Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance, perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)
Have you ever considered that your responses to life’s situations can be considered a spiritual discipline? Keith Drury in his book, With Unveiled Facescomes to this conclusion: that at the end of all spiritual disciplines is this one final ‘discipline’ called response. He states that “a right response to life is not automatic. If anything, our natural responses are more often the wrong ones. Thus it is a spiritual discipline to respond the way Christ calls us to respond.” So to the list of spiritual disciplines, Drury suggests that we should add Response. Aspiritual disciplinethat calls for us to manage or exercise discipline in our reactions and responses to what life brings us, be it good or bad. I have come to believe that this is an important ‘discipline’ that aids us in our ministry. Like any discipline it needs to be cultivated and exercised in and through our relationship with Christ.
As I look back at my own life and the way in which I may have reacted in any given situation, I have to admit to the truth of Drury’s conclusions. I think back to my last appointment as an active officer and contemplate what some of my responses were to some decisions from THQ. For example, if I were to disagree with a given decision and choose to complain about it loudly and publicly it is easy to see how this negative response would cause me stress personally but consider the negative stress that my reaction could cause to those around me. Worse still my responses could then cause negative reactions in co-workers; and could lead to divisiveness in a number of areas: officer to officer, DHQ to THQ, employee to employee, officer to employee, etc. Like a pebble thrown into still waters, the ripples of effect could have reached far and wide. Conversely, should I choose to exercise the spiritual discipline response and simply accept the decision given by THQ and look for ways of reconciling myself to it then instead of a ripple of negativity the waters would remain much more calm. It then becomes easier to keep relationships strong so that focus on mission and ministry maintains its priority.
I remember being in the fall months of a new appointment when our daughter was struck by a car on the way to school. I remember coming to the scene and seeing my daughter stretched out on the road being attended to by EMTs. I clearly remember the stab of fear that went through my whole body. My first reaction was prayer for my daughter’s life and health. As I stood there alone praying, unable to move, unable to reach or touch my daughter, a stranger simply placed a hand on my shoulder and uttered a comforting word. I realize now that, at the moment I instinctively recognized in that stranger God’s comfort and reassurance. In the ambulance ride to the hospital, I once again gave my daughter back to God and prayed for strength to accept what lay ahead. Somehow, in that moment, my past relationship with the Lord guided my response to the horrific crisis that was facing me. (Praise God she was and is totally fine—a miracle that I still marvel at. And in fact was privileged to experience with my son. Am so grateful that God is still a God of miracles.)
About a year later I discovered that the people of our new corps had noticed my response in this situation and my reliance on God. In their observations, (that were shared with me by an awesome woman of God.) my response indicated that I had the God-given resources to deal with difficult situations. The outcome was a greater ability to minister to our people and to help them through their own difficult or tragic situations. I am not sure what the effect would have been if I would have allowed fear and bitterness to be my response. Responses such as: How could this happen to my daughter, I’ve been trying to be a good Officer, witness, etc.; they should throw the driver who hit her in jail, it’s all his fault; and on and on. Responses such as these lead more to self-pity and help no one. In fact I would maintain that they do more to harm ministry because the focus is on self and lacks trust in God and His control of circumstances. On the other hand exercising spiritual response looking only for the best outcomes in a tragic or difficult situation demonstrates trust in God for whatever the outcome may be which brings to the individual a calmness and peace that is attractive to those around them.
I still praise God and marvel at the peace that carried me through an ambulance ride to the hospital not knowing what awaited my daughter there. In all of that I do know that my spiritual life was deepened and enriched in and through this very real life and death experience. And today—thank you, Jesus—I have a beautiful daughter who loves and serves the Lord as well as a loving son-in-law and two extraordinarily bright and beautiful grandchildren.
In his book, Drury, goes on to explain that: “Each of our responses becomes a thread that weaves together the rope of our character. Our character is the sum and total of our choices. In the spiritual discipline of response, we braid into that rope Christlike responses to life’s situations.”
My continued prayer is that God would continue to work in me in such a way that my response, even in the smallest most unimportant situations, will be appropriate and in keeping with His will.
“There is meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveler.” —Dietrich Bonhoeffer