’t know what I was talking about.”
Mark discovered something extremely important: the hardest and most painful events and circumstances we go through are vital to our understanding and wisdom. When we face our weakness and mortality, we begin to see life in the way it should be seen and understood. Our fragileness, limitations, and neediness must be mined and analyzed for the gold buried there. Mark’s stroke opened his eyes and changed his heart in important ways. His preaching changed as it came from his brokenness. The unwanted, the uncontrollable, and the uncertain often hold vital spiritual treasure. Mark was a deeper, more credible leader as he grew and deepened from his confrontation with his mortality.
Proverbs 4:24 puts the truth this way: “out of the heart are the issues of life.” This means that our brain is not the primary source for understanding ourselves, others, or spiritual realities. We need to reach into another place—our heart, which is the seat of our emotions, our feelings, our love, anger, fears and hurts. There lies the essence of who we are. In working and connecting with others, here is a vital fact: to understand others I need to know myself. I need to be aware of my fears, sensitivities, anger, hurts and desires. The worst pains and fears in my heart are crucial to knowing who I am and what I am looking for. The joys, love, and satisfactions in my soul are the ingredients of how I relate to others and tell me about where and why I need Jesus’ love. And the best often trickles out of heartbreak and failure.
A teacher of chemistry can stay with the facts and the formulas and never needs to be in touch with where he is going in life, where he has been bewildered, or what chemistry means to him. Teachers and preachers of the good news have been touched in deep places. That is why they headed in that direction. For them the gospel has reached into their hearts, sometimes into places of bewilderment, uncertainty, or lostness. The good news has answered, helped, and healed profound perplexity, purposelessness and even despair. Christian teaching is not a job. It is a response to life’s deepest perplexities. It is usually a sharing of life’s most wonderful medicine.
Meaningful and credible teaching and preaching must emerge from our personal struggles, our personal neediness, our life-fashioned hungers and thirsts. Yes, it is distressing to be in touch with such unhappy and painful places in our hearts, but there lies the truth about who we are and why we believe what we do. In the context of teaching and preaching the good news, it is only the broken who need fixing. It is only the hungry who need food. It is only the lonely who need loving care and companionship. Only the desperate and lost need good news. Christian preachers and teachers are such deep people. They know where they have been and who they are.
“We are an ocean of the emotion and a speck of reason.” These are the words of William James, an early 20th century philosopher. This is such an important picture. We are feelings, emotions, fears, joys, satisfactions, angers and frustrations that come from living in a challenging and uncontrollable world. Our intelligence or mentality is very small—“a speck of reason.” Nevertheless the speck is crucial. It can control what we know about ourselves and most of what others see as well. But the ocean of emotion is really who we are. Jesus’ love sometimes hooks us first in our logical and reasonable thinking but mostly Jesus connects with our heart, the source of the real issues of life. The speck of reason then guides our living as Christians. It directs what we hide and what we reveal to ourselves and others.
The speck, which is the brain, is crucial. We need it to help us decide when to act like all’s well, even when our heart is broken. That key power, the reason, must also guide us into openness about our sorrows and satisfaction and wrestling with the injuries and confusions of life.
Surprisingly one of the most significant truths we know about God is God’s weakness. It is in Jesus dying on the cross. That incredible action is the model Christians are called to follow namely, dying for others. Instead of a power model, in the traditional sense, God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. And we should trust that model.
I appreciate the vulnerability St. Paul displayed at one time: “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you, with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly for you” (2 Corinthians 2:4 ). He may have surprised his readers by that openness about his anguish but no doubt the message touched them in a unique and deep manner. His mind had decided to lay his heart out rather than just talk about their pastoral challenges. That is a choice that can make a difference.
“The best things in life emerge from the worst,” someone declared. This means that the unwanted events and calamities of life are often turned into gains, advances, and benefits. Pondering this uncovers the amazing truth imbedded here. And a powerful Christian doctrine emerges: God meets us in our tears and broken hearts and enables us to grow, discover, create, advance, because of the wall we have hit or the freight train that has run us down. The pains we want to hide and bury are the grassroots of wisdom and strength and human advancement.
“…we have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed—always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:7–9).
Every item, thesis, doctrine we teach or preach is part of the good news for needy and hungry people. As Pastor Van discovered, his brokenness was the beginning of wisdom. His stroke led him into credibility and genuineness.
Jim Kok is director and pastor of Care Ministries at Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif. This includes responding to life crises—illnesses, losses, and more—in the lives of church members and attendees.